This Girl Can: Tamie and Open Water Swimming

As a kid growing up with scoliosis, exercise was discouraged. At that time, they didn’t know of the benefits of exercise in children with scoliosis. I was able to swim to have fun with friends but I never had a swimming lesson and never learned how to swim with proper form. I had a near drowning experience, at 10 years old, when I was canoeing with family. Since then, I had always been afraid of swimming in the ocean or any kind of open water.

As an adolescent, I wore the dreaded back brace. I struggled with depression as well as significant body image issues, which led to more difficulties later in adolescence and early adulthood. After high school, my curve began to progress and cause significant degeneration in my lumbar spine. I had herniated discs that caused severe pain and greatly limited my functioning so, at 26 and 30 years old, I had surgeries to correct that. My physical activity consisted of walking and some yoga, as that is what doctors suggested.

Fast forward to 40 years old! My sister, who also has scoliosis, had begun to run and compete in triathlons. This is something I would never have thought of trying and I thought it would be way out of my league. I joined her women’s triathlon club and started to run and taught myself how to swim breaststroke by watching YouTube videos. I competed in three sprint triathlons doing breaststroke and I was hooked and wanted to do more! It was suggested to me that I learn to swim freestyle if I was going to continue to compete in triathlon.

At the recommendation of a friend, I went to a group lesson and got in the water. The coach, Marcy, was kind, non-judgmental and simply asked me to show her what I can do. She gave me direction and suggestions on what to try and I slowly made progress. That was almost two years ago. Since then, I have continued to compete in triathlons and open water races.

This past spring, my spine took a turn for the worst and I am no longer able to run or ride my bike. This devastated me, as this world was still so new to me and I was afraid that it was going to be taken away. I also learned that kicking, while swimming, caused back pain as well. I was angry with my body for not doing what it is ‘supposed’ to do. Another swim coach suggested buoyancy shorts, as they would give my hips the lift that they need so I don’t have to kick much. Through physical therapy and swim practice, I became determined to keep swimming and challenge myself with longer distances.

This summer, I have competed in several 5K swims (and I have two more to go) and am looking forward to some marathon distance swims next year. I am grateful for all of the supportive coaches and friends I have made through swimming. It has truly changed my life. I am hoping to compete in the Swim Around Key West next June — it is a 12.5 mile swim around the island. June is Scoliosis Awareness Month so I am going to swim to raise funds and awareness so children have better outcomes in the future.

The fear, that I had from my childhood, dissipated after my first few open water practices. I got in the dark, cool water and immediately, my heart started to race. I looked around at all of the lifeguards and other experienced swimmers and I knew that I would be okay. They would definitely notice if I began to flail about! Now, as I put on my swim cap and goggles, I know that I am about to enjoy freedom in the water and I welcome it every chance I can get.

I love how I feel in the water, pain free and at peace with myself.