Your neighbourhood Thorpedo

I swam one round of freestyle.

Then one more round of breaststroke.

2 parents, 1 husband, 1 sister and 1 bro-in-law, all watched suitably impressed. They could not have been more impressed had I been swimming across the English Channel, and not merely the 5-feet deep pool in the family resort we were visiting.

Learning how to swim was indeed a pat-on-the-back achievement for me.

Going back in time, this is how it all came about.

*Begin flashback*

Age 1 – So petrified of water that I used to exhaust everyone trying to escape to corners of the tiny bathroom filled with a frustrated mom and maid.

Age 3 – I had made my peace with the fact that I was expected to bathe everyday. For the routine head-baths, the mom (and only the mom) would be permitted to keep her hand over my eyebrows for a couple of seconds while I scrunched my eyes close for 30 seconds.

This clearly indicated to the parents, that their progeny was unlikely to become a national swimming champion anytime soon. Besides, even today, unless you live in a fancy apartment complex, or belong to a sports club, it is not easy having access to a good pool. So swimming was not seen as a must-have skill.

Age 22 – Moved into fancy apartment complex (albeit in the back of the beyond) and waded into a pool for practically the first time ever.

My flatmate and I had decided to learn swimming and had signed up for classes.

Three classes later, said flatmate was floating from one side of the pool to other. I had not even managed to get myself to float horizontally, clutching to the wall.

The project was clearly doomed to failure. Besides, the early morning weekend timing was just not conducive to two 22 year olds

Mid-twenties – Move to Chennai. Resolve all over again to learn to swim. Sign up in Anna Univ.

Turn up in the pool. 1 me and 3 instructors, none of whom felt the need to get into the pool. Instead all of them shouted out instructions from the side of the pool, the last one being ‘Madam, you can shop for more ‘covered’ swimming dress’. Apparently the normal bathing suit that did not meet frumpy standards set by aunties was not modest enough.

I left

Mid-twenties – Get membership to fancy club, being less-small fish in small office pond et al. Meet the world’s best swimming instructor.

I managed to attend 10 of the 15 classes but in these 10 classes, I learnt not only to float but also come as far as doing the freestyle stroke, albeit without the correct breathing technique.

Enthused by these results, I immediately began to practice fervently. Always by the side of the pool, ready to clutch a wall when I ran out of breath.

Now, I officially declared to all and sundry that I could swim.

Early – thirties – Move to Bombay and fine a decent pool. Aim to learn breathing.

Five classes later, I realized that the pool was more crowded than the Dadar railway station.


Early thirties – Try snorkeling at Dahab.

Under the mistaken impression that with a snorkeling mask, I would be able to swim everywhere. After all, breathing was my only problem, right?

Er..wrong. After nearly an hour of standing of swimming around the small jetty, I eventually gave up. D, who was watching out for me from the jetty, probably saw more fish.

Age 33 – Move into an apartment complex with a pool. Find a teacher who seems halfway decent and is willing to schedule classes at my convenience.

So I began to go. 2 – 3 times a week and not for daily classes. In order not to get petrified of the progress I was making. It is funny how scared you can get when you are actually making progress. Because that means you are one step closer to swimming by yourself to the deep end and that is a very scary thought.

For the best part of two months, I kept at it. Till I could finally finally actually do freestyle and breaststroke.

*End flashback*

Now that I know the basic strokes, I have realized a few things
- Learning how to swim requires persistence (though understandably most people don’t take ten years like me)
- Knowing how to swim and being able to swim like a pro who rescues drowning people are two very different things. It turns out that a lot of people are more former than later.
- Like everything else, getting better at swimming requires a LOT of practice.
- Some people are naturally gifted in the water but for most others it requires a constant overcoming of fear.

I am hoping that someday I can move from the safety of my pool to an open sea, and try snorkeling again. It is going to be a big challenge handling my fear of so much water.

But, yeah, it felt good in that resort, showing off to the family.


Aparna said...

I'm amazed that you kept at it for so long! That in itself is an amazing feat, I say :) I can't motivate myself to learn swimming because several years ago, I realized that I could do almost everything at a beach resort that swimmers can do. Even tried boogie-boarding couple of years ago and went off into the open sea. That was super fun :)
Ah well good luck with the fine-tuning and getting good enuf to rescue drowning people a la Baywatch. LOL on the "more covered swimming costume"!

hAAthi said...

arre wah! swimming is the awesomest. and believe me snorkeling in the sea is awesome-er! im so glad you're on your way to trying that out!

Anita said...

Aparna - Oh you lucky child! I am hoping that if I tell myself that I can actually swim, I can con my brains into avoiding freeze-mode.

And you know Chennai..

hAAthi - Totally. I love reading about your swimming-in-the-sea stories.

Sonal said...

you have me for company anita...i have already taken four years and am still struggling! but yeah, with the hope still alive in my heart combined with your promise of a great snorkelling vacation, i'll probably ahchieve family show off levels too somwhere down the line:)

Mum's delight said...

Congrats Anita. So glad you stuck with it and learnt to swim! btw my mom also learnt swimming when she was 33- she and my brothers were learning swimming from the same coach and he told her that she was the worst student he had, the next day she swam into the deep end!
You should plan a beach holiday to celebrate your swimming prowess.

Anita said...

Sonal - Yup, I am waiting for you to catch up as well. Then we shall do the cool-type snorkelling vacation.

Mum's Delight - I admire your mom. If any instructor would have told me that, I would have totally walked off. Am trying to plan a beach vacation where I can show off the skills, but I think I better go with someone who can give me company/keep me from panicking!

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