While I don’t completely live by the phrase “Do one thing every day that scares you”*, I do try to do things on a regular basis that stretch me outside of my comfort zone. Some of these are big adventures — moving across the country to a state where I knew no one — but many are smaller — becoming a regular blood donor again after a bad incident drove me away for a decade.
I’d hoped to do one such big adventure for my 50th birthday, coming up later this month. I pondered hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, a several-day trek on the Superior Hiking Trail, or some other solo outdoorsy trip.
Then I got injured, started the never-ending cycle of physical therapy, and put the adventures on hold while I healed.
So I started to look for something smaller, something that still made me nervous but that I could do while inhabiting my healing body.
And that’s how I landed on Masters swimming.
We gave up our family gym membership a while ago, and along with it access to a pool. I swam competitively up until 8th grade; worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor through high school, college, and grad school; and basically grew up in and around water, swimming every chance I could get. I enjoyed getting in the pool every once in a while and peeling off some laps. I missed that when our membership ended, but not enough to seek out opportunities to swim, since I was doing so many other active things.
As my injuries dragged on and as my return-to-running date became fuzzier and further out, I contemplated a short-term gym membership somewhere with a pool, but the options weren’t great. And I realized that not only was I missing cardio, I was missing the structure of a plan. I wanted someone to tell me what to do, to create some accountability, to push me out of my usual habit of swimming leisurely and only doing sets I enjoyed.
It took me a few months to work up the courage to actually sign up and show up. At my old gym, the Masters group that swam in the early morning was a total Bro Fest — loud, brash, and completely unwelcoming. I worried that I’d end up in a group just like that — fast, former collegiate swimmers who’d be annoyed at me for being so slow and bringing down the caliber of the group. I worried about getting back into the pool after a long absence, of not being able to complete the sets, of failing at swimming.
I ended up signing up for the Masters group run by my elder kiddo’s swim club. I figured, for better or worse, I knew the coaches, and surely they wouldn’t make too much fun of me knowing that I’m Resident 9th Grader’s mom, right?
I was terrified to attend my first practice, which was on Monday. I had trouble falling asleep, and checked and rechecked my swim bag the night before.
But as soon as I walked in the door, someone recognized me as a newbie, and came up to say hi. And introduced me around. As it turns out, Monday is a more lightly-attended workout, so I didn’t even have to share a lane (and “drag down everyone around me”, another fear of mine). No one cared that I didn’t do all of the sets, or that I put my flippers on for the kick drills because I’m more comfortable doing so. Parts of the workout were challenging because I was out of practice, but I did way better than I expected. The coach even noticed a small thing that was affecting my stroke that I’ve never been able to diagnose, and correcting it has already made a difference in my endurance. I went back on Tuesday and did even more of the sets and it was still challenging but more doable. Circle swimming was not as hard as I remembered, and as it turns out my swimming speed was totally on par with the other two swimmers in my lane. And I met even more people who went out of their way to welcome me and engage me in the conversation of the group.
And the coaches didn’t make fun of me, either.
I’m still not sure if this is going to be a one-month-only thing, or if Masters swimming will be something I incorporate more regularly. I do know that this group does not swim in the summer — but I’ve heard rumors that my younger kiddo’s swim school might be starting a Masters group for the summer….
What’s one thing you’ve done recently that’s scared you?
*Which, contrary to popular belief, was written by Mary Schmich, and not Eleanor Roosevelt. If you’d like to go down the same rabbit hole I did regarding the history of this quote, start here.