I took my first swimming lessons at the age of 36. I was about four months pregnant with my (now-30-yo) son. The motivation behind it was my husband’s involvement in Masters Swimming and my absolute certainty that swimming would be an important part of my child’s future. I knew that after the birth I would become a full-time homemaker and I looked forward to that. After a lifetime of being terrified by anything to do with deep water, I knew I had to overcome that tremendous obstacle in order to avoid passing on my fear of the water to my child.
As a toddler, I had a traumatic experience at the beach in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Neither of my parents was a swimmer so their response to my almost drowning was to bring me to safety and recommend I spend the rest of my life staying away from the water. I took their advice seriously. After we moved to Brooklyn, New York, I avoided pools although I have a very vague memory of attending swimming classes at the 9th Street Y when I was about 10. The lessons were probably part of the summer CYO camp experience. It didn’t go very well for me. Early on, I was accidentally “stabbed” on my forearm by someone’s defective snorkel goggles, spilling my bright red blood into the pool and confirming my belief that I should just say goodbye to water-related activities. Except for never being able to comfortably go into pools or the ocean, I can’t say that my life was detrimentally affected by my not being able to swim.
My husband, a former competitive high-school and college swimming champion, could not even begin to fathom the anxiety I felt whenever the topic of swimming came up. I could not explain, let alone show, the panic-attack symptoms I felt when he invited me to the beach or to watch him compete in his Masters events. Intellectually I knew that there was absolutely no reason for my fear of the water but try explaining that to my psyche. I don’t know when I decided I needed to move forward but I knew I had to.
I enrolled in evening adult beginner classes and I had a wonderful, patient, strong and capable coach. His confidence and teaching style made me feel that overcoming my fear was within my reach. I probably took lessons for a few months before he insisted I had progressed far enough to begin to dive into the pool. This new challenge proved to be more difficult than actually learning to get back and forth in the pool. For some bizarre reason, jumping head-first into the pool sounded like a bad idea. If I wanted to complete the course, Latif said, I needed to dive into the pool and also jump in feet first. It took me almost as many weeks to accomplish that as it did to tread water properly but I finally graduated.
Fast forward 30 years. I swim 40 laps M-F, no fear whatsoever though I will admit that after I turned 60, I stopped diving into the pool. At 65, I stopped doing flip turns because I have nothing to prove anymore and it’s okay if I don’t complete my workout quickly. Swimming has become my “alone time”. I use this time to focus on nothing or on planning what I will write in a particular blog or just enjoy the sound of the birds singing above or the beauty of the clear blues skies overhead. I cannot believe how far I have come. I am grateful for the fact that my overcoming my fear of swimming was positive for our children who learned to swim when they were babies. My stroke is nothing to brag about but I can save myself if I have to and so can my kids.
©2022 Marietta Arce