It’s hard to believe that a year as passed since I took the first terrifying and tentative steps to learn how to do the front crawl. Although there’s still massive room for improvement I’m proud of just how far I have come.
On the 5th January 2018 I met up with my swim coach Kevin who said “show me what you can do”. I explained I could swim but only breaststroke with my head firmly above the water then continued to tell him my fear of having my face in the water and the panic if I can’t get enough air into my lungs.
The fear of water stems back to when I was a child living in Norway where my younger sister then aged about 5 fell into a freezing cold river and floated down with the current. I chased after her with a sense of complete and utter uselessness and panic as I couldn’t do anything to help her. Thankfully my sister was OK but the memory stayed deep within me for many years.
The first lesson was literally spent blowing bubbles in the water. Sounds so simple but putting my face even briefly under the water caused me to panic!
Over the next few weeks I worked incredibly hard, even the lifeguards had to tell me not to get so cross with myself when I didn’t manage to complete a task properly but with Kevins extraordinary patience and coaching I was able to do a length (badly but it was still a length!) The lovely ladies who I’d got to know when rehabbing my knee were very encouraging and a massive support although I don’t think they realised that at the time.
I still remember the first time I managed to swim 100m without stopping. The elation I felt stayed with me for the next week. Although the last length was pretty awful in terms of technique coupled with the fact I simply couldn’t breath, I bloody did it! Way to go Mimi a very proud moment and something I never thought I would or could achieve.
The next step was open water swimming – hot sweats set in even at the suggestion (and no it’s wasn’t a hot flush!). Many of our family holidays have been spent either beside the sea or a beautiful lake and I’ve watched with envy as my children and friends splash around in the water having fun, something I’ve never been able to do, even being dunked by the children in a swimming pool would send me into a whirl of panic coming up from beneath the gallons of water above me, needing to get to the safety of the side of the pool followed by feeling angry towards my children for doing it to me – they of course had no idea how I felt, to them it was just fun pushing mummy under the water!
In 2012 I took part in the Jungle Ultra in Peru, a great race but on the long day we had approximately 57 river crossings. Most of the runners wouldn’t have given it another thought but for me it was absolutely terrifying.
Most of the crossings were fine I could just walk through or across the water but as I came up to the first main crossing my heart rate went through the roof, my body began to shake and all I wanted to do was cry. I did wonder how on earth I was going to get across.
Kevin suggested I come along on a Thursday evening to the Weald Tri Club open water swimming session, he even lent me his daughters old wetsuit so there really was no excuse. It took me a few weeks to pluck up the courage to turn up though.
With my wetsuit on (the first attempt I actually put it on inside out, such an idiot but no-one was looking!) I walked to the end of the jetty, sat down put my swim hat and goggles on and my body seemed to have a mind of it’s own, I couldn’t control the shaking and once again simply wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. Kevin was already in the water waiting for me, he talked me through the process but still I couldn’t get in. Time to have a good talking to myself. I knew that if I didn’t get in at that moment when it was totally safe I would never conquer my fear. No one was expecting me to swim like a fish all I had to do was get in and float.
With a deep breath, I slid into the dark water. Everything inside me was telling me to get out and go home but Kevin simply told me to lie on my back and float – I could do that! Gradually I began to feel more comfortable floating, the next step was getting used to putting my face in the cold water and blowing bubbles; then it was time to swim. Oh my goodness the moment my face went in and I began to swim was a real mixture of emotions. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t breath but I was doing it. After a few strokes I had to stop and regroup but I had taken the first brave step.
After several weeks of swimming in the river a few people were going to Winchelsea to swim – in the sea! Luckily for me it was a sunny day, HWMBO and my friend Caroline came down too and once again Kevin was there to guide me through the process. I seemed to swallow quite a lot of sea water, had a moment of panic when something went passed my leg and I didn’t enjoy the waves bouncing me around but another step forwards.
2019 has arrived, I haven’t set myself any amazing New Years resolutions I simply want to build on last year and try to become the best swimmer I can be.