To say that I hated learning how to swim as a small child is an understatement. Oh, I was a master at splashing, and a semiprofessional when it came to jumping into puddles—but starting when I was five, one of my absolutely most hated times of the year was when my hometown pool gave free swimming lessons to area kids.
First of all, I was born and raised in Nebraska, so swimming lessons that started in April meant entering a pool of water that was literally freezing—and by “literally freezing” I acknowledge that it probably wasn’t actually freezing, but it sure felt that way. Being in the swimming pool with a bunch of other kids, floating amongst the giant chunks of ice, was like re-enacting the climactic scene from the movie “Titanic” with child actors.
Swimming lessons consisted of different “stations” you had to advance through in order to get your swimming certificate. It felt like there were about 100 stations; more likely there were eight. The first station was “Bubbles.” Before advancing to station two (“Front Float”), you had to stand in the shallow end of the pool, bend over so your face was in the water, and then blow bubbles while turning your face to the side to take in some air. That’s all. Just make some bubbles, as long as they came from the neck up. The bar was set low, most likely in an effort to start everyone off with a task they could easily achieve.
It took me years to get past this station. Keep in mind, a squirrel probably would have passed it on the first try—but then again, the squirrel would have been far more willing to get into the bitter cold water, which was always my biggest disadvantage. I much preferred lying by the side of the pool and crying until the hour was up, at which point my mother would sigh, and home we would go. I could never figure out why they didn’t offer swimming lessons in August.
Eventually, however, I made it past the bubbles phase. I believe I was 15. And once I started putting the slightest effort into it, I was flying … well, swimming … through the various stations. Who knew it was that easy (other than pretty much everyone who took swimming lessons and actually got into the water)?
Now that I’m older, I appreciate the benefits of swimming, in part because I can wait until the water is above 32 degrees before entering. But it’s also a tremendous form of exercise. While the article on page 41 of this issue highlights the health benefits of swimming and other pool activities—benefits that are all well and good—it somehow forgot to mention the truly best parts of spending time in the pool. So I thought I would add them here to give you a more complete picture.
First of all, running in the pool (recommended in the shallow end only) allows you to feel as though you’re gliding in slow motion, like a film star during an action-packed, suspense-filled finale—and how cool is that? I also feel sometimes personally like a superhero in the pool when I sweep my wife off her feet with ease and hold her afloat with just one hand. And whereas I rarely break a sweat when I do other forms of exercise—in part because I don’t make much of an effort—I am well and truly drenched when I step out of a swimming pool. Who’s to say it’s not because I’m sweating profusely after a hard swim? I’m quite confident that the people around me are astounded by the obvious intensity of my workouts.
If you haven’t tried swimming and/or water-related exercises as part of your fitness routine, I strongly recommend you give them a try. Just not in April in Nebraska, unless you’re a penguin, and even then I’m guessing you’ll want to wait until at least May.