Friday, 1 February 2013

Sew I swim (2) on becoming a swimmer

In July of 2005, I officiated at the World Masters Games in Edmonton - over 1600 swimmers age 25 to 98 from all over the world. I went home pumped because the next games were in Sydney Australia, top of my wish list for places to visit. I had the perfect plan - I would officiate in swimming, my husband would compete in running, and we would spend as much time as possible exploring Australia and New Zealand. His response was that he would run if I would swim...

It took six months to gather up my nerve, buy a swim suit and pool pass and actually get in the water. 1 February 2006 (7 years ago today) is my anniversary.

Of course I created a quilt to celebrate getting in the water and here too are my thoughts at the time. And yes, I have a penguin tattoo, but that's another story.

On Becoming a Penguin:

Tranquility and Other Thoughts Along the Way

          Last February, I started to swim in the mornings before I go to work.  It’s reached the point where I enjoy getting up early, challenging myself to swim a little more efficiently, and get grumpy when I can’t get to the pool for some reason.  Three days a week for almost an hour, my mind is free to wander.  Because quilting is a passion, most often I’m thinking about a work in progress or some other fabric related subject.  One day, I found myself calculating the size of a quilt (or how many quilts) could be created from the fabric that is wound through the beams above me for soundproofing.  Twenty five meters of two meter wide fabric times five colours would make a lot of quilts!

          My vision of tranquillity is very much an active one and tied to the changes that have come from beginning to see myself as an athlete.  The early mornings, the cool water, the structure and discipline of swimming lengths as well as I can, and even the pervasive eau de chlorine that clings to my skin and hair are all tied to a genuine feeling of wellbeing.

The idea for my Patchwork Cottage Challenge quilt really did come to me in the pool.  I was delighted to discover that the challenge fabric was going to make perfect water.  For about a month, I let the idea simmer as I thought of how to translate the basic idea – water, swimming, penguins – into a project that matched my skills and interests.  It’s been a joy to combine my newly discovered passion as an adult – onset athlete with my passion as a quilter.

 I actually created the back first.  I’ve been playing with Sashiko and other Japanese designs this year and Kitty Pippen’s Japanese Garden Path was the perfect design for the dark blue lane line I follow as I swim.  The Japanese idea of asymmetry was also appropriate as I swim just to the right of the line to give way for the swimmer coming in the other direction.  The shadow appliqué gave a water-like shimmer.

          One of my secret pleasures over the years has been to read John Bingham’s “The Penguin Chronicles” on the last page of my husband’s Runner’s World.  I’ve had the pattern for the front of the quilt for about a year and it has symbolized for me my strides to become a Penguin (an adult-onset athlete).  The calculations to reduce the bed sized quilt to a wall hanging, the deliberation over choice of fabric and how to introduce the challenge fabric all happened during early morning swims.  Even ideas for quilting the project were auditioned in the pool.

          There are things I would do differently next time, but in the words of John Bingham, “Improvement is defined as being closer to where you want to be than you are right now.”

