My last swimming lesson was on Wednesday and I’m going to miss my little ragtag class of People Who Can’t Swim For Shit. This particular demographic is an interesting little slice of human pie, and I am of the opinion that a mockumentary about people taking adult beginner swimming lessons would rule. (Christopher Guest, you can have that for free.)

As I’ve mentioned, I signed up for these lessons because I have to swim a short (but terrifying!) distance in the mini-triathlon I’m doing in September, and I figured I needed to brush up on my skills. However, from day one it became painfully obvious I actually had no skills whatsoever—I’ve spent my entire life doing a sort of modified dog paddle, never once putting my face in the water or doing anything even marginally coordinated with my arms and legs. I think I secretly believed that it would all come naturally to me, that the lessons I vaguely remember taking when I was maybe 8 years old would trigger some sort of muscle memory and after a practice lap or two I’d be powering my masterful way back and forth across the pool, but I guess I forgot that whatever I was doing 27 years ago involved inflatable water wings and a hand that never once unpinched itself from my nostrils. As a kid I learned how to tread water and float on my back, but as far as actually propelling myself through the water, not so much.

It’s been a humbling experience to take these lessons, thrashing pathetically around at one end of the pool with my fellow swim-reject adults while the rest of the water is filled with cavorting, dolphinlike children who can do backflips off the freaking diving board and everything. But man, I’m so glad I did it.

During the last four weeks I went from someone who couldn’t even cross the pool without kicking a giant stupid ineffective plume of water behind me and gagging on the gallons of chlorine that continually shot up my nose to an actual no-shit swimming person who can do laps. LAPS. As in, more than one. Without stopping. Well, okay, I can’t yet do that cool underwater flip-turn thing, but I can by-god turn around and go back the way I came without having to sling myself over the pool wall and gasp for air like a landed tuna.

I’m even down with the pool lingo. Want to circle swim? Or split the lane? Yes, it sounds like it involves marijuana, but check this, it doesn’t!

The fact that I at least had some rudimentary survival abilities put me ahead of most of my fellow lesson-takers, who sank like startled rocks when attempting to float on their backs, and if I’m being totally honest it’s been a strange dichotomy of embarrassed frustration (“Oh my god, I suck at this”) and head-of-the-class pride (“Oh my god, at least I don’t suck THAT bad”) over the last couple months.

During the last class on Wednesday an instructor had me do a modified Master’s workout while other people practiced their non-drowning drills, and for a brief moment I felt like a sleek and shining star—the most talented pupil who had clearly advanced out of the beginner’s group and was primed for a competitive team position or perhaps even a corporate endorsement of some kind. That lasted about five seconds, until the kickboard I was holding between my legs for an arms-only workout shot from my clumsily clamped thighs like a bullet and flew in a humiliating arch out of the water and across the lane to land with a facesplash in front of the kids’ instructor. The attractive one with the visible six-pack and faint resemblance to Joel McHale. Meanwhile, with my sudden loss of buoyancy I accidentally inhaled an enormous glurt of water and half-choked to death.

Ah well, I’m used the the moment of dignity in my life being few and far between. The point is, I couldn’t swim four weeks ago, and now I can. I can’t tell you what an amazing feeling that is. When did I stop actively choosing to learn new skills? Why did I start deciding that I was too old for this, or too uncoordinated for that? And hey, what’s next?


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14 years ago

Speaking of Christopher Guest and swimming, remember this?

14 years ago

Very motivating, makes me want to go try something that scares me today…maybe I will actually cook something, yikes!

14 years ago

Hi, Sundry! I’ve been reading your blog since you were on Diaryland. Excellent blog! :)

Anyway, I learned how to swim this summer totally from scratch…and I’m in my late 20s. It took me 8 lessons to learn how to float. I then had 16 more lessons (I was determined) and learned how to do freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke. Both of my instructors were 17 or 18 years old. I was embarrassed, but I persevered, and it felt really good to learn something new–something involving being physically coordinated. It’s awesome that you learned how to swim in a month! Go, adult swim learners!

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