Swimming Coach Seer

The 7-year-old girl squirmed. “I don’t want to take swimming lessons.” Tears welled. All her twisting and wriggling didn’t loosen the matriarch’s resolve and grip around her wrist. “You’re going to need this when you are older,” were the stern words before she found herself, still in a fit of post-tantrum hiccups, amidst girls her age in the basics class. It was a consolation that none of them donned the same yellow bathing suit that had tutu-like frills around the hip and a ballerina bear in front.

Swimming Tantrums

I was not fond of that suit or of that point in my life. Begrudgingly, I attended those lessons just so Mom would stop nagging. One summer, memorable mainly for its horridness, she requested for me to be transferred to an advanced class – despite my vehement opposition and clamorous reasoning. Had she noticed my incompetent water-thrashing; that I was a wiry spider spinning splashy webs? Like most mothers, she had a little too much faith in me; an overwhelming amount of confidence I couldn’t muster.

In the big kids’ class, at ten, I was the smallest, slowest, and weakest. Everybody else was a teenager, some even had funky-looking muscles. Naturally, they were all faster, stronger, and more skillful. I was the clumsy clown doing drills with them.

I have no vivid recollection of the succeeding mortifying summers or how many more gallons of chlorinated water seeped through my nose, ears, mouth and pores. Luckily, all that chlorine wasn’t enough to impede my acquisition of a scholarship for high school. The institution had a surplus of participants to math/science quiz bowls but a deficiency of athletes. As the city-wide athletic meet approached during my junior year (that would be grade 9 in some countries), out of the sick feeling of moral obligation, I agreed to join the school swim team.

Our government-funded school had no coach or pool, so we practiced in the only competition-sized public pool in the city. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the camaraderie among the group of swimmers I trained with (many of them have gone on to compete on the national level). Training was enriching (I dropped soda, cola and other fizzy drinks permanently). I stuck with the routine; 3 hours after school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and the entire morning on the weekends – swimming an average of seventy 50-meter laps gradually became bearable. It was then disheartening when my parents told me to quit. Swimming, which was eventually downgraded to “hobby”, took most my time and energy that my academics were spiraling downwards. This ended my Olympic dreams – not that I had any.

After all, I have never been considered athletic. My name is associative to that of a classic skinny nerd who read in moving vehicles and avoided volleyball, tennis, soccer (and pretty much every sport that involved objects hurtling overhead) for fear of being hit in the face. One of my PE teachers had yelled at me, “That’s why you have to hit the ball away from you, #49!”

Why didn’t I give ball sports, or sports in general, a real shot? Looking back, I wasn’t as athletically-incapable as I initially thought. Hadn’t I learned the fancy strokes and swum at a decent speed? A coach once commented that I could race long-distance because my stamina was good. This was a glimmer of potential. Potency that remained untapped as I conscientiously steered clear of athletic pursuits for most of my life after high school.

Dormant potential hovers slightly above eternal inutility, doesn’t it? Consider this woman whose designated English name is Eve and who works in an office adjacent to mine. She’s a packer; she boxes up products for shipping. I admire her, not for her perfect enunciation, but because she is not afraid to chat with me in English despite being unable to go to college. I’ve encountered many college students and graduates who shy away from conversations, claiming that their English was too poor*. What if Eve attended university? I would have met her packing, not vitamin supplements, but her suitcase for a business trip to Europe.

Cliché dictates, “You’ll never know unless you try.” Time has blurred from the moment I first tried to hold my breath to this day as I’m trying, nay, struggling to relearn the proper swimming techniques. Interestingly, when I hit the pool again for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t make like an anchor and sink. I managed a short swim (before lungs, legs and arms protested). I still know the precise strokes at the back of my mind; I just need to access them again. This is a take-away from that brief stint as a pseudo-athlete; the unknowing acquisition of skills that are now priceless to me as a runner (swimming is good cross-training) and ultimately, as a person. All this is to say that I am eternally grateful to my supreme seer of a swimming coach – my Mom. She taught me to try things; carefully equipped me to diminish the possibility of drowning. She has arranged my learning so meticulously that I am now able to enjoy a bit of being both an academic and an athlete. Had she not prodded me to learn how to keep my head above water, I would’ve probably met the anchor’s fate years ago.

*“My English is too poor,” is a common excuse I hear, thus the emphasis.

