Can anyone remember their early swimming lessons? Those awful foam kick boards and rubber bands tied around ankles. I found an old photo in a box of slides which brought back memories I would prefer to forget.
I am surprised that I swim at all; much less enjoy it. My parents took me to classes run by a man on the Gold Coast and he was the most frightening and fiercest coach I have ever had the misfortune to experience. I have two memories of him that stick with me. One is of being thrown into the deep end of the pool and being told to swim to the side and the other is hiding in the foot well of the back seat of my parent’s car as we drove past hoping that he wouldn’t see me.
It is probably an Australian right of passage these ‘going to swimming lessons’. Survive these and you are a fair candidate for Little Nippers, those enthusiastic red and yellow clad urchins that charge over the sand and into the ocean like a pack of undersized sand crabs. You might even become a surf lifesaver like our very own Prime Minister.
Move forward a generation and as a mother, I spent hundreds of dollars and many tedious hours standing on the side of a pool watching my three children learn to swim. The image of my 5-year old swimming her first lap is slightly haunted by the memory of the 3-year-old insistently tugging my hand to attract my attention. When I finally looked down I saw my 18-month old sinking quietly to the bottom of the pool. I was horrified that although she had been playing happily beside my ankles, I hadn’t heard her fall in. She just sank like the proverbial stone with no splashing or fighting. Fortunately we all survived the dunking as I leapt off the step to pull her up. The experience doesn’t seem to have deterred these children from swimming or water sports thank goodness.
Fortunately I found other slides which bring back much more pleasant memories of swimming beside my father in the surf, going right out the back with him, totally fearless as we caught enormous waves into the beach. He taught me how to plunge under a wave, digging my hands into the sand to avoid being dumped; watching the bubbles float so that I knew which way was up. I wasn’t quite so fearless as we swam across the Nerang River but where he swam, so did I although I was quite convinced a shark was going to get me.
My father has always swam to get fit, either in a pool or in the ocean. I remember him swimming along the beach at South Stradbroke Island with our boxer dog leaping from the jetty to join him. Even in his 70’s he would take every opportunity to swim across Cylinder Bay on North Stradbroke during our holidays on the island. When I consider that my parents met at the Valley Baths while competing and training I realise that swimming must be in my gene pool and I could not possibly avoid using it as a form of getting fit. I am rather pleased that they have passed their enjoyment of ocean swimming down to me although I am not yet like a couple I know who collect ocean swims and go on swimming holidays.
However, on a hot summer’s day I couldn’t resist the clear waters and the temptation to swim where Byron swam in the Bay of Poets. I handed my camera and clothes to my husband and dived in. When I mentioned that I had swum in the ocean off Portovenere, my mother laughed and said she and my father had done that 60 years ago.
I pondered this as I ploughed, face down at my local swimming pool. It really is the most boring and solitary way to get fit. In the cooler months I might walk around our local park with a friend or family member but I really dislike getting hot and sweaty although I have been told that is actually the aim of exercise. I would much rather stay cool in the water. So, resisting the lure of looking into the neighbours’ gardens, I watch the endless squares of white tiles, occasionally littered with bobby pins and ghastly looking objects whose origin I don’t even want to begin considering.
Swimming comes naturally to me but I do think that some people are more buoyant than others. My very active husband seems to find it easier to sink than float, and would prefer to run rather than swim. I do wonder why he joined the Navy; what if he had been shipwrecked? I can’t see him floating in the ocean waiting to be rescued. Perhaps that is why he took up aviation instead. He prefers to be above it than in it.
But for me, I love slipping into the water, pushing off from the side and the feeling of weightlessness as you glide away, before you even take the first stroke. The combination of balance, weight and power is pure pleasure. I push myself for the first couple of laps to get my heart rate up then settle into a combination of strokes as I endeavour to stretch all my limbs. I am doing this to stay fit, not to lose weight and I find that it is the best way of toning up the tuckshop arms and the lazy stomach muscles that have never really recovered from having three children in three years. I understand why women wore stays, because they held it in and up where it should be. Oh well, I have to resort to tight lycra which is much less elegant.