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  • I would have always considered myself an excellent swimmer. I was on a swim team. I spent countless summers in the water more than out- summers when I lived in a swim suit and bare feet, only hauling myself out of the water when I had to eat or when it got dark and the bugs got too bad. I had triumphant moments holding my breath down and back under water in the pool and kissing Scott Miller at the swim team party in the deep end.

    Two nights ago, I was drowning. In a heated pubic pool, during an aquatic boot camp class. Drowning. We started with a simple, 500 yd freestyle. Ha! I've done gillions of yards freestyle. This is easy! I jumped in, waited for the start and pushed off from the wall. I took one stroke, peered down into the water through my fancy new goggles and blacked out. I saw stars. The world starting spinning fast in the wrong direction. I was going down. I panicked. I tore off the goggles. Surely it's the goggles! My perspective was out of whack. Holding my goggles, I took another stroke. My eyes rolled in my head and I sucked in water and saw stars. I forgot how to swim. I was treading water, I could hold my head up like a little kid who was just learning and dog paddle. If my head tipped downward and my eyes looked into the water, I was spinning again.

    Somehow, I dog paddled and half ass breast stroked myself back to the edge. Humiliated. Humbled. Horrified.

    The instructor, a wonderful guy- a Marine with an easy smile and a kind toughness, with a genuine look of concern, asked if I was OK.

    No. I was not.

    I explained what was happening. He said to try breast stroke and keep going, which I was more than happy to try. I did ok. As long as I did not look down.

    I hoped the panic would pass- that my body would remember swimming as well as my brain did. It never happened.

    My friends and family asked if I was going back when they found out about my panic and fear. I said yes- not continuing to try never crossed my mind. I was a swimmer, after all.


    Tonight, I donned my mom style black swim suit and the yoga shorts I wear over them and, fins in hand, headed to the pool. I tried to make my body remember. But the same thing happened. I swam and swam as hard as I could doing breast stroke while everyone blazed past me doing freestyle. I did not finish the challenge in the time allotted. I was last. I was the slowest.

    At one point, I had the most overwhelming desire to call my dad. I was floundering, failing and felt like drowning again, and the only person I wanted was my dad. I remembered him being supportive of my swimming- in fact, I am pretty certain it was the only thing I ever did that he seemed proud of. I felt like if he was just there, he could tell me what I was doing wrong and I would not be afraid to put my head in the water. It would feel like it did when I was little and would take huge leaps off the edge of the pool into his hands, waiting to catch me. There was a chair at the edge of the pool. If he was sitting in it, I could be safe enough to put my face in the water and swim hard like I used to, flip turns and hard finishes straight, full force into the wall.

    I have been on many journeys in the last 20 years of my life- I have climbed out of dark holes with names like "lost", "sick" and "homeless" and I have morphed into "mother" and "provider" and (fairly) "successful". I am drawing on those titles- the good ones- and I will keep showing up and scaring my poor instructor until I get back to "swimmer".
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