Swimming is not my forte. In fact, I learned to swim in order to do a triathlon. While I could swim enough not to drown, I never had formal lessons, although my handstand performed in the backyard swimming pool was outstanding. It’s been four years since I took my learn-to-swim lessons as an adult. And while my form could use a lot of work (once described as pretty efficient for someone with such poor technique) I have grown much more comfortable in the water. For the most part I can put my face in the water and start swimming.
This, my friends, is a triumph. It is worth noticing and celebrating. And thus enter the Sisters of the Traveling Wetsuit.
The name was coined by Yu-Chin. The three of us gals carpooled to Kershaw Park and chatted the whole way. We walked to the water’s edge and shared the ungraceful act of getting into our wetsuits. This was Yu-Chin’s first time swimming the lake with us and we explained the course, which really was just following a straight line of buoys. I had just met Yu-Chin, but I was pretty confident she would faster than me in the water. Most people are. And sure enough she was out in front with Mary, swimming to the first buoy. But I rolled in only about 10 seconds behind. This, in all honesty, made me happy and slightly confident. Maybe I was doing OK after all.
Our rule was to stop and regroup at each buoy. We were not about pounding out the workout or bragging rights. We were about safety and having fun. And swimming. Which sounds obvious, but let the record show, I just put my face in the water and started swimming. I thought about my form and played around with the rhythm of my sighting. But gone were the negative thoughts. Not once did I mentally chastise myself for being slow or wonder what this swim meant for next weekend’s races. I just put my face in the water and swam, feeding off the enthusiasm of my friends that morning. There was no magic formula which got me this point. In fact, it was four years worth of swimming — in the pool, in open water practices, in races — which helped me get comfortable. I spent most of my swim time pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, until eventually, swimming started to not feel so scary. By pushing that comfort zone boundary, I was able expand what I thought was possible for me. I now felt like I could swim forever. Not very fast, but for quite a ways. This was a new feeling. And it was bolstered by the women I swam with Saturday morning. At one of the buoys, Yu-Chin dubbed us the “sisters of the traveling wetsuit” and the phrase stuck with me. The morning swim was about more than just preparing for a competition and getting better individually. It was about sharing ourselves with each other and having a marvelous time doing it.
While we never discussed any official creed for the Sisters of the Traveling Wetsuit, the general ethic goes like this:
- We share our Body Glide.
- We support and encourage each other.
- We help each other get out of wetsuits which have dried to our bodies because we were busy posting our cool photos to Facebook.
- We are eager to learn from each other.
- We make lots of jokes about peeing in the lake.
- We laugh at ourselves and are content to be ourselves, whatever that may look like.
In the end, for me, it doesn’t matter how fast I am in the water. And perhaps on race day, I will be able to change my mentality. Instead of feeding into the mass of fear at the start (and at least in the women’s waves there is always a lot of trepidation talk) I can tap into the enthusiasm and simple joy of being in the water that I felt this past weekend. I think of the Sisters of the Traveling Wetsuit, put my face in the water and just swim. Everything else will take care of itself.