I’ve gotten back into swimming. I haven’t been out swimming for a long time; suffice to say that I took it up semi-seriously in 1989/90. I was never a particularly good swimmer, I’m still not, and I came late to learn to swim for my childhood fear of the water. This in itself is unusual given that I grew up in the Eastern Suburbs where the swimming culture runs ramp in the collective blood of its residents. Besides, I'm a Pisces. I finally got the hang of swimming by age 11, albeit tentatively. At then, at 19, I decided to get fit and do laps at UNSW pool.
Twenty unbelievably quick years on and here I am, back in the Uni pool with a seeming vengeance to swim like a warrior with a mission, and as often as I can. I’ve been back to the pool sporadically during the intervening years but never to any pervading purpose or plan. There was an awkward period of a few years when the acquatic centre was being totally refurbished, where everything except the pool itself underwent the renovators’ knives. I kept instinctively away during this period, and for the most part, have avoided the pool up until a few weeks ago.
I was a student at UNSW in 1989 and 1990. I’m no longer a student at UNSW but instead work across the road at the Dramatic Art Institution, and have been plying my trade there for three months shy of fifteen years! And yet, even working across the road from the aquatic centre wasn’t enough to draw me back into swimming. My decision to return to swimming was activated by my now-close living proximity to the pool, a leisurely twenty-minute stroll each way, and more one-pointedly, to further improve my diabetes control and general fitness. I do believe my diabetes control and fitness is improving, and I’ll definitely know by the end of the month when I go for my next blood test.
Indoor-pool swimming has its drawbacks. I have been out to Bondi and Bronte pools over the years but, like indoor swimming, have never made it a definite habit. I’ve eschewed swimming because it’s generally a pain in the ass to have to bother with change rooms, showers, drying off, dressing up, the scent of chlorine wafting from your skin no matter how much soap you smother over yourself. But the benefits of swimming are immense, no more so than the all-round good feeling that stays with you for the remainder of the day after you leave the pool. Swimming is on a par with clothes-washing. You do your laps (wash), after which you retire to the sauna (dry) and you leave feeling clean and crisp all over.
I swim at least 1000 metres (1 kilometre) in the pool. The pool is 50 metres long with a divide at 25 metres to separate the shallow end with the deep end. So I invariably do at least 40 laps of freestyle at which I follow through with a few breaststroke and fast freestyle to finish up, partly also to make up for any laps I think I may have miscounted.
I don’t particularly enjoy swimming. Indoor swimming is not exactly ‘fun’, but one doesn’t jump into the chlorine soup to have themselves a great time, or to necessarily enjoy it. My reasons for swimming go beyond mere fitness. One can have a much more rewarding time going for a lovely walk on a nice day amidst the sunlight and the trees and breathing in flowers’ scents, although swimming has the advantage of being an all-body workout that doesn’t pressurise the joints as walking can do. And yet there’s more to it than that. Swimming is a discipline. A discipline that requires some degree of fortitude and personal objective to stick to the required laps in freestyle, to round off with a few breaststroke, to earn the prize which is a good 15-20 minutes in the sauna. The sauna leaves the body feeling so sublimely good afterwards that I find I don’t sleep any better than those times I find myself immersed in an evening swim and sauna.
My swimming is an exercise in discipline and endurance. At about 300 metres I’m usually puffed out and I’d prefer to just walk away from it all. Besides, it can get very boring too. I persist, however, at which I find myself getting my second wind at about 600 metres, to power through toward my goal of one kilometre, feeling those muscles in my arms and legs charging up, and my lung capacity seemingly doubled.
It’s that almost Eastern sense of discipline that draws me into a round of swimming. Swimming is very much a mind-body-spirit sport, and it aligns the physical, mental, and spiritual better than anything I know of, including meditation. And there’s always the reward of a post-swim sauna to look forward to, which is why I swim my zen-kilometre to begin with. Nothing feels better to the body than a long swim and sauna. I plan to make this a long-term habit, and a consistent one at that, hoping to make it to the pool at least twice a week. I’d love to go daily if I could, but time is unfortunately constrained.
Nevertheless, I found something again that’s altering my life and for the better, it seems. I have this longing to be clearer and healthier and swimming is the best way to stay clear, focused and healthy. I feel cleaner in mind and body and my mind feels sharper, more focused. I do hope that after all the effort I’m putting into this that my blood-sugar average drops for my late-October test.