This article is by Brenda Lewin.
For over 50 years of my life I had no use for the water as a form of recreation. As long as I can remember the thought of jumping into a pool scared me to death. The smell of chlorine used to send me into a panic attack. Growing up blocks from the beach, my summers were spent watching friends dive off docks, while I kept my distance taking no chance of being pushed or falling in to that deep dark sea. Even a simple boat ride made me anxious. No water parks or water slides for me. Our home has a beautiful big in ground pool, where we host numerous pool parties. I had never set foot in the deep end.
Both of my children were on swim teams at very young ages as well as during high school and college. Parent involvement was mandatory so each week I would enter the pool area with a pit in my stomach from the smell of chlorine. Carefully I would walk by the pool’s edge and pray I would not fall in. I would volunteer as a timer, scorer or runner. My preference was to score so there would be a table between me and the pool. At the end of a winning season I would be sure to stay far away from the pool, when it was customary to push all of the celebrants into the water. I would find refuge in the locker room until the celebration ended.
Imagine!!! I am half of the production team that created Craig of Endurance Swimming: Open Water Training. How could it be that I was so scared of the water and had no inkling of how to swim???
As someone who was afraid of the water I always felt like I was missing out on the party, but my fear was paralyzing. Then one summer evening something snapped in me and I knew I didn’t want to be afraid any longer. To quote my good friend Judy Hamerstrom: “I had to get on the other side of my fear.”
Both of my children Jamie and Craig had been lifeguards and swim instructors. My son was just starting to make a name as a super swim coach. Why look any further? I had the best instructors right in my backyard…Every night of that summer I would suit up and made sure to wear a bathing cap, goggles, ear plugs and a nose plug and anything else I could think of so I wouldn’t feel the splash of water on my face.
In the beginning I could barely get across the width of the pool (18 feet). My swim style was to keep my head as far out of the water as possible. If water broke through any of my protective gear entering my mouth or nose, I would completely freak out. My heart would pound through my chest and I was sure I was about to drown. The image that I conjured up was as if I was going down with the Titanic. My caring instructors would sit by the edge of the pool. One would be gigging uncontrollably, head and shoulders bobbing, while the other shouted words of encouragement like “What’s wrong with you, just stand up!!!” I guess I wasn’t in very deep.
Finally, I did start to make it down to the deep end. Nothing felt better. At summer’s end we closed our pool and my children went back to college. I needed to continue swimming because if I waited until the following summer the fear would grab onto me again. I was ready for a real pool so off I went to the local YMCA, but I wasn’t going alone. I recruited my running partner at the time, Harvey, as well as my husband, Richard, to go with me. My new fear was to end up in the middle lane of the pool and more frightening was to have to share the lane. At least three times a week I would swim with one of them and then come home exhausted, belly bloated from all of my hyperventilating, arms sore and cramping legs. I have run many marathons but learning to swim was the hardest physical endeavor I’ve ever undertaken.
When I made it public that I was learning to swim, friends and family were shocked to find out that I was afraid of the water. After all I was a runner and I had the pool and those “swimmer children”. I had fooled them all and kept this secret for over 50 years.
With a lot of convincing from Craig, I finally decided to try practicing with his Endurance Swimming team. Prior to joining I thought everyone who practiced was out to break records. It was enlightening to realize that each swimmer’s motivation for being there was not the same and everyone gets what they need out of the workouts. Needless to say with Craig shouting more words of encouragement like “Why aren’t you kicking” my pool swimming has improved significantly. On the other hand, I am still a little skittish swimming in the open water.
When the open water swim practice season approached I thought I was off the hook, after all I didn’t have a wet suit. My children made sure that I had a brand new wetsuit. I am sure the hot pink trim was influenced by my very stylish daughter in law, Alex. When I complained about getting hypothermia Craig lent me his booties, gloves and neoprene cap. It appears that there are no excuses for not attending an open water swim. My open water swimming skills are as rough as the seas, but I have faith that Craig will figure out a way to get me up to speed one day.
Facing my fear and learning to swim was one of my greatest achievements. My world opened up to so many water activities that I used to watch from the sidelines. I now kayak, snorkel and have even sailed on a couple of cruises. The feeling of not being afraid is so liberating.
None of us can reach our goals alone so I need to thank my husband for encouraging me and getting in the pool with me each and every time I went to the Y. As a parent we think that we need to teach our children everything but it’s amazing what we can learn from them. It’s incredible where you will go if you take a trip on your children’s ride through life. Because of Craig and Jamie’s passion for swimming and their dedication to helping me conquer this fear, I am now capable of practicing with a very accomplished, inspiring and most supportive group of individuals at Endurance Swimming.
About Brenda Lewin: Brenda Lewin resides in the idyllic seacoast town of Swampscott, Massachusetts, with her husband of over 36 years. She is the mother of two avid swimmers, however never swam a stroke until recently. As a swim team mother she has spent numerous hours on pool decks, volunteering in every capacity needed. Brenda holds an MBA from Suffolk University and has had a long career in accounting Along with her enthusiasm for long distance running (Boston Marathon qualifier) she practices yoga, swims and kayaks as part of her usual routine. Recently she became certified as a Certified Personal Trainer as well as a Healthy Lifestyle Coach. She hopes that her story will encourage others, who are fearful of the water, to take the plunge.