I have a new Friday routine I really love. Friday is the only day of the week I work in the mornings (the rest of the week I work afternoons and evenings). So when I leave on Fridays, I have started going to the Winter Park YMCA to swim laps and wrap up my week. I love the Winter Park YMCA pool because is it outside in the sunshine, it’s big, and it has a lot of lanes.
I like swimming for a lot of reasons. 1) I hate running. If you ever see me running, look for someone with a gun following me. I don’t run well, but I can swim forever. 2) Once I get in the water, the rest of the world disappears. All I have to do is count laps and remember when to switch strokes. And if I don’t it’s ok. I am still in the same lane. 3) Swimming is primary done alone. You can swim on a team, but your only real competition is yourself. When I swam on a team, I never really tried to beat the person in the lane next me. I swam to beat my personal record. I set my own pace.
This last Friday, I was swimming laps under the afternoon sun and a woman in the lane next to me started talking to me. Now, I know this sounds rude, but it really bothers me when people try to talk in the pool. Lap swimming isn’t for socializing. It’s not really something you do with other people. It’s my “me time”. So when she started talking, I was tempted to ignore her, but that felt really rude. I paused in my lap to hear her say, “You are a good swimmer.”
I turned my head and looked around. I was trying to figure out who she was talking to. She looked at me and said, “You are really an athlete”. Again, I tried to figure out to whom she was speaking. When I realized it was me, I let out a giggle and in my head I said, “Why yes. If by athlete you mean a manatee with a suit and cap on, then yes. I am quite an athlete.”But I stopped myself. I realized that was my shame talking.
She asked me where and how I learned to swim and I told her that I had started when I was very young and stopped after high school. I told her “life happened” and that now I am trying to get back into shape by doing what I love.
Then she got really crazy. She asked me if I would watch her swim a lap and then give her some feedback on her form. I stifled another laugh when I realized she was serious and then agreed. As she swam, I realize I did have a good eye and could help her with the tools that had been given to me when I was a child swimmer.
When she came back to the ledge of the pool, we talked for a minute about how we loved to swim and our various physical ailments that make swimming such a great option for our bodies. As we returned to our own routines, I put my head in the water and thought, “Huh. Maybe I don’t have to look like a swimmer to be a swimmer. Maybe that woman sees something in me that I don’t see in myself.
That’s when it hit me that shame had lost a battle in that pool. When it reared it’s ugly head and started to tell me, “You are not an athlete. You are fat. You are just swimming so you won’t be fat. But you are still fat”, there was a real person on the other side of the lap lane who said, “You are a good swimmer. You are an athlete. I want some of what you have.”
That just blew my mind! If that woman knew half of the battle I fight in my own head every day and how much she helped me overcome that, she would probably be as excited as I was to continue my swim. For several moments, I felt like an athlete. Then I returned to the locker room to change out of my suit and shame showed back up, reminding me that my body does not look very athletic. So the battle started again, and this time I had to fight it on my own. But it’s ok. This is my battle and I fight it every day. I am just grateful for the moments when someone joins me in the fight and helps me fight off some shame.
For now, I will hang up my suit and head back to the pool tomorrow for another round.