Saturday, February 4, 2012

Just A Swim

Once upon a time, I thought I was fat.
College Swim Team 1997-98 Season
I walked into the training room and immediately was handed a piece of paper. My eyes glanced quickly and realized it was a spreadsheet. Listed in the first column, all the names of the men and women on my team. Of course, I found my own name and immediately to it's side I noticed 168 lbs.

Glancing over the sheet, it was there in black and white, for all to see.
Instead of concentrating on how I out performed all my female teammates on the bench press, dead lift, and squat (a few guys too), I was focused solely on my weight.
That number being public information pissed me off.

Logically I knew I was not fat, obese, or unhealthy. I was a Division One swimmer, practicing close to 20 hours a week and had a body to match.

However, seeing that number on paper logic was lost to emotion.

While I was one of the strongest women on the team, I also was one of the biggest.

No woman wants to be classified as big, because big is equivalent to fat, and fat does not equal attractive.

Looking back, I am sometimes amazed at my own strength. A teammate's own eating disorder coupled with this incident could have had a very negative affect on my self concept. However, on the contrary, my self concept seemed to improve after these events. I was on the bigger and stronger side, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

As time went on I have held fast to my self concept, even as my exercise routine has shrank and my waist band has widened. My time in the pool had a great impact on who I am, but over time my time swimming all but disappeared. I had work, the graduate school, then a wedding, a baby, a house, and another baby. Swimming was a sacrifice I gave as time was precious.

Things have changed.

Last month it became quite clear Moira needs swim lessons. At nearly four, she is prime to learn how to swim. Deciding to join the local YMCA, was a compromise. As membership permits my children to partake in swim lessons, it also gives me, the former swimmer, the opportunity to return to the pool.


After digging my goggles and swim cap out of retirement and purchasing a new suit at Marshall's, I was ready for that first swim.

Walking through the door, the familiar smell of chlorine smacks me in the face. Descending the stairs from the locker room, I assess the pool. Four lanes are available for lap swimmers, and there are bodies in each lane.

My first time back won't be a solo mission.

In one, an older man floats on his back, occasionally kicking his feet at a snail's pace.

Not that lane.

In another, another older man again on his back, slowly kicks and does the elementary backstroke*.
*not an Olympic event

That lane is out too.

A middle aged man stands facing a woman in a speedo.
"You will get this" she says, "before long you will swim!".

Not this one.

One lane left.

She adjusts her goggles, and pushes off into a nice streamline. Her freestyle looks strong.

This is it, my only option.

"Do you mind if I share the line?" I ask.
"Of course, not"  she says, "we'll split the lane".

Before I can nod okay, she's off again. Her stroke is relaxed, her swim comfortable.

Everything I think I won't be in that moment.
It has been over four years since I've swam a lap.
In that time I've popped out two kids, had two c-sections, and steered clear of most exercise and bathing suits.

What the f--k am I doing?

For some reason, I kept the goggles and cap.


Because if you are swimmer, even if you haven't been in the pool for years, there is nothing like a good swim.

The monotony of back and forth, the cadence of stroke, breath, and kick, the chlorine, are like an old, dear friend. Welcoming with open arms.

I'm going to swim.
Into the water I jump, and immediately I'm back to thinking
What the f--k?

My feet find the pool wall and push into a streamline. Without thinking, my body takes over.

It's not easy, as I feel like I'm pushing through molasses, but I do it.

I swim 1700 yards, which is a little over a mile*.
* 1650 yds. = the mile, one of my old races.

This swim was hard, and my body aches. I used to think I was fat, and I realize how damn fit I truly was!
No longer am I a college athlete with time to dedicate to the weight room and daily workouts. Instead, I'm a shadow of the athlete I used to be. Hopefully over time, a resemblance to that girl in the photo will emerge again.

One who knew she wasn't fat but strong.

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Linking up with The Lightning & The Lightning Bug
This week's theme: Kicking Ass (I think the water kicked my ass this week!)


  1. What an inspiring post. I wish more people would realize, at a much younger age, that strong does not equal fat, and skinny does not equal strong or fit. Good for you for getting back in. I love that your body takes over, I guess when you do something competitively for that long, the body never really forgets.

