In the process of washing away old wounding words and slights from other people that I experienced around swimming in my younger years, here are some beautiful memories that have emerged; that I can now savor. I have rediscovered, reclaimed my love of swimming and the meaningful experiences that shape this love.
My first dive off the blocks looked like a suicide-a replica of a stuck “swimmer’s take your mark” body posture entering the water. For me, it felt like a jump of utter courage with my thumbs hooked, palms stretched flat like paddles, upper arms squeezed close to my ears, head tucked – into the deep end. It was the beginning of a very long 25 yards to the other wall. Focusing on my legs seemed too much to manage with all the upper body posturing. With encouragement from coaches, my dad, and teammates, I persistently practiced through the smacking belly flopper of a “dive” to eventually coordinating the push of my legs off the block with a stretching of my whole body streamlined into the water.
Swim practice consistently happened in the early morning when mist rose off the water and fog remained thick in the air, so thick you couldn’t see the other side of the pool. Already chilled, I overcame the thought of placing my lean, small body into cold water. At the end of many practices, my teeth chattered; my lips turned blue. Toweling off ever so briefly before walking quickly to the locker room showers became a happy ritual. I looked forward to the hot water on my swimsuit-clad body as a heavenly earned reward. To this day, I experience incredible gratitude for hot showers.
Every summer, from five years until fifteen years old, I swam for my community. Initially created by parents supporting their children’s passions to swim, the Delaware Swim Club was filled with mostly novice swimmers and divers. We competed way out of our league. We lost regularly, even with the passion of a gifted, if sometimes gruff, coach.
Over the years, the club became the Delaware Aquatic Racing Team Stingrays, the DARTS, complete with daring divers, swift swimmers who won more races and meets with the guidance of passionate, caring coaches.
From saggy, shoulder strap, striped, green and yellow nylon suits that the girls would tie in the back with shoelaces to keep the straps from falling off our shoulders: to sleek, form-fitting, breast compressing Lycra suits with racerbacks, I experienced the micro-shifts in the world of swimming from June through the end of July.
Swimming immersed me in a whole-body experience: of the butterflies in the tummy, the urge to pee almost always right before my event, the heat of the sun on my skin, the latex swim cap gripping my entire head, the wide, black blurry line to focus on because, gosh, I couldn’t wear eyeglasses in the pool, toes curling over the edge of the scratchy surfaced starting block, the smell of chlorine, the sound of my dad’s cheer “Go Laurie!” right before the silent “Swimmers, Take Your Mark,” the plunge into piercing cold water that sometimes took my breath away.
Today I love swimming many laps at my community pool: for the sheer joy of swimming outside in the sunshine, in the cold water, in the sublime sensations of rhythm, breath, arm strokes, leg kicks, of lifting myself out of the pool, feet walking on the hot concrete; now a lifelong love affair born from a beautiful bond with a father’s passion, a little girl’s coming alive in courage, and a persistent, deeper connection to a beloved, embodied experience of plunging into an enduring bliss.
You may not love swimming. Is there an activity that you love that you can remember you enjoyed doing? May you engage with that activity because the multifaceted sensory experience can be reclaimed and savored once again.
Laura Staley is the founder of Cherish Your World and the author of her inspirational book Live Inspired.