Like Duck to Water, thats how I have taken to life :). This blog is the saga of love and adventures of a small duck in a large water body called LIFE....

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

To swim against the tide :)

It all started a long time back when I was about 12 years old. It was summertime, Darsh and I were attending a swimming summer-camp for about 30 days. It was all good until about 15 days. I had been taught the front stroke and was in the process of getting to know diving. That was when the incident happened :-D.

I remember only bits and pieces, not the entire thing (it has been more than 18 years!). We had these 2 kids living in the house right in front of ours then and we used to play together a lot :). I remember we were playing one of our games, probably some kind of a run and catch game when it happened. I fell and my right knee got scraped pretty bad. It wasn't really a scrape, it was as if all the flesh on my knee had been cut open (I don't know to this day what I fell upon to cause it to rupture like that but the speculation is that it was a part of dad's scooter :-D). There was some white visible stuff underneath all the blood (this is what Darsh keeps insisting scarred him for life :-D. Again don't know whether they were some kind of nerves or bones exposed!)). Thankfully dad was at home and immediately took me to the nearest physician, who was also our family doctor.

Well, the first concern was not really a scar, but to close the opening as soon as possible. The doc could have suggested me to be taken to a hospital, but he decided to stitch me up himself. I was given a tetanus shot and stitched up. Don't know the number of stitches, but I know it was pretty bad, because that opening was certainly bigger than my forehead one. My leg was bandaged and I was told to keep it as straight as possible (not to fold it) and keep it dry. There went my dream of becoming a swimming star :-D. To be honest, I never had that dream, but really wanted to learn swimming, so was very much disappointed. Imagine sitting at home with a stiff leg for 21 days while Darsh went swimming and being told enough stories to get me all jealous :-p.

After the 21 days I did recover and my leg has been okay (except for this ugly scar on my knee :-D). I did go swimming now and then, to practice the only stroke I knew how - the front crawl. I wasn't very good at it, but somehow never tried to take a class again. Indian swimming pools, to be very honest, aren't the most comfortable places for women as such and I would feel extremely conscious whenever I did go. But knowing what I know now, I wish I could have taken a class and improved my swimming lots earlier. Better late than never I guess :).

After I came to the US, I went swimming lots of times and took water fitness classes. I always had this idea running on the back of my mind that I should take classes and polish (to put it very lightly :-D) my skills. But I was somehow very embarrassed. Had so many "what ifs" running through my mind. I mean I had been told all my life that swimming is learnt best when you are young (same with cycling). What if I was too old to learn? What if everyone else in the class is young and I stand out? What if I was would waste away the money without results? So in the 4 years I had been here, I just went to and fro and never ventured into it.

I don't know what changed in November 2009. But something did. I think it might have been that we were thinking of enrolling Snugli into a swimming class and I wanted to be proficient around her :-D. I mean, I had seen parents guiding their children in deep water and I wanted to be that parent :). One day, I finally said "What the heck! Lets do it and think later" and registered for the class. I am a member of the local YMCA so it cost just an additional $26 for 8 classes which was not too bad. In the first class, I was relieved to a huge extent - I was the only one taking that class (2 classes later I was joined by another student who actually had hydrophobia and I was in total awe of her for even getting into water, but the first 2 classes were exclusively mine) and that my teacher was a young lady (very much younger than me :-D). The latter part turned out to be inspirational rather than disheartening because it was good to have a younger teacher who swims so well. The best thing was that she understood exactly what I wanted.

My front crawl, though I was able to swim a couple of laps, wasn't refined at all. I had practiced what I remembered from my summer camp (which wasn't much to go on) and I would always be out of breath at the end of half a lap. Which certainly implied that I was doing it all wrong. First of all I wanted to get that corrected and then learn all the different strokes (I could float on my back, but always failed when I tried doing the back stroke. The other strokes, I hadn't even tried till then). Another major thing for me was that I had never learned to keep myself afloat in the deep end, so though I wasn't really scared of the water, I was very much afraid of the deep end. I mean though I would go out to the deep end, I would always be afraid that if I lose breath somewhere in the middle, I have nowhere to go. So there was lots to learn in mere 8 classes :-D.

As I mentioned, the teacher immediately started pointing out the flaws in my front crawl and giving me tips on how to improve the moves. One of the first things she mentioned was to get a good pair of goggles (they let you see where you are going which help the confidence level, plus keep the chlorine out of your eyes). I hadn't bought anything as of then, so that was fine. She also suggested I don't buy nose plugs because once you get used to them, its difficult to swim without them. As far as the front stroke went, first of all I wasn't keeping my body straight and as much afloat in the water as possible. Secondly when reaching out for the next stroke, my arms weren't as out of water as they should be and hence they were slowing me down. Other than this, my breathing technique wasn't really proper (I wasn't breathing out inside the water and instead was trying to do it all - breathe out and in when I came up for air) which was tiring me out majorly.

Obviously I couldn't make all the changes in one go. If I concentrated on the breathing, I would forget about the arms. If I concentrated on the leg movement, I would forget the breathing. So the first couple of classes were tough on me. I had only one class per week, but I went twice a week to practice all I was told to. I also made it a point to pin-point my doubts and ask the teacher those particular queries. By the third class, my teacher actually said that she could see a conscious improvement (I didn't really believe her, yet :-D). Thats when she decided to teach me the breaststroke. Now that redefined "difficult" for me :-D.