  2. Good on you Jackie. As always I love your writing. You are strong! Nothing can take that away...

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  4. you are amazing.....i look up to you in so many ways and you are an inspiration to oh so many. LOVED this and love you =)

  5. This impresses me on several levels. First of all, I love how you embrace your strength, despite any insecurities you may have. That's KICK-ASS right there! And second, I can barely doggy paddle, so I think being able to swim, especially on an athletic-level, is pretty darn awesome.

    Thanks for sharing this story and for linking up!

  6. Nice. I wish I had something like that to go back to -- it sounds great.

  7. We just joined the Y and yesterday I got into the pool. I am not an athlete: I bumped my head on the side of the pool as I was coming in on a lazy backstroke. You definitely would have left my lane.

  8. Swimmers are amazingly strong. That weight was muscle weight! Wow, impressive. Good for you getting back in the pool. Keep it up and I will be hoping it all goes "swimmingly".....arghhhhhhh....couldn't resist!

  9. I was right there with you sharing that lane! Gulp! Well-written! (-:
    My husband is a swimmer and they (you) are an interesting breed - once a swimmer, always a swimmer. No matter how long a time passes in between lap!
    Go you!

  10. Very inspiring - good for you for "getting your feet wet" again!d

  11. Aw, how inspirational! Good for you for getting back into swimming

  12. As a former swimmer, I was right there with you. I have been in and out of the pool 5 times after all the babies. Right now, I am "dry", but your piece has me yearning to get my feet wet again. Ever since the birth of my daughter, I refuse to be negative about weight and try to focus on healthy and strong. This piece will help me keep my promises to myself and her. Thanks! --Erin

  13. OK, first...HOORAY for you swimming again! That's awesome!
    Second, they put your weight on a spreadsheet so everyone could see?! I think that's just plain wrong. I mean, I can see them doing it for wrestlers or football players, but is that really necessary? Yikes!
    Anyway, wonderful writing, and I hope you keep it up!!

  14. As a former "swimmer" (I put that in quotation marks because I certainly never make it to the collegiate level), I can attest to the difficulty of swimming, and I can't imagine anyone thinking you were fat. Swimming takes incredible strength as, well, you know, of course. I LOVE swimming, but for many reasons, including that there is no pool near my house, I simply haven't been swimming, which would be the BEST exercise for someone like me, someone with serious back issues and orders to stay away from impact exercises. But enough about me! I commend you for getting back in there. Envy you, in fact. Keep it up, sister. Enjoy it.

  15. Yay for you. Swimming always makes me realize that I'm *not* as in shape as I think when I stay on land. So I don't swim :)
    but people I know who do swim say it's the closest thing they feel to flying, when they're in a rhythm and gliding through the water. Funny how our bodies remember things, isn't it? Keep going! It's great for you and great for your daughter to see mommy doing something that's just for mommy!

  16. You never loose the love of swimming. I was a diver myself, but was always the "free relay" backup (you know for the 3rd leg?) and an on an off again breaststroker. Good for you to get back in the water!

  17. Good for you for being strong enough back then to know that you were strong not fat. I wish I realized back then that I was strong and that my legs matched my abilities to run fast and be a dominant soccer player. Nope, I just felt fat and hated the way my legs looked. Sigh.

  18. So awesome! You introduced a latent passion into your new life. I love that.

    I remember very few times in my life when I felt 'thin enough.' Unfortunately those were the same times that I was too depressed to enjoy life and myself at my 'ideal' weight. We do such a number on ourselves.

  19. Holy crap, woman! 1700 yards!?! You're amazing! Nice work on your first day back in the pool. I love your description of getting back into the water and how the pool is like an old dear friend. You make me want to go buy a new swim cap, goggles, and suit.

  20. I was never on the swim team, but I was a lifeguard for 4 summers, and spent a lot of time training during the winter months. I miss the water SO much, and your post made me realize it all over again! Good for you for jumping in with both feet--literally and figuratively!!

  21. I have not checked in here for a while because I thought it was getting boring, but the last several posts are good quality so I guess I'll add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it friend :)
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