I have recently begun swimming lessons. It’s hard to believe that a guy my age has never taken swim lessons. I did not learn to swim in the Boy Scouts or even in the Marine Corps. Do not misunderstand me I fumbled through just enough to get by. So I am eager to see what will happen with these new lessons. We will see what adaptations my instructor comes up with for my limitations. ***side note: I just saw a Paralympian swim the 100 meter on his back in 1 minute and 13 seconds and he had no arms! This teaches me: NEVER SAY NEVER***
We had the first swim lesson the today. It was a rough beginning as we were figuring things out. The techniques that were taught to me needed to be adapted to my limitations. When I am swimming my legs are as useful as a waterproof towel. This means that deep thought needs to go into each lesson. As my teacher pondered this problem, I reminded her of the following: I am not going to be in a swim meet. I also, reiterated that my synchronized swimming days are over. Once we found the trick to make things work, I took off!
“Like a game show contestant with a parting gift, she could not believe her eyes.” My instructor was astonished and flabbergasted that I took to swimming this quickly. I began to glide across the pool as gracefully as two ducks fighting for the last piece of bread. It was ugly, but I was swimming. I was personally astounded, stupefied and thunderstruck yes I was at a loss for words at my exceptional new skills.
This aquatic teacher most times can read my nonverbal cues and knows when not to push. My water trainer has been extraordinarily invaluable and puts up with me to boot. My brash and obnoxious personality does not dissuade her from teaching me. Okay, those words have never been used to describe me. However, she still gets a gold star for putting up with me.
It is crucial for you to know how far that I have come. I began at this new pool just over a year ago. The chairlift put me in the water about sixty feet from where my water movement class is held. My instructor had to hold my hands as I slowly and clumsily shuffled to the class. When I was there, I would cling to the wall like a barnacle on the belly of a ship. I did my best to not get in anyone’s way and I avoided the deeper water. When class was over the fitness trainer would take me back the same way.
Helping me keep my independence she showed me how to use the wall to get back and forth. Using the wall was the long way around, but it helped me get used to the water. As humans, we tend to look for ways to make a long route shorter. I cut corners here and there shrinking my trip a little every day. Within several weeks I was stumbling across the middle of the pool all by myself like a big boy.
I began to do more in class and venture away from the wall more and more. Every class I would get farther from and less dependent on the wall. Recognizing my new found bravery this aqua master decided to teach me a few new skills. These new skills are what I call self-rescue techniques. They were to help calm any of my fears of the water that I had.
I start off face first in the water. This position is called the dead man float. From there she showed me several simple movements to get me face up and on my back. I could effortlessly float and breathe while in that position. When I get into trouble, I force myself to go face first and then splish splash I’m face up again.
Let me go back a little farther in my water training history. The first two years at the initial pool that I used was mediocre at best. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for my time at that facility. Pool number one changed my mindset about a lot. I met great people who encouraged me to keep my body moving, and I made some lifelong friends too. These people are all older than me and reiterated that “a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” I have learned the importance of fitness. My schedule at that time was a very basic three hours per week.
Just over one year ago I moved to pool number two. The physical changes began to appear expeditiously. This new pool quickly brought out my long forgotten vigor and passion. These physical developments began to stir something inside me. I started to work hard again. I carefully walked the tightrope between too much and not enough exercise. My new routine is more than double of what my previous pool’s schedule was.
I exercise in the water three days each week for nearly two and a half hours each day. The first hour is a leg-centric workout. My legs are my problem child, so I continually work to not allow them to get week. The next twenty minutes are focused on upper body strengthening. I use my upper body for everything so it must become stronger. Next, I do forty minutes of total body fitness as it is vital for me to join my classmates. It is essential that I move every muscle and joint to assure my limberness. The last thirty minutes I take my swim lessons or I swim laps.
I recently had to miss seven days of exercising. I was truly disheartened by the amount of strength that I lost so quickly. Building power takes time, hard work and dedication of which I am not afraid. However, you lose muscle much faster when you stop exercising. It seems that it will take me several weeks to get back on track.
There are numerous benefits to exercising in general. The water is just the method of my choice. Here are some of the ways that I have been positively impacted by this training regimen. Strength is advantageous for everyone in life. Ambulatory people are limited only by twisting, bending or stooping abilities. Often biped individuals take every movement for granted. If you can’t reach something, then you simply move closer or reach farther. Those of us in wheelchairs can only get as close as our chairs will allow us. So we need to make sure that we have all of the strength that we can.
I partially stand to dress. No matter my superpowers of fitness I still put my pants on one leg at a time. When I pull up my pants, I stand next to a wall mounted grab bar. Before this new fitness routine, I could stand, but I was very unstable. I can now let go for more extended periods of time. I am able to hold onto my pants more and hold less on the grab bar. Sometimes at the end of a long day, I need to grasp a little more securely. However, before all of this exercising I would struggle to dress on the bed at the end of the day.
I am now able to move faster from point A to point B. My distance endurance is no longer a challenge. When using Google Maps, they give you several route choices. This group of options lists various time and path calculations. You can avoid the freeways or look for gas stations. Just like Google Maps I needed to think through all of my choices of pathways. I did not have the strength to roll around Willie Nillie. I am no longer dominated by my weak physical capacity. Let’s not get crazy, I still think through my longer moves. I want to work smarter and not harder.
I am stronger at the end of the day now. Even after taking the numerous precautions that I do I occasionally still fall. I am mindful of what was the likely culprit of any fall. When I fall I always yell in annoyance and frustration. However, getting up off of the floor is usually quicker and smoother. My speedier rebound from the floor is made possible because of my new found strength.
My time in the pool has been miraculous, to say the least. I have shared my story so many times that I have forgotten who I have told. I have repeated my tales many times to the same people, and now they tend to avoid discussing fitness around me. If your life were drastically changed for the better, you too would not stop talking about it.
If you are going to do something, then strive for excellence. The truth is that I need this swimming like a flower needs the sun. It gives me a reason to wake up in the morning. It is a “carrot and stick” thing. I do better when I have a goal to reach for. So I always plan for my next target. I like to have a new brass ring to grasp for. For any younger readers the phrase grabbing for the brass ring can be Googled. I did it just to make sure.
So I say to my readers: for your health keep your bodies moving. You never know what is around the bend in life. I did heavy weight lifting before my diagnosis, and I am very thankful that I did. During my early MS days, I did a lot of crawling without the help from my legs. When I fell to the floor getting up was only possible in specific locations in my house. Now I can manage while mostly avoiding crawling. Having strength in life just makes things easier!
I realize that I only have a very few readers on this blog. Actually, my MS story series got 15 to 30 views. That used to bother me until I realized that this blog is more for my benefit than anything. I read several articles explaining how writing helps the writer in several mental methods. Kind of like when you write in a journal-or diary as the case may be-no one reads your private journal. My life other than my swimming, church and this blog is pretty boring. I don’t really have enough post worthy stuff to write in a journal. I am trying to get the courage to tell some of my more difficult early MS days experiences. We will see.