It’s all going swimmingly, well…

I saw my GP last week; the pain in my ankle wasn’t getting any better, and any length of time walking wasn’t helping. Sadly, I cannot afford to take time off from working. One of the perils of being self-employed.

I have been referred to the physio, so I am currently waiting for an appointment. In the meantime, I’m not allowed to do any exercise that may aggravate the injury, so will have to continue with the swimming. Arms only.

I’ve been steadily ramping up the lengths per session. I’m now at 40, which is 1,000m. It doesn’t sound a lot, it doesn’t look a lot, and at around 25 minutes to complete, it’s doesn’t take long to complete.

Trying to take the positives out of the situation, for somebody who has never had a swimming lesson, I’m not a bad swimmer. Okay, technically I’m not perfect, but the benefit of having to use a pull buoy is that I can focus on my arms. The kicking bit is important, but as I favour crawl, it’s going to be easier to work on once I’m allowed to use my legs again.

I taught myself to swim back in the summer of 1983. Mostly out of frustration, if I’m being honest. I was 9 years old, and should have been having lessons with school. I spent the first 10 years of my life living in the city, where few schools had swimming pools. Consequently, my school had use of the nearest local pool, which was a mile away, every fortnight. The top three years of junior school went, so it was fairly chaotic when we got there. Every other Friday afternoon, the (lack of) Confidence buses would turn up, we would pile on, and be taken to Cossington Street baths, as they were then known, for our lessons.

We were placed into groups according to our ability, and having none, I was in the beginners’ group. Which was fine for the first couple of weeks. Each group had a swimming instructor and a teacher looking after it, except for our group. We also had a lifeguard, which far from reassuring some of the kids, seemed to frighten them even more.

It also didn’t help that our instructor wanted us all to be at the same level before we could go on to the next stage. Sadly, for that first year, we didn’t progress any further than blowing bubbles, whilst holding onto a float, and holding onto the pool wall and kicking our legs. For a lot of the other girls, the thought of putting any part of their face into the water was apparently the most terrifying experience they could go through. When I put my head fully under water to prove a point, one girl panicked so much, our “lesson” was cut short. That’s how wimpy some of these girls were. They would not blow bubbles for love nor money, and until they did, the rest of us were going nowhere. Literally.

We had an entire school year of hanging onto the side of the pool. A whole, nine months.

Needless to say, things needed to change. I had to learn to swim a bit, to get into the next group up. I was going to do it, by hook or by crook. In fairness to my parents, my Mother couldn’t swim either, so she didn’t want to take me, and my sister, and brother swimming. My Dad, who could swim, couldn’t be expected to manage three kids on his own, whilst having a bit of exercise himself. Dad was a self-taught swimmer. He said swimming was easy, if you could float, you could swim.

On holiday, I spent every day in the pool practising my floating. It was pretty easy, just lie back, and let your lungs keep you afloat. The next step was to move. So floating on my back, I started to move my arms. Lo, and behold, I moved. I was swimming!

By the end of the holiday, I had become braver. I found that I could tread water. I had accidentally swam into deeper water, and had started to panic that I couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool. It had then dawned on me that I hadn’t actually gone under water, and the flailing that I was doing was keeping me upright. Once I’d calmed down, I found that not only could I tread water, but if I moved my arms in a certain way, I was swimming using a crude doggy paddle style. Go me!

But I wasn’t a swimmer yet. I needed to continue the good work when we got back from our holiday but I thought my chances were very slim. However, an opportunity came about when my best friend asked if I wanted to go swimming with her and her dad. My Mother said, “yes”, so off I went. For about three weeks running, we went swimming. I was getting better, and had developed a pretty nifty doggy paddle, and I was beginning to use my arms in a proper backstroke style.

Then it all went wrong. My mate cancelled swimming. Her dad was ill. What was I going to do now? If I didn’t practice, I would never be a swimmer.

I then had a brainwave. A brainwave that I knew Mother would never agree to. I would go swimming. By myself. I would just tell her that I was going with my mate and her dad. It wasn’t like I would be in any danger, after all there were plenty of lifeguards at the pool.

So in the biggest deception I ever carried out, I went swimming, all by myself. It was a success in that by the end of the summer, I could swim. Not brilliantly, but I could swim an entire width of the pool without stopping. It was also a success in that when I finally confessed to Mother what I had done, at the age of 35, she was mortified. She had never known, and had she known, she would have stopped me from going.

When I went back to school in the autumn of 1983, I told the swimming instructor that I had learned to swim during the holidays, and needed to be moved to the next group. “Do you have your badges with you?” she asked. “Er, no…”, I replied. I was told that without swimming badges, I was going nowhere.

So I suffered another year of holding onto the side of the pool. In between kicking sessions, and blowing bubbles, I would swim off, just to make a point, but the instructor really was a pedant.

Thankfully, for my swimming, we moved house, and I moved schools. Swimming in PE was never organised into lesson groups. In my last year of primary school, my teacher preferred us to have mini-races, or play water polo. At high school, we swam lengths, the speed of the lesson determined by the slowest swimmer who, surprisingly, wasn’t me. Those who couldn’t swim used floats, and as long as you could swim two widths of the pool, kids didn’t require any assistance. Although the kids who used floats didn’t get any assistance. In my GCSE years, swimming was a huge mess about, with floats and inflatables, and no proper swimming.

I only started to work on my technique when I went swimming to improve my fitness whilst in my early twenties. It seemed to work, and my swimming improved further, without any intervention from anyone else.

Over the years, I have gone through spells of regular swimming, usually whilst recovering from my many flare ups of patella tendonitis. At one point, I was managing to swim a mile (or 64 lengths of a 25m pool), three times a week.

I’ve no idea how long this injury will take to clear up, but to keep up the cardio, I am looking to get back to mile sessions. I am being careful, and I am building up to it, so I don’t injure or fatigue my arms and shoulders. I’ve already had problems with my right shoulder, and I am conscious of not doing any further damage.

I know I’m not the perfect swimmer, and I probably could do with a few lessons to get the technique right, but do I feel that I’ve missed out by not getting a badge? No.


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