Where there is a wall, there is a way

I was at the deep end of the swimming pool. I wanted to catch my breath again. Hence I dived a couple of feet into the water, breathed out slowly to rise back to the surface. I did this a few times, and then I took a few deep breaths. Every time I did this, I inhaled deeply, submerged my head into the water and exhaled slowly through my mouth. After repeating this half a dozen times, I took some regular breaths. I was feeling much better and was happy that I recovered quickly. I looked ahead and the fifty meter finishing mark looked much more farther than what it actually was. But today was the day of reckoning; I had to bloody do it; I was determined as hell. And so I kicked off from the wall at the end of the swimming pool. I was conscious not to tire myself and hence glided more than usual. I was over-conscious that I do not swallow water while breathing, even though I could comfortably tilt my head to breathe. Hence I rotated my head much more than I usually do. My catch-and-pull and subsequent high-elbow action were nowhere near perfection, but it was getting better with every lap. I just concentrated on getting them as accurate as possible in this most important lap of my life yet. I comfortably crossed the 25m mark and ploughed on. I stopped kicking my legs to conserve energy. Even without kicking my legs, I could maintain a horizontal body position. After about thirty five strokes and close to a minute from kick-off, the fingers of my right hand touched the wall. Yes, I had completed the fifty meter lap.

It was business-as-usual for everyone else at the pool. There was no applause or cheering from my fellow swimmers and everyone else who were at the pool. Nobody knew and I guess nobody cared about what I had achieved at that moment. With that lap, I had completed twenty laps of fifty meter each in the last one hour. This meant that I had finally reached the milestone of swimming freestyle for a kilometre within an hour. It took me close to 20 months and about 175 hours of practice to get here. I was so thrilled and liberated at what I had just achieved. Yes, I take a short break after every lap of fifty meters… yes, swimming a kilometre in an hour is perhaps the slowest one can be… yes, the good swimmers do this distance in about twenty minutes and an average swimmer does it in about thirty minutes… yes, 20 months is way too long to reach this milestone…. nevertheless, it was my moment of glory and the sense of achievement was unmistakable within me. I finally lay back on the water and started paddling backwards, relishing the feeling of having “Gotten There”.

The picturesque Kennsington swimming pool was where I practiced all my swimming. Although, I have never visited any other swimming pool in the city, I can claim that this is undoubtedly the best swimming pool in Bangalore. Situated right next to Ulsoor Lake, it has 8 lanes and is 50m in length. The shallow end is about 4ft deep. The floor of the pool starts a steep decline after the 25m mark to end at a depth of 16ft at the deep end. The pool has been very well maintained, both by Nisha Millet who was running her academy here for quite some time. And also by Dolphin Aquatics, who took over the pool towards the end of 2019. Literally attached to the serene Ulsoor Lake, the view from the pool can be breathtakingly beautiful on certain mornings. And when there is a slight drizzle in the mornings, one would never like to come out of the waters.

Looking back, I realize that I was a very slow learner when it came to swimming. I joined classed in January 2018 and got to swimming ten meter by the end of May 2018. That is the time some of my fellow batch mates took to swim the entire fifty meter lap. There were three aspects that helped get me to where I am today. I continue to use them to further my swimming and I hope it can help others as well. The rest of the blog is an attempt to explain these three tenets.

The first and foremost was overcoming the fear of water, and rather relish the feeling of being there. I recently read somewhere that swimming is one of those sports where you cannot hide your fears and hope that everything will be fine. Rather you have to face your fears and overcome it, if you want to be good at swimming. After attending the basic and intermediate coaching classes, I started to practice on my own. Since I had not yet conquered my swimming demons, I used to swim only 25m and return back. Never did I dare to venture into the deep end of the pool. Abhinav Prakash, a coach at the pool, had been observing me for some time now. One of the weekends he suggested that I swim in the first or the last lane, so that I remain close to the wall. He also egged me to swim towards the deeper end of the pool. I was hesitant, to which he nonchalantly replied “Look boss, if you are serious about swimming you have to stop being afraid. Swim as much as you can, once you are tired hold onto the wall, recover and then repeat.” It was not difficult to guess that I was shit scared about this. Abhinav volunteered to watch me as I tried this. Confident that he would save me in case I drowned, I ventured into the deep end of the pool, in the lane closest to the wall of the pool. I stopped at least three times, each time I held onto the wall to save my dear life and finally reached the deep end of the pool. When I finally looked up from the deep end, Abhinav quipped “Easy, wasn’t it?!?” I did not think it was easy, but it was liberating for sure. From that day on, I made a habit to swim the entire length of the pool and cling onto the wall in case I maxed out. I did have a few scary encounters of not reaching the wall on time, bumping onto other swimmers, water getting into my goggles, etc… but these incidents only helped me do better. Am I not scared about water? Not at all… I am really very scared at the deep end. But I am at least used to facing my fears, rather than shying away from it. “Where there is a wall there is a way” is the creative proverb that I tell myself every now and then to keep me going!

The second aspect that has helped me is being humble about my weakness and learn from everyone and anyone. At one point it was demotivating to see that folks of all ages and sizes were swimming much better than me. I could not figure out why I made it look so laborious when almost everyone else could do it. I used to particularly marvel at a few people who used to swim for about forty five minutes without taking a break. Thanks to my age [ahem!] and related wisdom, I realized that I would do better learning from them rather than envying them. And thus I started the habit of observing people closely. I started watching the guys who used to swim endlessly and realized a few points: They were not kicking their legs too much, they were not overly tilting their heads to breathe, their body was horizontal in the water, their legs did not sink, they moved with every arm stroke, they clearly had a rhythm [similar to walking or running] when swimming, etc. I even counted the number of strokes they used to take to complete 50m and realized that the number was almost the same every time. Now that can happen only with practice and good technique. Having watched a number of videos on what correct technique was all about; I could even separate the swimmers with a good technique from the rest. I also never shied away from asking good swimmers for tips. I was fortunate enough that all of them were helpful in explaining what worked for them. A common trait all of them possessed was that they were completely relaxed and at ease in the pool. Whereas I was almost fighting for survival in the water. Slowly but surely, I worked on correcting my technique taking leads from all these role models around me. Giving arrogance the back seat; being humble about my shortcomings; observing others and diligently learning from them really made a difference for me finally.

The last aspect, which I think I have aplenty, was perseverance. I know for sure that I have always used tenacity and perseverance to overcome lack of natural talent. And this quality for sure went was needed in truckloads to help better my swimming. It was a simple question most of the time… “Should I give up or should I keep going?” I had to keep going, since I enjoyed being knocked out by the water and I enjoyed standing up for the fight again. At the start of 2019, I had set myself a goal of swimming 1 km of freestyle within 60 minutes. Not giving up and having the determination to attain this goal, worked for me. You just do not give up… that is it!

Facing my fears; being humble enough to learning from all quarters and perseverance proved to be a wonderful combination for me. I channelized all my efforts towards correcting my technique and especially staying relaxed in the water. I made it a point to relax a lot, breathe in a rhythm, went easy on my kicking, body balance, etc. The distance covered increased slowly but surely over every weekend. When I reached close to 700m is when I realized that I could do a kilometre with a little more effort and planning. The magic happened sometime in early October. It was not a flash in the pan, since I could repeat my feet over the next three weekends. I was actually smiling when doing the last lap.

I know that there is a long way to go and a lot more to learn in swimming, and I am keen to do all of it in the coming months and years. But for now, I thank everyone who played whatever little or big part in helping me achieve this dream.

 

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