In at the deep end

This is definitely one of those ‘what was I thinking moments’. Suddenly there are 101 tasks just within the confines of my tiny car that are essential I deal with RIGHT NOW. Re-setting my clock to GMT (yes, it’s already January), putting CDs in their correct cases, packing away my satnav … I could go on. But, I’ve paid for this, which I find is always a pretty good incentive to making yourself do things.

A few months ago I thought of, and then dismissed the idea, of taking adult swimming lessons. I’d always been confident in the water as a child, but as an adult have developed a fear of putting my face in the water, consequently, my swimming technique is currently limited to what is best described as ‘the breaststroke with a broken neck’ method. And if anyone swims within 5 meters of me and dares splash I freak out. It doesn’t make for the most attractive of swimming styles.

Then, recently I was reminded of Adam Sultan’s #16in16 challenge as part of his #lifeyears project. This follows on from his incredible achievement of completing 15 marathons in 2015 to raise money for Macmillian Cancer Support — head over to https://www.facebook.com/yourlifeyears to check it out. I’ve decided to take on the challenge of completing 16 different challenges in 2016 (which is cheating a bit, but hey, rules are meant to be broken) that will force me out of my comfort zone in a variety of ways to explore different boundaries, fears and interests.

And so here I am. In the carpark of the leisure centre. Running out of excuses.

First challenge
Navigating my way through the new world of unisex changing rooms. When did this become a thing?! I’d very much like to know who thought that would be a good idea and I’d very much like to meet the people who put up the signage. Turns out the unisex changing room is not, in fact, wholly unisex, there are also single sex areas at each end. I will leave this here and move on.

Second challenge
Putting on goggles. My claustrophobia means I hate just having them on my face. However, this doesn’t seem to be the main issue on this occasion. As I pull them over my eyes they slip off the back of my head, as I pull the straps back they fly off my face. I have to be helped by the instructor. Smooth.

Third challenge
Let’s get onto the swimming. The other members of my class are lovely and tell me they have been going to lessons now for a while, which is great as it leaves the instructor more time to hold my hand to get me through the first class. We start off with front crawl — nothing like being thrown in at the deep end! I watch the instructor explaining to us about technique, nodding furiously and desperately trying to look like I’m listening, whilst in my head I’m just freaking out about the whole upcoming ‘head meets water’ scenario and contemplating where on the scale of today’s embarrassment drowning would rank (answer: fairly low). Then, it’s my turn. I peer up from the side of the pool hoping I’m giving the instructor my best ‘help me’ eyes through goggles which are by this time so fogged up I can’t see a thing. It’s no use, and I soon find myself half way across the pool doing something that vaguely resembles the front crawl. I pretty much have to stop to tread water every time I need to take a breath but I’ll take it for the first class! We then move onto backstroke which is an altogether more relaxing experience. In fact, I’m told I look like I’ve been doing it my whole life. She clearly knows all the tricks to ensure new students return. And I will be. Despite my reservations I’m surprised to find that the lesson flies by, and what’s more, I’ve actually enjoyed it. Mostly.

One final anecdote before I leave. On the way home I pulled off the motorway onto the slip road to be met by a car coming head-on towards me, driven by two elderly gents out on a jaunt who had clearly got hopelessly lost. No amount of beeping my horn, waving my arms and shouts of ‘‘you can’t go that way you [beep beep]’’ would persuade them otherwise (I saw them again a few minutes later, pulling out in front of another car, so can happily report that both they and I escaped with our lives).

So what did I learn from all this? Well the most intimidating things about my first #16in16 challenge had nothing to do with the swimming — what I should really have been worrying about was my negative thought processes and two navigationally challenged old blokes. It’s been a timely reminder for me of something which we all know, but which can be very easily forgotten — that when you get down to doing it, things are never quite as scary as they seem. When we face our fears they shrink, but we grow. What we should probably be most concerned about in life are not the challenges we face, but the self-doubts and negative voices in out head which threaten to undermine and thwart our potential to face those challenges before we’ve even tried.

Oh, and we can’t always change the negative actions and behaviours of others, no matter how much we try to influence them — so sometimes it’s probably best just to swerve out of their way!