I started a swim class at the Y today. I'd really like to do the Danskin triathlon this year, and that means swimming a 1/4 mile in open water.* Last time I tried a swim workout I did about a lap and a half total, with a lot of gasping and panicking and glancing sheepishly at the lifeguard thrown in. I can run six miles, surely I should be able to swim laps. So I decided professional help was in order.
My relationship with swimming is complicated. I may have taken group swimming classes before, in some very distant past, but they were obviously a total bust. I wore swimmies until I was eight, and refused to put my face anywhere near the water until roughly the same age. [R. is reading this thinking, "How was this not covered during marriage preparation? Can I still get an annulment?"] Then I suffered through a few years of private lessons, and believe me, my instructors suffered too. In so much teaching there is an inherent paradox: how can someone who is pursuing swimming as a career on any basis have much patience with a little girl who is reluctant to put her face in the water?
I ended up being able to approximate a crawl, fake a backstroke, and tread water forever. Totally comfortable with water of any depth--once you're over your head, what difference does it make?--in love with the ocean, basically unable to swim, confident of staying alive for quite a while if shipwrecked. Able to pass the infamous college swim test, not unreasonably, because that test is all about not drowning.
Only problem being, when I tried to swim laps for exercise, I felt like I was drowning.
So I went to class today. There were three options: 1) For the total beginner 2) To "become more comfortable in deep water" 3) Improve your strokes. Well, I don't have strokes, I thought, so I picked option 2. When I got there the instructor said, "What would you say is your best stroke?" "Arrgh," I answered (only in my head) "I can barely do freestyle." "Hmm, well, swim a lap for me and we may put you back in the beginner class." To my intense surprise, I was able to swim a lap. One hundred percent improvement over my last attempt. He wanted to put me in the "improve your strokes class," but I glanced over and that instructor was shouting something like "four laps butterfly okay GO!" I declined.
It was ever thus. The class I'm looking for never exists. Something between Music 103 and Music 141. Now something between "now we're going to tread water, don't worry, here's a noodle," and working on strokes I don't know.
There was no magic answer that instantaneously fixed my freestyle, but I was able to improve it. And I'm exhausted, so that's good.
*Or is it a half mile? They sound equally improbable at this point.