Drowning not waving

Image result for drowning in the poolI’m terrified of deep water. If I can’t stand up in it then I’m a) clinging to the nearest stationary and solid object b) peeing in terror and c) screaming.

I’d like to think that it’s this which made me such a great sailor for all those years; abject fear of ending up in the water is a fantastic motivator to staying upright.  I learned how to capsize and right a boat only getting my feet wet.. mainly because I swim like a stone.

The signs weren’t good from the get go. Early swimming lessons at the local pool with my sister kicked off with a lesson in floating. As my body sank to the bottom of the pool and my very very short life flashed before my eyes, it was only the shouting of my mother from the balcony “Grab your sister NOW” that assured my existence. Needless to say, I didn’t take my feet off the bottom of the pool for the next 20 years.

Fast forward to 40 something and in the midst of a life crisis it came to me. I needed to learn how to be comfortable in the pool. Maybe..if I could swim with ease… I’d have one less thing to be terrified of  and live happily ever after. (with a pool)

As I now embark on my 4th set of private lessons I’m still terrified in any pool over 4ft deep. I have my strokes down pat but as soon I see the bottom of the pool deepening I’m heading to the bottom await my drowning. And this time, my sister’s hand is 4,200 miles away.

I’ve tried chanting, wearing fins, closing my eyes, looking ahead instead of down and even Valium. Nothing. Choking, panic, snorting and inhalation of an awful lot of water and once, a lifeguard actually ran to help me..  and still.. nothing makes it less horrid.

So maybe I’ll see you at the pool. I’ll be the one looking for the life lesson wearing horse blinkers and a noodle.   Be sure to look for my wave.

Drowning not waving

kid swimmingI’ve always been more a land lover. I mean, I’m the goat according to astrology, I hate heights and while I love to sail, you can count the number of times I’ve voluntarily got in the ocean in the last 10 years on one hand (does it count if the water doesn’t reach your knees?). I love looking at the sea, love being near it, the smell of it and being on it. But in it? Thats what fish are for. I’ll stick with my bathtub.


Given that I grew up in one of the wettest parts of the wettest countries in the Northern Hemisphere, I do realize that I’m inherently waterproof. I know that unless my head goes under the water, I am unlikely to drown. That oceans are essential for the longevity of the planet and the human species…. but I can’t help it, standing in large pools of water just freaks me out.

It started when I learned to swim.

NOTE: “Learned” being a metaphorical word for ‘didn’t drown but almost achieved success on several occasions’.

I was around 8 or 9 and cursed with a buoyant and enthuastic swimmer in the family, I learned that the placenta of safety and joy (aka my inflatable ring) was about to be cut, and I was ‘going to learn how to swim’.

A few days later I found myself shiverring with 20 other milk bottle white kids, goosepimply and panicing in a balmy 50 degree pool the size of Germany. I could stand up – barely – if I stood on my tippy toes, (which I did with hope that my mother would notice my balletic leanings and yank me off to ballet instead of this swimming thing). But to no avail. I was going to learn to swim.

Or so I think thats what she yelled when I started looking frantically for the exit.

Back in the day, our local swimming pool subscribed to the ‘sink or swim’ theory of learning. Literally – taken them out of their depth, tell them to push off from the side, and wait to see who makes it to the other side.

I sank to the bottom of the pool like a brick.

Something that nobody noticed other than my Mum, who had to yell from the balconey to alert the instructor to the kid in the brown swim suit, currently flailing around at the bottom of the deep end of the pool.

Which is when I was hooked out of the water like a pathetic excuse for a guppy. Choking, crying and really hoping that I’d made my point.

Unfortunately my mother, safe in the knowledge that her kid hadn’t drowned, had slipped off for a cup of tea, leaving me to the mercy of the instructor who decided that the only way I would learn, would be through repeated opportunity. I shouted ‘Muuuuuuuuuum’ in vain as I was frog marched to the pool stairs and told to get back into the water.

Lets just say I swallowed a LOT of pool that day, and I got hooked on several occassions.

Progress? Well he learned how to hook an 8 year old really fast.. me… I learned that there really isn’t a limit on how much chlorine you can consume.

Needless to say, swimming face down, across a pool, remains a bit of a traumatic experience for me even today. Age 42.

Now I’m not stupid, I can backstroke like a champ and I can breast stroke like a 90 year old church lady with the best of them. I mean I sailed competitively for 10 years – I knew I needed to be able to surive in water. But face down, head in the water, pushing off from the side into deep water for pleasure? Riiiiiight. I’ll be over here doing anything else.

Until now.

I love a challenge and every year I pick something that scares the bejesus out of me and try to tackle it. To date I’ve not died or suffered hospitalization, but I do carry a lot of Xanax around.

(Hey, I want to have a life.. even if its terrifying 50% of the time)

After motorcycling, getting back on a mountain bike, shooting, fishing, rock climbing and climbing 3 14-ers in a day.. I decided that screw my fear, screw the cold pee infused water, screw the likelihood of being hooked (I challenge any lifeguard to hook my ass out of a pool), I would learn how to swim.

Properly. Face down. In the water.

A few weeks ago I signed up for Adult Swim (20 classes for $44… the cheapest sport I’ve ever taken up and the only one which didn’t require a helmet), bought a terrible unflattering swim suit and last night.. I headed to the rec center for my first lesson.

As I scanned the list for my class, I noticed that a) I was the only one on it, b) the other class was 8 year olds learning butterfly and c) my instructor was a 16 year old called Joe.

Hey, I have no ego around this. I’m wearing a rubber cap and my boobs are smushed down to my waist.. my main objective is to not drown. All I care about is the location of the hook, and whether Joe’s waifish arms are going to be sufficient to lever me out once I start sinking. I pray for ‘wiry strength’ and climb in.

20 minutes later I’ve swallowed a few gallons of chlorine/pee flavored water.. and I’ve swum a width of the pool with my face in the water.

If I hadn’t been the only adult in the pool, and slightly less British, I would have had to air punch my victory. No hook. No sinking. No panic.. and once I realized that you’re allowed to take your head out to breath at any time… actual oxygen did reach my lungs on at least once occassion.

Joe encouraged me to swim a few more widths, but I knew I needed to quit while I was ahead. After all, we’ve got 19 more lessons to go. I don’t want to go too fast or he’ll be trying to get me to swim an actual length.