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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Liz
Liz
12 years ago

Next: AeroBars

Maria
12 years ago

Damn it. Stop being so awesome.

Also, thanks for giving me nightmares about dead floating seals.

Ahh but seriously. These days I’m NOT stretching myself, I’m not trying new things. And your recent adventures have reminded me to fight against stagnancy. Keep on truckin, lady.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
12 years ago

That’s awesome. I am a non-swimmer, part of the reason being that I don’t want to be seen in a bathing suit. My 7 year old is an awesome swimmer though. I am so glad that we’ve had him take lessons since he was 4. He can dive and do all kinds of strokes and even swim under water! That is something I could never do, I have to hold my nose.

michelle
michelle
12 years ago

I am a runner, and I have thus far avoided tri’s for the same reason… I don’t swim. I am with you on the whole dog-paddle, no face in the water, pinching nose shut thing from childhood. Thanks for pointing out that there are swim classes for adults available (and that, since I can at least float, there should be people there that suck more than me.) Thanks.

Jen @ lifelove'n'wine
12 years ago

You are so cool! I love your ambition, bravery, and determination. I feel inspired reading about all of the cool things you’ve been doing!

SJ
SJ
12 years ago

Awesome Sundry. Kudos to you for setting your mind out to do something and actually doing it.

I should perphaps take some lessons from you in badassery.

Amanda
12 years ago

Good for you! That was inspiring!

Jill
12 years ago

I’ve been meaning to take swimming lessons for awhile, which is to say my husband has been shaming me into taking them since he found out I don’t know how to swim. And as inspired as I probably should be by your new-found sense of accomplishment, I’ll be honest, it just kind of confirms my suspicions that I’ll look like a total tool, worse than the time I took a step aerobics class. I think I’ll pass…

Eliza
Eliza
12 years ago

So proud of you! What a difference a month can make. (I can’t do flip turns, either.)

serror
serror
12 years ago

Awesome! Nice work on accomplishing something that was intimidating.

I took swim lessons from about Riley’s age on, and it never seemed like a hard thing. When you are that little, almost everything you are doing in life is a new (ish) experience.

My husband can swim but isn’t very confident with the whole process. Maybe I will encourage him to do what you just did!

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

Awesome! You are inspiring me! Next? Do they have Mini-Iron Man competitions?

Kelly
12 years ago

Congrats!

Also, you inspired me – I start adult swimming lessons this fall!

Alex
12 years ago

Love how you ended this one.

susie
susie
12 years ago

Love the ending on this – good observation, it’s so easy to stop trying new things, and new things are so much *scarier* now that I’m a grown up… who knew, eh?

kristin
12 years ago

It’s so funny how I found you b/c of twittergate yesterday and how much I wanted to dislike your blog and then this is just about the funniest post and it’s amazing how much alike we all are and that’s probably why, good or bad, we’re all drawn to each other.

Christopher Guest doesn’t need this scene…I think you’d do just fine and I’m waiting to hear more.

Suzy Voices
12 years ago

Awesome! I hate swimming. I had to swim something like 10 laps for my scuba certification. Thought I was going to die.

Congrats on your accomplishment!!

Brigid
12 years ago

I have always said I can’t swim under water, but I could swim to save my life. But I don’t often hang around places that would challenge that idea. Maybe I’ll go hang out at the pool and practice a little before I start a class. I’d hate to have to drown someone to be the star pupil.

louise m
louise m
12 years ago

I advise you to pick up a proper leg bouyancy float for doing arms only work outs. It’s the only way to swim without your legs, you don’t have to squish your leg muscles together worrying about the kick board, and it’s much easier to do flip turns when you do progress to that point. I love swimming as a workout, just don’t do enough of it anymore.

Jenny
12 years ago

Love this post. I just (re)joined the Y and swimming is on my list. I have to overcome my fear of appearing publicly in a swimsuit first, though.

Maybe I’ll go watch that swimcap video a few times to relax…

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

Swimmer forever! I was too uncoordinated to do anything on land, but man I could swim. I’m so impressed that you took on the challenge. When I was in jr. college, I taught swimming lessons at the local YMCA. My most memorable student was an 80 year old woman named Lula. She rambled into class with the cutest swim cap (the old kind that buckles under your chin and has flowers on top). She was not the least bit intimidated that the majority of students in the class were many decades younger than she was. On that first day, she was a little aprehensive to even put her face in the water. By the end of the 2-week session, she swam one whole lenght of the pool (25 yards). At all of 19 years old, I will never forget my pride in being able to help her, but moreso, my complete awe of this sweet little old lady who was still taking on new challenges.

