My vacations are usually filled with equal parts adventure and relaxation. Last week I was at Red Mountain Resort in southern Utah located close to St. George. This particular resort offers something for everyone including each morning offering four different levels of hikes, biking, kayaking, fitness classes, cooking demos, spa treatments, etc.
I have had somewhat of a phobia about the water. I know how strange that sounds coming from a sailor, but sailing is on the water, not in the water. So, besides hiking, multiple wellness classes and just downtime, I decided to schedule private sessions with a swim coach.
As a kid, I would eagerly go to swim class just like most kids. I would practice floating on my back, treading water, backstroke, side stroke, etc. I was so good at these activities that no one noticed that I barely put my head in the water. And, when I did I was holding my breath, not creating the rhythmic breathing of a swimmer.
I had several experiences through the years that contributed to this phobia. When I was about five or six, I fell in a small pond at a park. I am sure I was in the water less than 20 seconds before my Dad pulled me out, but I was scared and likely traumatized just a little. In high school, my gym teacher thought all athletes could also swim, so she put me in the advanced swim group and while I completed all the required components of the class I was uncomfortable almost every minute. Then, whitewater rafting in my early twenties, I was thrown out of the boat and was pinned between a rock and the raft for a few seconds, again the guide was able to pull me back in the boat in short order – but I was nevertheless shaken.
And, for whatever reason the deeper the fear seemed to get, the stronger my resolve to conquer it has grown. When living in San Francisco, I joined a gym and got a personal trainer that helped me train for a half-marathon but was also supposed to teach me to swim. After the first two swimming sessions, I nicknamed her Satan and we decided we should focus on activities outside the pool. Then, a few years later, I found an adult swim school where you spent up to six hours a day in a pool for a week overcoming fear and learning swim strokes. I went, I “graduated” and came out feeling comfortable with those strokes that allowed my face to remain out of water (sound familiar?).
My lessons would be at the indoor pool between my room and the wellness center where the other fitness activities were held. The instructor, Jaime, was a college swim coach and she started by asking me to just “do a couple of laps, so I can assess your stroke”. Ha. I laughed, adjusted my goggles, took a big breath and started across the pool. I got about one-third of the way across the pool before having a minor panic attack and came up spurting water, coughing, overwhelmed and generally freaking out.
Now, this pool is only 5-foot at its deepest and I am 5’10”. It is not logical. It is a phobia.
As I looked up, I saw a concerned Jaime looking down. She kindly said, “Okay, you don’t have to do the laps, let’s start from the basics”. She took me through a series of drills and broke freestyle down to its component parts. With the help of some swimming props, she got me to do several laps. Then, since I was comfortable with swimming on my back, she taught me to flip on my back every time I needed to breathe. To stay there as long as I needed before flipping back. I still could barely make it across the pool since every time water went up my nose or in my mouth I panicked. But, she praised my basic stroke and told me I could do it. She gave me several drills to work on by myself until our second session.
The next day, I thought about going to the pool, but just couldn’t muster the willpower. Instead, I went on a long hike and spent most of the time thinking about why I can’t seem to crack this. Should I just accept that I will never be a strong swimmer? Should I just decide to not want it? Then, I realized I was ruining my hike and stopped ruminating so that I could enjoy the day.
The third day, after my hike, I mustered the courage to get back in the pool. Surprisingly, I found that I was doing better with the drills and I challenged myself to keep doing them over and over. I was sputtering a little less and found the slower I swam, the better things were. I mean, there was no one in the pool chasing me, why was I trying to go so fast?
By the fourth day, it was time for my second lesson. Jaime came in and I was already doing the drills. She observed me and corrected a few things. Then, she told me she thought about it and had a series of three drills she wanted me to do. After the third drill, she looked at me and said, “You’re ready.”
Jamie showed me a way to do freestyle that consists of doing three strokes then swimming on my side, keeping my head out of the water as long as I need to in order to feel in control, three more strokes, then breathing on the other side. When I practiced this it felt comfortable, it felt safe, it felt good. I swam a couple of laps and when I was finished and looked at her this time – she was literally moved to tears because I had improved so much. At the end of the session, she described how I can change things up and speed them up to get to a more “normal” freestyle over time.
The next couple of days, I would hike in the morning, come back for a stretch, yoga or Pilates session and then spend the afternoon in the pool. By the end of the week, I was starting to think that I could make this part of my normal exercise routine. Jamie had taught me how to swim, finally.
Entrepreneurs often ask me, how do you know whether it is time to give up or keep fighting? The answer is different for every unique situation. My advice is, weigh the pros and cons, surround yourself with the very best advisors/coaches and keep it all in perspective. As for my fear of swimming, I remain resolute and will keep fighting.