Thursday, August 2, 2012

How Swimming Saved My Life--Twice

Swimming has been good to Michael Phelps. The athlete from suburban Baltimore, Maryland racked up his 19th Olympic medal yesterday in the London Games--an historic record.

Swimming has been good to me, too, though the only metal I've ever acquired are the fillings in my teeth.

I took up swimming as a boy because I had asthma, the kind that required me to sleep next to a steam machine every night. My pediatrician suggested I take up swimming. He believed swimming for exercise would help make my respiratory system stronger, among other benefits.

L to R: Julia, Mimi, me.
And so I joined the swim team at Starmount Forest Country Club in Greensboro, to which my family belonged at the time. Two of my sisters, Mimi and Julia, also swam on the team. Mimi would return home from each competition laden with trophies. Julia and I won awards primarily for not drowning. The photo at right tells the story. Notice the direct correlation between the size of the awards and our smiles (or lack thereof).

As discouraging as my swimming competitions were, something miraculous began to happen. Though I still hear a wheeze now and then, my asthma soon become a relic of my childhood.

Surprisingly, I didn't continue to swim as a teenager, young adult, or even a middle-aged adult. Maybe swimming was a painful reminder of my childhood. Certainly it wasn't as convenient for exercise as going for a run/powerwalk in my neighborhood. In San Francisco, there aren't any lap-swim pools near us.

Fast forward to nine years ago. One of my closest friends, Mark Kelly, had just died from a long battle with cancer. I'd grown discouraged with a novel I'd been writing for four years and had decided to abandon it. And my hands and arms were constantly aching from all the computer typing I did for work. The situation had grown so bad, I wondered how else I might make a living? Writing as a profession and for a creative outlet was all I knew or wanted to know; without it, a part of me would have died.

I started seeing an amazing massage therapist, Scott Schwartz, who now runs Psoas Massage + Bodywork in San Francisco. Through multiple visits a week for months, Scott saved my hands. Once I was over the hump, he suggested I take up swimming to rebuild my strength and help prevent me from having future hand problems.

Back into the pool I dove. I'm still swimming regularly today, and I can't imagine giving it up again. There's no external stimulation to distract me when I'm swimming laps in a pool. It's just me, the water, and during the summer, the sun. My mind is free to drift, scheme, dream, and problem-solve. I once came up with a poem while swimming, and I never write poetry.

As we get deeper into the London 2012 Olympics, I'm reminded that there's a big difference between an award, like an Olympic medal, and a reward. I may not have won a single swimming competition award higher than the "Nice Try" citation, but oh, how I have been rewarded.



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9 comments:

  1. Deborah Proehl-MoserAugust 2, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    So beautifully written Jim. It's amazing how the challenges and journeys of our lives will reveal a reward greater than we can see when we're in the middle of the steps. I also love, while not a patient person myself, that the reward can take years to reveal itself, but the beauty and timing of it is always so perfect! Thank you for sharing that inspirational message and I'm thankful the pain is gone and you are still writing so we can all ENJOY!

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    1. Thanks, sistah wo-man! I love you lots and miss you more!

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  2. Size of trophies = smiles cracked me up!

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    1. Carla, so that means a mention of size of trophies = smiles = more smiles. Love that!

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  3. What a great way to rebuild your mind and your body. While reading, I was going to ask you what you think about while swimming. But since you told me that, I need to ask if you wear a teeny tiny USA Speedo, the wrestling looking suit or the "I'm afraid" board shorts. ??

    :-)

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    1. JuJu, you are such a stickler for detail. I love that about you. I wear something more than a tiny Speedo and less than board shorts. It's basically a Speedo boxer brief. They're very popular these days, or so I've read, because they're small but not TOO revealing, if you know what I mean.

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  4. Hi James! I'm 'new' to you here and think I'll stick around.
    We, my husband and I have entertained the idea of getting back to swimming laps as we did for years. You have inspired me to get my butt in gear and really do this. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Jim, glad you found my blog. I'm glad I've inspired you to swim; there's just nothing like it for me. Thanks for reading! -- Jim

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