Sande
Sande
12 years ago

Your posts about exercise, doing new things, and the tri have inspired me to sign up for my first 5k. It will be on 9/19. Thank you for being so awesome. And in the words of “dude” FACT!

Kathy
Kathy
12 years ago

See, I’m the opposite in that I’m a swimmer, not a runner. I admire you (even more than previously) because you are BOTH!

Ashley
12 years ago

I can’t WAIT to hear what’s next! Sort of hoping it’s synchronized swimming because HOW RAD WOULD THAT BE?

Courtney
12 years ago

I grew up on swim team (it was cheaper than daycare), and while I mich prefer working out with the ability to listen to music, I’ll probably end up back in a pool someday. I was a lifeguard for a while too.

One fear I do have, is that my parents have a place at the lake. Both love the water, but aren’t strong swimmers. What if I send my kids over to stad with grannie and gramps and someone (kid or grandparent) gets into a sketchy swimming situation? That’s why I think it’s awesome for you and your boys that you’ve become more comfortable and capable in the water.

And, @ Amy: that’s AWESOME! One of the women on my board is 78 and is still so involved and up to date. She even has a facebook- It’s inspiring to see older women continue to grow and learn!

Becky Mochaface
12 years ago

Skydiving!

Liz
Liz
12 years ago

@Amy: That is SO cool!
@Linda — I changed my mind, forget AeroBars — I have a better suggestion: http://kottke.org/09/08/nyc-parkour

E
E
12 years ago

The kickboard arcing out of the water? Giggling like a lunatic over here.
Anyway, just wanted to congratulate you on the training and share that I’m doing my first two (count ’em, TWO) tris in the next month. First one in a pool, second one in a lake – did my first lake swim last weekend and “underwater zombies” was my predominant thought throughout. As the completely squicked out feeling of not being able to see 5 INCHES DOWN INTO THE WATER UNDER ME remains with me still, it comforted me to think of you panicking about the same type of thing. Didn’t think it was possible to shudder uncontrollably and swim at the same time. Anyway, keep up the good work!

beach
beach
12 years ago

inspirational….

kath
12 years ago

When indeed? Me too. I just got my marks from my first credit course photography class. I haven’t been to school in 32 years. I got 88% and I am so proud. And you, you inspirational thing you, you’ve got me doing the 30 day shred, every second or third day but that’s more than I was doing a month ago! Thanks Linda, you are an amazing woman …

kath
12 years ago

Oh and if I can hijack your comments one more time … even better than that is the fact that my 90 year old mother just got her very first brand new laptop, she’s never used a computer, and is now emailing, chatting and reading blogs. Every morning I get an email from her that says, “read your blog, very good, love you mom.” She writes emails like they’re telegrams, she doesn’t waste words.
Cheers!

Kate
12 years ago

I’m really not trying to be a creeper blog stalker, but damnit girl! I have to say it again:

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” ~ Pablo Picasso

This is you to a TEE. This is the kind of person I *strive* to be. So to be able to read about your incredible journey, your challenges and the tenacity with which you face and overcome them…well, it’s just really inspirational. It’s revved up my mind, thrown my body into gear and given me a direction to head in, a place I want to be at.

Keep up the good work AND the good writing.

Jennifer
Jennifer
12 years ago

“Circle swim… split the lane” yep you got the lingo down totally! Curious if you’ll keep working on it (longer and longer triathlons! open-water swimming! master’s team workouts!) or if you enjoy other stuff more. Gosh you’re doing EVERYTHING – kickboxing, cycling, running, shred, weights, yoga etc.

If you decide to amp-up the bicycling and do some longer distances (century rides and stuff) I’ll totally come down and train with you! All day rides (with many coffeeshop stops of course) are the best training.

Back to the swimming – if you really want to be a badass, learn how to do the Butterfly!

Sarah
12 years ago

LOL!

You kick ass…amazing that you’ve gone so far!! Can’t wait to hear about the triathalon!

