Swim with Vicki

Posted: April 6, 2014 in Swim

I’m a month out from my own 10k swim attempt for the Strong Kids campaign and each and every time I step in and out of the pool I get increasingly anxious.  Yesterday’s 5.2k continuous swim was no different.  Either I’m not doing enough distance, or I’m not going hard enough, or I’m ignoring something vitally important that’s going to aid the overall success of my achievement.  Should I do more drills?  More kilometers?  More…well, everything?  Before I know it, I’ve finished my intended workout but, strangely, I still feel defeated and inadequate.  Why is that?  It’s been a constant niggling that’s been nagging at me for a while.

All too often as triathletes, we focus on what we can’t do as opposed to what we can’t do.  Sometimes that might just turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I mean, I can hold a 1:35/100m  pace for some time, yet, instead of giving myself that credit I get frustrated that I can’t do 1:30/100m.  Why is that?  I can swim long(ish) distances, more than most people would attempt in a week, much less in one go.  So why then do I get anxious that I didn’t do more, or maybe that the person in the other lane did more and is therefore in some way more accomplished?  It doesn’t make sense.

A few weekend’s ago, however, I got a much needed relief.  I attended a special Masters Swim class this morning hosted and organized by Vicki Keith, the famed, retired Canadian marathon swimmer.  I expected the class to be tough so, definitely, I wanted to be a part of that.  Surely there would be long distances, pace and tempo work and, of course, lots of exhaustion.  However, it was none of those things.  In fact, what she did give us was so much more.  What she did give me was a different perspective on myself as an “athlete” (and I use that term lightly).  Allow me to explain.

The challenge she presented us was to try swimming like a parathlete or, rather, someone with a specific disability, say, missing a single arm, leg, both arms, both legs and, shit, all everything.  Yeah.  Seriously!

For example, to mimic the feeling of having to swim with one leg we were challenged to only kick with one leg.  That wasn’t so difficult, per se, but after spending nearly two years I’m sure glad I have the ability to use both legs now.  Swimming one armed wasn’t too difficult either as I do a lot of one-arm drills now anyway, but I’m sure glad I don’t have to cross a lake that way.  To mimic the loss of both legs we were asked to swim with our legs crossed and bent, which makes the whole process of getting to the other end of the pool significantly more difficult, let me tell you.  The last two challenges, however, are what really brought the whole exercise crashing down around me.  Ever try to swim with no arms and no legs?  Again…I’m serious.  Let me tell, it’s actually harder than it sounds.  Trust me.  We were asked to cross our legs and tuck our hands into our arm pits and literally attempt to swim 25m  with our shoulders and upper arms only.  I pretty much sank to the bottom of the pool like a rock.  And to think that there are these incredible people out there who can swim significant distances (much less, swim at all) is absolutely miraculous to me.

She also gave us a taste of what it’s like to swim as a sufferer of Cerebral Palsy.  Picture it: swim with one arm forward while the other arm is going backwards, one leg flutter kicking and the other is doing the frog kick.  We more looked like we were attacking the water rather than swimming for all the splashing and floundering we were doing.  In this whole time, we had managed approximately 200m  and I was completely exhausted.  Oh, did I forget to mention swimming blind?  Talk about your leap of faith.

Anyway, once you’ve attempted these things, you’ll never really think of swimming normally, with both arms and legs, quite the same way again.  My eyes were definitely open.  Not just to the challenges that these amazing disabled people overcome in order to achieve their own greatness, but to the fact of how lucky I am to be able to do what I can do now in the way that I can do it.  It’s a gift, and not one to be taken lightly either.

So what if I didn’t make my distance one day, or maintain my precious pace; I’m swimming…normally, without a physical difficulty, and relatively unchallenged.  I mean, really, how lucky am I just to be able to swim?  After all, it wasn’t always that I could do what I can now; far from, actually.  In fact, nearly 15 years of my life was wasted in front of the boob tube growing fat and waiting for the sweet release of death.  Certainly not doing laps in a pool.  When I first started triathlon six years ago I was basically lucky to complete the 750m  distance and not drown, much less at any decent pace.  People elsewhere had to do the same without the same privileges I enjoyed and I figure it’s no different today.  It took experiencing this through Vicki’s class to really think about it and realize how amazing it is that I’ve now gotten to this point.  With a little work, I’ll even get better.  Along the way I just have to be patient and enjoy myself.

Furthermore, I now know that the real tragedy in all of this would be if I ever stopped loving what it is that I’m doing (i.e. swimming), or should ever happen to stop appreciating what it was I can do which, clearly, I’ve been a little guilty of…until now.

So despite the slow progress I might be making towards my 10k  goal at the end of April, things could certainly be worse.  I think I needed that reminder.  Maybe I should forget about the distance, forget about the time, forget about the pace, and simply focus on the fun, or maybe how fortunate I am to simply to be in the position to be able to complete something of this magnitude.

And with that, I’m off to exotic Barrie, Ontario for a week on business where I hope to get multiple swims throughout the week rather than rot away in the hotel room.  And while doing those laps, I’m going to remember why I’m doing this…because I can.  Simple.  End of story.  What more reason do I need?


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