If I had been writing in my journal…
1 February 2006 (On Becoming a Penguin I)
            After thinking about getting back to swimming for six months and REALLY thinking about it for two (I needed to order a suit, buy a swim pass, find the schedule and all those other details), today is my first early bird swim in almost ten years.  I really like swimming, the watching of it that is, but I’m here on a dare.  “Sure, let’s plan to go to Sydney in 2009, as long as you plan to compete, too.”
            I recognize some of the swimmers as I get in the water and I’m not the slowest one in the pool.
1 June 2006 (On Becoming a Penguin II)
            OK, I’ve made the commitment and bought a three month swim pass.  I have a routine – 1500 meters in 45 minutes – which energizes me for the rest of the day.  I’m one of the regulars at the pool and have my lane that I usually swim in.  I’m even making plans for what I need to learn to get better – flip turns, dives, how to get out of the pool more gracefully.  At work, I’ve started to admit that I go swimming regularly, which commits me to do so on days I don’t feel like it.
8 July 2006 (Body Image I)
            Had a great birthday present today and my husband is still shaking his head over the whole experience.  He had bought an outfit for me, after raiding the closet and going to our local ladies clothing store with sizes in hand.  The outfit, black stretchy capris and summer top in my favourite colours, was lovely.  The present, though, was that I needed to exchange them for a size 12, which I haven’t worn for years.
19 July 2006 (On Becoming a Penguin III)
            Against my better judgement, I’m going on a 16 km mountain hike with my husband and friends.  They are athletes, I am not (I’m just swimming three days a week because I enjoy it).  Not only did I get up above the treeline and back down again, but I’m glad I went.
9 September 2006 (Body Image II)
            We are having a “mother daughter bonding” afternoon.  I’ve promised to make my tall athletic newly adult (she’s graduated from university and has her first “real” job) daughter a quilted jacket from fabric she had chosen when we went to Festival of Quilts in Calgary.  Today, we are drawing our body silhouettes on paper and measuring all the areas needed to fit the pattern when she returns home.  It was Kati’s idea to do both of us and then take pictures.
            I’ve been getting hints from people around me, but today I finally get what has been happening to my body over the last year.  The funniest thing is that I’m actually taller than I believed – the story about not being over weight but under tall…  I begin to wonder why, if our body measurements are so similar, she is a size eight and I’m a fourteen?
12 September 2006 (On Becoming a Penguin IV)
            I go to my first Body Sculpt session, a group weightlifting class for ladies.  Impulsively I registered for this when I was at the pool last week, and I tell my friend (who is the instructor – she’s one of those people who work out for the sheer joy of getting sweaty and building muscles) that my goal is to get enough upper body strength to get out of the pool with grace.  I feel horrid, everything aches and I’m so uncoordinated.  My friend promises the class that the first two days are the worst and then it gets better.
18 December 2006 (Tranquility I)
            It’s just after 7:00 on a Monday morning and I am swimming lengths in the pool.  As is more often the case these days, the water is supporting rather than fighting with me, and the instructions from my brain to my muscles – kick, pull, one two three four breathe, reach, turn, count – have faded into the background. I move without thought, my muscles are relaxed and I finish the hour exhilarated and ready for the day. My mind is free to wander from thought to thought and this morning I’m thinking about the Patchwork Cottage challenge that came out in the newsletter over the weekend.
            Tranquility, I muse, as I easily glide through the soothing water.  The classic images come to mind – a tropical beach (sunburn and itchy sand), a cool forest (tents, bugs, no indoor plumbing), a snowy mountaintop (I’m terrified of heights and it would be a lot of work to get there) – and I discard each one.
            But of course, my element of tranquility is water and the meditative like simplicity of early morning lengths.  Thoughts of pool water and how I would/could/should depict it lead to penguins – could I create penguins swimming in a pool, will I ever swim like a penguin, could I even learn to get out of the pool like a penguin gets out onto the ice?  How could I create the impression of ghostly penguins waddling out of the mists and becoming real?
January 2007 (On Becoming a Penguin V)
            I signed up for the next session of Body Sculpt.  People are talking about how I’m losing weight, but for me the reason that I’m keeping up with this is that it has improved my swimming.  The problem I’ve had with my neck for years has also disappeared – makes sense that stronger muscles are supporting the degenerating discs.  I’m even getting secretly competitive about how much weight I’m lifting.
            Chatting with people in the change room at the pool has been interesting.  The first time someone commented on my strong swimming, I was taken aback.  In my head, I compare my times to natural (childhood onset) swimmers and place myself in the midpack of first year swimmers!  On the other hand, perhaps they are noticing something I’m not…
            Oh yes, I’ve replaced all my dress pants with a size 12 and my jeans are too big.
2 February 2007 (Tranquility II)
            It’s my first anniversary of getting back to swimming and I’m celebrating with a new suit (purple), silicone swim cap and new goggles.  My element of tranquility has a whole new sound to it.  With my new goggles, I can see the bubbles my hands make as I pull myself through the water.  The cap changes the sounds as I swim – freestyle gives me aquarium bubbles in stereo, first one side then the other as I turn in the water with each stroke.  On my back, I get the gentle waves lapping on a beach as each arm enters the water and my breath is the breeze in the trees.  I consciously work to relax my breathing to gentle the breeze.            My breaststroke reminds me of the theme from Jaws, but that’s at the end of my morning swim anyway.
            Even when I’m away from the pool, I can bring myself to that sense of relaxation and tranquility by imaging that I am swimming.  In my minds eye, I bring myself back to the pool for a five minute break when I’m frustrated or to make the transition back to sleeping at night.
            I AM becoming a Penguin.

What's a Penguin?

In the running lexicon, the word "Penguin" has come to mean a person who runs more for the joy of running than for recognition and public rewards. Some of us are perpetual Penguins. We are consumed by the pleasure of movement.
Other Penguins find their joy in the challenge of reaching their own potential, whatever that is. For some it has meant running the Boston Marathon, the only U.S. marathon that has qualifying standards. For others, it has meant finding an independence and freedom in their daily runs that expands their limits.
Can there be such a thing, then, as a Penguin athlete? Or an athletic Penguin? Can people who are fighting to lose thirty or forty pounds be athletes? Of course they can! Can people who have waited until their forties to become physically active be athletes? You bet. Can people who finish last in a race be athletes? Yes, they can. And yes, they are.
Improvement is defined as being closer to where you want to be than you are right now. Remember, I couldn't run for more than a few steps in the beginning. Improvement for me was running farther than my driveway. You'll have to decide what improvement means for you. Is it to walk around your block without stopping? Then work toward that!
For better or worse, you are the only you that you will ever get. What you decide to do with you is up to you. Tomorrow you will still be you. The question is whether you will move closer today to who you want to be.
If you are patient, if you are persistent, if you are consistent, an amazing transformation will begin to occur. Your wonderfully adaptive body will begin to cooperate. It will happen in your own time and at your own pace, to be sure, but the transformation will take place
Movement, which may have seemed so foreign to you, will become more natural. Being active every day will stop being something that you want to end and become something that you can't wait to start. It isn't just a matter of going farther or faster every day. It's knowing that you are in control of your body and, for a few minutes every day, your life.
But, I now see that being a penguin is more about what's inside that out, more about what I feel than what I accomplish, and more about what a can do than what I can't. Being a penguin isn't about what someone does, but about why someone does it.
-John Bingham

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