The last time I swam laps was early March 2020. I remember waking up to my early alarm one morning and thinking, “Eh, I’ll sleep in. There’s always next week.”
Then the pandemic happened.
Then knee surgery happened.
Wait a minute…I’m getting the strangest sense of deja vu.
I’ve been looking forward to swimming laps again for the better part of a year. Sure, I splashed around in my condo complex pool a little last summer and even snuck in one careful dip the weekend before knee surgery…but that’s not swimming. Swimming is gliding and cutting through the lane with freestyle (“crawl” as my former swimming instructor dad always called it) and backstroke, tucking your body into a flip turn, crashing your arms down during a butterfly stroke, and sometimes losing count of which lap you’re on because your mind drifts. Swimming is long, meditative, repetitive movement and one of both the quietest and hardest workouts you can do.
Swimming was my first love and will likely be the last sport standing at the end of my life.
As much as I was looking forward to getting back into the pool I’d kind of made excuses–my membership was on hold for six months for my medical issue, and I didn’t want to pay a penny until those six months were up; I had to let my third and latest tattoo heal; I had to go at the right time so it wouldn’t be crowded.
I took this past Friday off and committed to going to the pool in the early afternoon when it was likely to be fairly empty at the gym. It was a much-needed day off after a pretty stressful week and month of hard work in my day job and as a debut author.
Finally the time came, and I was nervous! Thankfully there was only one person in the far end of the pool. Otherwise I had the space to myself. After getting over the fear of walking on a slightly slippery floor in loose flip flops (terrifying when you’re still recovering from a leg surgery) I eased down into the pool using the stairs and rail, which I never used to do. For a few moments getting my sea legs was a little weird. Then I gave my body a little shake and splashed water on my arms to get my body used to the slightly chilled temperature.
I usually sprint the first lap in freestyle to warm up in the cool water, and I did the same for my celebratory return-to-the-pool swim. It felt both as natural as breathing and surprisingly painful. I haven’t done much strength work with my arms since my injury, and the water showed me very quickly how out of shape I was. My form was as good as it’s ever been, but my God it hurt. As I reached the end of my first length I dared myself to go for a flip turn. I flipped just fine, tucking both legs in without a problem, and was careful not to push too hard off the wall with my right foot.
Freestyle and backstroke were easy to do other than the pain in my out-of-shape shoulders, arms, and upper back. I alternated with a few laps of light jogging and walking snap kicks to give my arms a break. I tried jumping kicks, but even landing in the water on my right leg felt precarious, so I stuck to jogging. I was wishing I’d grabbed a kick board before I got into the pool to isolate my legs further.
Breaststroke was awkward and at times a bit painful. Unlike the other strokes that don’t require a lot of flexion in the legs (if you’re pedaling your legs like you’re on a bicycle in freestyle you’re doing it wrong), the frog kick with this stroke was tough. My right leg didn’t want to bend as much as my left leg could, so I had to acquiesce to what my leg could do while trying to coax it to bend a little deeper. That made my form blocky and messed with what my upper body was doing. Those laps were slow and painful, but I knew it was good for my leg. I even finished my set of twenty laps with an agonizing breaststroke.
My arms were screaming by the end of it, and my right knee was cranky, but I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief. I was BACK!
Although my body was tired, my mind felt a little lighter, and for that I’m grateful.
Stay tuned for my upcoming book– “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!
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