Many months ago, when I got the wild idea to do 36 things in one year, “take a swimming lesson” was one of the first things that popped into my brain. After all, I’m surrounded by triathletes to the point that I find myself giving them tips and regularly spouting triathlon trivia. I’ve also been to Hawaii a number of times over the years, I have a couple pools in my apartment complex, and I have gym access to several “real” pools. Oh, and I’ve proven to myself time and time again that the only way I can run is if I also cross train. Clearly, I should swim.
There is the small matter of how I almost drowned once as a completely sober adult… And how it took me years of childhood lessons before I allegedly passed the test… And how a boy once tried teaching me to dive but instead I belly flopped repeatedly until it hurt and then I lost an earring and he couldn’t find it at the bottom of the pool, though he kept valiantly trying…
I had a feeling I would put off the swimming lesson thing, but then an Amazon Local deal appeared in my inbox shortly after I launched my 36 Things project. I called to see if they had adult lesson times available (they did), and if they had evenings so I wouldn’t have to take time off work (they did), and I looked online to see if they had good reviews (they did). $36 later, I was signed up for four 30-minute lessons.
On a mid-March evening, I stayed late at work until it was time to change. I put on the one-piece Speedo swimsuit I’d purchased for $19 a year earlier at Costco (and had never worn). I had goggles ready (which I’d worn once), along with a swim cap (never worn). I drove a few miles to American Swim Academy, walked inside and surveyed what I describe as a cute pool.
I impressed myself by getting the untested swim cap onto my big head on the first try — good sign. I looked at the seating area and saw one woman in a swimsuit; I went over and said hi, and yes, she was there for the swim lesson and was very nice — good sign. It was just the two of us, instead of the maximum of four students I’d known about when signing up — good sign. The teacher was a cool guy who didn’t put on any airs or make me feel stupid — good sign.
You’d think all those good signs would lead to a good time. Well, I had forgotten about the swimming lessons when I’d given blood for the first time four days earlier. I’ve since learned that I am basically useless for about 10-14 days after giving blood; half an hour is my max for exercise before I really cannot see anything and am utterly exhausted. That first swim lesson had me breathless after two laps in the small pool.
The second lesson rolled around, and I was now 11 days post-blood-donation. This time we had a third student. The other woman was a beginner, but this new woman didn’t let go of the wall — in four feet of water. I was mainly there to learn how to breathe to the side during the crawl stroke, so I can actually get a workout. The other two woman were there to learn how to avoid drowning and conquer their fear of water. I felt like the showoff I never want to be — I was basically an intimidating asshole who didn’t need to learn how to stay alive in water. To be clear, our teacher never made me feel that way, but I felt so guilty. I was mostly on my own, though other teachers tried to give me pointers and were all very nice.
The third lesson rolled around, with the same three of us students. Did I mention how much goggles hurt? I mean, I prefer them to the burning eyes and risk of infection from lord knows how many kids peed in that pool all day before I showed up at 6:30 p.m. But they hurt, and the raccoon eye marks are definitely attractive when wandering around Trader Joe’s after 30 minutes in the pool. The other two women were still trying not to drown, The teacher and I still hadn’t figured out which side I should be breathing on (when asked which felt easier, my answer was a quick “neither?”). I couldn’t count three strokes before I’d be gasping for air, but maybe I was actually supposed to be counting four, or possibly two?
Tonight was supposed to be my fourth and last lesson. As I sat there at work at 5:15 p.m., thinking about how I’d be hanging out for another hour and then going to a place I was dreading, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I locked up and went home. As soon as I got on the freeway in the wrong direction from the swimming pool, I felt so relieved. The relief was worth the $9 I had pre-paid and wouldn’t get back.
And thus ends my swimming lesson experiment. I’d still like to be able to swim without getting exhausted immediately — even when I’ve been in fast marathon shape, I can’t swim more than two laps without needing a break, and by four laps I can’t see (for perspective, when I’m in shape, I manage not to reach that point until the end of a marathon when I’ve just raced the last three miles). The other day I got a brochure about all the programs my city offers, and they did have adult swimming lessons in it for a good price. But I don’t want to pay any amount of money to hang out in a pool feeling guilty because I know the basics of swimming and am thus taking time away from those who do not know how. I also don’t want to be the idiot taking up space in a gym pool where real swimmers are trying to train for an Ironman.
I guess I’ll just keep doing other cross-training activities and envying those people who mysteriously enjoy swimming. At least I got a couple sunset drives out of the swimming lessons.