Vector Sources:
[1] www.havanastreet.com
[2] www.vecteezy.com


24 thoughts on “Swimming Coach Seer

    • My parents are truly my life’s coaches; my mom specifically for making me do things I didn’t want to as a kid. But I’m grateful that she was so patient when I’d refuse (I was painfully shy). Somehow, she knew me better than I knew myself back then.

      Thanks for reading this. :)

  1. This was great Nel.I had a prodder as well. For me it was music. First piano, because after all, we had one. Then, my own brilliant idea…the violin. I managed to wriggle out of the piano lessons after a year of violin lessons. I grew to hate these lessons, but then in high school all that music paid off because I got to travel with the Orchestra and bond with other kids in a way I never would have without that common thread. I don’t play now, but I developed a wonderful appreciation for classical music. I can’t imagine life without it now.

    I swim like a tarred pigeon. My mother paid for swimming lessons, too. But they didn’t take. I had a phobia about putting my face in the water. But at least I learned some strokes that could save my life if need be. And I learned how to put my fear in the back seat and shiver through a class II.5 rapid in a hard shell kayak. Challenges. Our mothers were so smart to challenge us.

    • It’s fascinating that you were once a pianist, RW. I did try learning (for a few summers I took both swimming and piano) and I honestly can’t remember why I stopped. But I will agree that even a short exposure to music lessons can go a long way (i.e. I can still read notes and recognize beat patterns in songs).

      As for the violin – amazing! =) It’s lovely when a violinist moves with each movement of the bow.

      Swimming was also initially intended as a “survival skill”; my siblings and I were required to take it. Indeed, our moms possessed some gift of pre-cognition.

      Finally, thanks for sharing a bit about your experiences in this wonderful comment.

    • Hello nocturnefirefay!

      I am deeply honored. I would also like to ask for your patience in my reply for this award. My plate has been admittedly full of late.

      Once again, thanks for stopping by and for this awesome award.

      • Oh no i’m not awaiting for a response from you sweets, :) It’s up to you if you want to do the list or not :) The way I see it is that I passed it forward to you because i felt you deserved it- and what you choose to do after that is all good. So no hurry no fuss darl. Hope you’re having a good weekend and you’re very welcome.

  2. The only sport I ever had any success in as a kid was swimming. I used every excuse to get out of PE that I could think of. Now, as an old lady, I’ve taken up golf. Even though I’m pathetic, I love it.

    • Welcome, Victoria. Golf is a good form of exercise; my father says it’s quite relaxing.

      Thank you for taking time to comment. :)

  3. Nel, this is very thoughtfully written. I was a swimmer in high school (and a little beyond), and I was more athletic than academic. Okay … my academics in high school were nearly non-existent! :)
    It took REALLY hard work in academics to catch up post-high school. Bottom line: Both are important to success. You can be more of one than the other, but it’s good to see things from both perspectives.

    • Hi MJ!
      Nice to hear that you also swam in your teens. I agree that both academics and athletics are necessary for a more holistic development. Re-discovering swimming has been quite fun now that I don’t have school to think about.

      Thank you for your kind compliment. :)

  4. You sound exactly like me as a child; I resented having to learn to swim. I was always the chubby one in the ill-fitting costume and the co-ordination of a newborn giraffe. A few years ago, I made myself go swimming at my local gym. It was empty. I swam, and enjoyed it. I’ve since become a strong swimmer (although only breaststroke, it’s all I can manage with chronic pain) and adore being in the water.

    • Way to go! I’m glad that you enjoy the water and have improved. One of the nice things about swimming is that when I’m in the water, I can hear my head more audibly.

      Thanks for stopping by. :)

  5. How nice that your mother insisted you try, and learn. And how very wonderful that you now acknowledge the wisdom in what she did!

    “Dormant potential hovers slightly above eternal inutility, doesn’t it?” Absolutely. Very well put!

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Priya. :)
      I think my mom deserves to be honored as my life’s “seer”; many things I could not have been without her persistence.

  6. You’ll think I’m nuts, but I believe swimming has healing properties. I do. There’s something magical about water and buoyancy that I can’t explain, only feel. I know, I should make an appointment with a therapist.

    • Welcome, PW!
      I don’t think you are nuts, otherwise, I might need to see that therapist with you.
      Thanks for stopping by. :)

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