Why Guzzling Gallons of Chlorinated Water is Good For You

comfort-zoneAbout this time last year I first started learning how to swim. While I had a mean doggy paddle, I had no idea how to put one hand in front of the other. Well, I mean, I could, I just wouldn’t make much progress.

With the support of the Swim Across America coaches, I managed to complete my goal (which grew over time) of 3&3 in fifteen weeks. I swam 3 miles in the open water, and raised $3K all to benefit the SAA Lab here in Baltimore. It was a fun challenge, made possible by many of you, so, thank you!

As you can imagine, learning to swim caused many embarrassing moments. Like the time I hung from the lane buoys, my hands grabbing both feet. “Ma’am, are you okay?” a lifeguard kindly asked. “Yep, my feet are just cramped!”

I cannot begin to explain my relief several weeks into the training, when I finally learned to swim 25 meters without guzzling half the pool along the way. Something finally clicked on the Rehoboth Bay in Delaware, and I stopped ingesting mouths full of salt water.

Yes, it was a magical moment. Coincidentally, on that same swim I discovered seaweed and mud are not deadly, despite my imagination.

With my big goal behind me, I settled into a rhythm of swimming a few times a week with my coach, Marci. No longer in a coaching position, Marci kicked my butt with challenging workouts – exercises she easily doubled for herself, and completed in the same time.

While I no longer had to deal with the discomfort of inhaling chlorinated water, I also found myself stagnating. My speed wasn’t increasing, and I stubbornly refused to learn the backstroke, or any other stroke for that matter. I didn’t want to struggle any more.

Yet, I did struggle. I wanted to improve, and yearned for a different stroke. Swimming 3K free-style is a whole lot of the same, facedown, movement.

When I heard about an intermediate adult-swim class, I jumped on board. Hoping to get some simple, easy-to-implement cues from Jessi, our instructor, I jumped in and started warming up with the class.

Twenty-minutes into the first class, I was ready to quit. I even gave myself plenty of reasons this class wouldn’t help me. Here were a few:

I can do this on my own.

I’ll be better off building from the foundation I have.

There are too many people in this class – she won’t have time to help me. (There were 6 of us)

This class isn’t structured to meet my needs.

The time of the class just doesn’t work well for me.

She’s not going to be able to push me the way I want to be pushed.

All of this because she had us kicking on our backs, and I, once again, found myself inhaling water up my nose. “You will be so much more efficient if you can learn how to relax in the pool,” Jessi said.

“Relax? I am relaxed… when I’m swimming free-style,” I said.

With that, she jumped in the pool, flipped onto her back, floated for ten seconds, and then started kicking. “See how my feet kick the water into the air?”

“Yes, easy for you,” I said, feeling defeated, and desperately wanting to go back to my same old routine.

Then she did something I will remember for a lifetime.

“Watch,” she said, as she flipped over to her back again, floating effortlessly around me. “Now I’m going to tense up and watch what happens to my body.”

I watched – she sank. Jessi, an awesome swimmer, sank. “Okay, so I don’t know how to relax in the pool. Welcome to my life,” I said, half-joking.

From that moment on, I realized that if I wanted to improve—to grow—I needed to get uncomfortable again. If that meant ingesting gallons of chlorinated water, so be it.

In truth, growth is rarely easy, or comfortable, but it’s worth it.

Yesterday, she put fins on my feet and paddles on my hands. For thirty straight minutes, I struggled, irritated with her. Kicking with those things on my feet was uncomfortable, and “stupid,” in my mind.

But, I sucked it up, stuck with it, and was flabbergasted at my final 150-meter swim, when she had me take everything off and swim a few laps. I could feel the improvement in my stroke.

Right then, I jumped out of the pool, hugged her, and made a promise to myself: guzzle away!

What are you doing differently that’s uncomfortable? How do you know you’re growing, learning, and developing your skills?

Remember: if it were easy (comfortable), everyone would do it!

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