Lesley
Lesley
12 years ago

It’s funny that most of us seem to learn to dog paddle first. I wonder why this is. It’s pretty exhausting actually. I don’t know how dogs manage it for long. The breast stroke feels graceful and glamorous but it’s also a learned method. I could never get it.

The only thing I’ve learned to do in water is float, but I don’t think there are any competitive events calling for floating.

Mostly I don’t swim (now) because I am so self-conscious in a bathing suit. I expect I am not alone. I’m not sure my body, even fit, will ever be “good enough” to walk around in a bathing suit in public without feeling acutely uptight.

Lesley
Lesley
12 years ago

Sundry, speaking of trying new things, I stumbled on this just now so thought I’d pass it along.

The New York City Ballet Workout 2 is available on Youtube. http://tinyurl.com/74wade Am going to try this tomorrow. Love the music!

(Couldn’t find volume 1 but Amazon is selling the whole package.)

Becky
Becky
12 years ago

you are so full of the awesome….I loves you!

Cookie
12 years ago

Thanks for an early morning chuckle (even if all laughing ends in coughing at this point). You are awesome and I would totally watch a mockumentary about adult swimming.

Jenny, Bloggess
12 years ago

I totally want to split a lane with you.

Wait, that’s *not* a pot reference?

Never mind.

babelbabe
12 years ago

the flip turn? : )

I have been swimming since I was 4 and still cant do a flip turn without feeling like I am going to drown. as for the kcikboard, try those little styrofoam cylinders instead. much easier to clamp between legs.

Chelle
12 years ago

Linda, I’ll teach you how to do the cool underwater flippy-thing if you teach me how to run without throwing up. Deal?

Victoria
12 years ago

Awww, good job! Congratulations :)

spacegeek
spacegeek
12 years ago

Awesome!!! Embracing humiliation–god that is my worst nightmare! So proud of you. I’ve just started riding horses again after 25 years non-riding. I’m like jello, don’t remember a thing or was never taught… it

is humiliating to feel *so* incompetent about anything–but what a breakthrough when it goes even marginally well!!!

Joy
Joy
12 years ago

Next challenge: 24 hour bike race such as

http://www.24-9.com/news.html

Frank
12 years ago

Now that you can swim, you’re ready to give rowing a try. There are lots of rowing clubs in your area and some should be holding learn to row classes come the fall or spring.

AB
AB
12 years ago

Hi Sundry — your comment about Christopher Guest made me wonder if you’ve ever heard of “The Big Bad Swim,” which is neither by Guest nor a mockumentary, but is a movie about an adult beginner swim class. :) I haven’t seen it, so I can’t vouch for its quality, but for what it’s worth —

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460721/

Cheers!

ginger
ginger
12 years ago

Echoing Louise M’s suggestion of the buoyancy float thing. There’s two kinds I’ve seen – one a figure-eight chunk of styrofoam, the other two styro cylinders roped together. Both much superior to trying to keep a kickboard half-underwater with your thighs.

patois
12 years ago

It is precisely because of this post that I will get my youngest into lessons pronto. I slacked off with him. (He’s such a third.) I do NOT want him to be in an adult remedial class many years from now. He will forever know your name and express gratitude to you henceforth for eternity.

Amen.

Kami Lewis Levin
12 years ago

I grew up in Miami and have been swimming since I was a wee lass. At least, so I thought, until I married a man who actually swims. Who knew that pretending to be Darryl Hannah in Splash didn’t count as real swimming? I’ve always blamed my contact lenses for my resistance to putting my face in the water, but clearly it’s a crock of shit. Ok. I’m going to practice at the pool. Right now. Or maybe tomorrow when I feel less fat.

Kristen
12 years ago

Of course you like Joel McHale — I knew I adored you and we had important things in common, such as the Ability to Not Drown, Enjoyment of Being Head of the Class (Regardless of Skill Level), Neurotic Desire to Try Scary Things, and Love of Joel McHale.

Cincy
Cincy
12 years ago

So fun (and funny) to read this after I watched my friend compete in the Chicago Triathalon! She kicked ass, btw. I could never do it though, for so many reasons, but being a mostly, non-swimmer is the biggest. Wish I had the nerve to take the lessons like you! Way to go!!