The breaststroke has totally different moves compared to the front crawl. The arm movement is different, the leg movement is different, the breathing is different, basically just about everything is different :-D. For a person who has just been doing the front stroke for a long long time, it was like a different reality. The arm movement pushes the water outwards horizontally while the legs push the water out vertically. I kinda got the arm movement pretty fast, but the leg movement - I would simply forget and switch to the front stroke related leg movement, which certainly wasn't helping :-D. The arm and leg movement in a stroke obviously work together to propel the swimmer forward. So mix and match hardly ever works :-D. I still don't know how I got through that one, only that it required tremendous amounts of concentration. Now the breaststroke is one of the easiest strokes for me and I love it :).

I think it was in the 4th class that my teacher noticed that when asked to swim a lap, I would stop at the spot where I can still reach the ground and come back. Thats when I told her that I was a wee bit afraid that mid-way through the deep end, I would struggle and would have to be "rescued" :-D. So her method was simple, she asked me to get to the deep water, convinced me that even if I go down, it was hardly 12 feet, so I could come up very easily (I knew it but sometimes fear doesn't have logic :-D). And she showed me a move to keep myself afloat. It was a softer version of the breast stroke, standing up in the water rather than laying on the stomach. One point she stressed was that each person will have a point of balance on which they can do the movement and the trick was to find that point. In the subsequent practices on my own, I would force myself to go to the deep end and try different ways to keep myself afloat. I lost the so-called fear of deep end in the 4th class itself and started enjoying being there where my legs just can't reach the ground :).

I was also taught the backstroke in the 4th class. Yup, lots of things going on simultaneously :-D. As I said before I knew how to float on my back and it was only a matter of learning how to kick the legs out and the arm strokes backwards. The difficulty lies in the aspect that whenever you are getting the arms out of the water or putting them in, any splash of water can straight hit your face and in turn your nose, causing panic :). So the trick is to soften those 2 moves (for each arm, so total 4 times per each complete stroke) - when the arm is coming out of the water, use the thumb and when going in, use the side of the palm (rather than the palm itself which can result in an unwanted splash of water) :). So to learn the stroke itself wasn't that difficult, but these little tips were (again needed a lot of concentration).

The teacher did miss out one week in between the 4th and the 5th (and later b/w the 5th and the 6th), so it did give me lots of classes inbetween to practice :). The 5th class (again seeing my improvement), she taught me the butterfly stroke. Now this is the most difficult, the grand-daddy of them all :-D. The main problem of the stroke is that it uses the entire body, so there is no part of the body that is not exercized. And since it requires all of the body parts, it also needs lot of concentration, plus lots of stamina. In addition, its THE stroke for abdominal exercise, because it uses the core as the strength. The leg movement is the key (called the dolphin kick), coupled with the body movement, that give the swimmer the ability to actually push the upper body out of the water. Also there is a very tiny breathing window (actually a breath every other stroke is suggested, but I still have to take a breath every stroke ;-) :-D). Needless to say, I still haven't got this one perfect till now. I do try to do atleast 2 laps each time I swim, but every half-a-lap I have to stop for breath. My kicks aren't yet synchronized with the arm movement (there are 2 kicks to each stroke), so lots of practice ahead.

I did go the 6th week, to gather more little details and tips to make it all better. By this time December end had arrived and we had to leave for our India trip. The teacher and I decided to take it up once I was back, but you knew what happened after I came back - with my not keeping well and later the incident :-D. Even later when I wanted to, the teacher had some exams going on (she is still a student in our local university), so it got postponed again. So to this day, we haven't got a chance to get back to the 2 remaining classes. I want to improve my butterfly, learn flip turn (a great help in lapping without stopping - tried it a couple of times, but its been a long time since I have done any paltis, so my head reeled :-D) and learn on-the-spot diving (tried it, but my ears ring, so I'm sure there must be a trick to it :-D). Well, its been almost an year, so maybe I'll actually take further classes some other time.

Right now, I swim twice a week (thinking of making it thrice a week from next week onwards :-D). I have come a long way from someone who used to swim about 4 to 6 laps in an hour. Now-a-days I swim minimum 12 laps in half an hour including warm-up and inbetween flexibility exercizes. The routine is usually 2 front crawls, 2 breaststrokes, 1 butterfly and 1 backstroke, 2 times. Plus another 2 laps in the end as relaxation laps where its a lazy swim :). I love breaststroke and enjoy frolicking in the deep end. As for the rest, I am still practicing keeping my legs up in the front crawl (which I've heard improves the speed), keeping my concentration in the backstroke (lying on my back tends to get me wool-gathering and I forget the tricks until I get a splash on my nose :-D) and trying to improve everything about my butterfly. I've been complimented a couple of times on my swimming (which I cannot believe as I still feel very incompetent sometimes :-\) and I am very proud of what I have achieved :). I have been trying to convince Sri to take up some classes (he knows swimming, but he is not comfy with any strokes other than the front crawl just like I was an year ago), but well, he is still dilly-dallying :-D.

I still cannot believe that one year ago I even had the hesitation. One thing the whole experience has taught me is that a person is never too old to try something new. I mean, yes there maybe a hesitation, there maybe embarrassment, but believe me, its all worth it. It helped me prove to myself that this old dog can learn new tricks and oh man, is there a lot more to learn :).


Vanditha retorted...

You have inspired me yet again Deeps

Deeps retorted...

Thanks for the kind words kaNe :).