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Swimming lesson

"I latched onto that past-tense narrative for the beginning portion of the training schedule, repeating those words as my non-training mantra:
I am a strong swimmer.
I will be fine."

- Tami Mohamed Brown

by Tami Mohamed Brown

It was a perfect afternoon for a swim: the sun warm, the sky a cloudless brilliant blue over the still lake.

I dawdled at my towel, poked my way to the water's edge, hung back at the shore -ankle-deep, goggles held securely between my thighs while I tried to work my new blue swim cap onto my head.

This past summer I signed up for a women's triathlon, enthused by the combined contagion of a friend's stories of her joy in training and participating as well as my own growing health consciousness.

I had no doubt I could easily conquer the running portion, a 5K run that ended the event. I knew, too, that the biking portion would pose no problems for me at about 15 miles. I applied a hyper-intense focus on my biking, on my daily run, on the things that came easily to me until, finally, I realized that the inevitable was, well, inevitable.

The pool at the Y was closed for a week, and I was giddily relieved. Once it reopened, I didn't have a suit that fit, or time in my schedule before open swim ended. I'd get to the swimming part when the lake warmed up, I told myself, sure that no one noticed my secret stalling.

"You're such a strong swimmer," my mom reassured me. "You'll be fine."

And I was a strong swimmer - years ago, when I was sixteen. I latched onto that past-tense narrative for the beginning portion of the training schedule, repeating those words as my non-training mantra: I am a strong swimmer. I will be fine.

I continued to cling to that notion like a buoy or a swimming noodle - like a life jacket. I continued to run and bike my way around the lake trails, the streets of my neighborhood - thoughts of swimming taking on a rhythm of worry that rode tandem with me as I pedaled, pseudo-strokes that weighted my feet or churned in my throat when I hit the trails, my training calendar lopsided and incomplete.

I had signed on to complete a race that required commitment and fortitude, but something became clear to me: I didn't want to leave the arena of the comfortable.

It took minimal effort to spend time on the familiar: to focus on the skills that I had already mastered, the things I had proved to myself were no problem. It seemed I didn't want to do the hard work; I was not willing to start from square one, to put in the time, to be a beginner.

It appeared that I was just going to have to get in the water, at some point, and simply swim.

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The water felt icier than I hoped it would. The other swimmers cut through the lake quicker than I knew I could, their strokes scarcely disturbing the water.

My swim cap felt tight on my head. I couldn't see through my swimming goggles, could barely see at all without my glasses on. The beach was crowded. I began to paddle my way gracelessly towards the opposite shore of the lake.

"Are you doing okay, ma'am?" asked one of the guards, stationed in the middle of the lake.

Lovely, I thought. I look as awkward as I feel.

"I'm just a little out of practice," I answered, only slightly out of breath.

And, that's when it hit me. This was exactly it. This is how we grow, how we learn new things, how we improve - we practice.

And that's just fine.

I dog-paddled past him, head above water.

Tami Mohamed Brown lives in Bloomington with her family.

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