Treading Water

Bajiggity Day #783

Treading water is a fundamental skill for water polo players, synchronized swimmers, lifeguards, and anyone who doesn’t want to drown. It’s functional. It’s necessary.  It’s HARD, especially once fatigue and panic sets in.  If you can’t keep it up, you sink.

I almost drowned once (not a metaphor). I hadn’t yet learned how to tread water.  I got in over my head (again, not a metaphor) at the deep end of the pool. I was gasping for breath, but choking on water instead. I was rescued by a lifeguard, pounded on the back until I spit out the water, and proceeded to lie on the concrete until I was strong enough to stand. I refused to go in the water after that. I would sit on the side of the pool with my feet in the water, but that was it.

At some point, my Dad stepped in to get me back in the water.  He would take me in the pool (whilst I clung to him like a spider monkey), then throw me up in the air.  I would splash down, then doggie crawl to the wall.  I’d swim back to him, and he’d do it again.  It made me stronger, more confident.  He was right there, within arm’s reach, keeping me safe. Eventually, I had swim lessons. As my skills improved, I was proficient enough to join the swim team. I had chlorine surging through my veins.  I swam every summer through elementary school, all year in high school, and was lucky enough to make the team in college.

Training in college was, understandably, more intense. We swam an average of 5000 meters (3 miles or so), comprised of warm-ups, sprints, timed distances, and cool-downs. It wasn’t uncommon to have a certain amount of time dedicated to treading water – 60 minutes was probably the longest we ever had to endure. We would look at the training board and groan, but took heart in that we’d all be doing it together.  We would rely on each other to help pass the time without going crazy – talking, laughing, even singing. It made us better – built up our legs, strengthened our arms, improved our breathing techniques – made us stronger.

Treading as a disciplinary tool, however, was a different story. You’d have to do it while facing the wall in the deep end of the pool (water from the fill spout splashing in your face), holding a large and unwieldy object overhead (folding chair, kick board, pool skimmer), AND keeping your shoulders above the surface of the water.  You were never told how long you would have to tread. Treading water is hard enough. Doing it with your arms over your head will test even the strongest of swimmers. Doing it alone, in silence, with no end in sight? It’s torture.

Today, I’m alone in the deep end. I’m struggling to keep my head above the surface. I’m holding an elephant over my head. I’m getting tired. Panic is setting in. I’m getting frustrated. Swallowing water. Gulping air. My chest is burning. My legs are churning. My eyes are stinging. I can’t seem to buoy my spirits. I don’t see my teammates. I can’t reach the wall. I’m drowning (there’s the metaphor). I have no words of wisdom for myself…

…or do I ? (*cue drum roll*)

Breathe. Keep Kicking. Be brave. Raise your chin. Take a minute to regroup.

Breathe. Keep Kicking. Be strong. Move your arms. Tackle one thing at a time.

Breathe. Keep Kicking. Be smart. Look away from the clock. Catch your breath.

Breathe. Keep Kicking. Be bold. Stop treading. Start swimming.

Oh, and lose the elephant. Apparently they know how to swim…

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