Following the Black Line: How I Found Peace in the Pool
I was a competitive swimmer in my early teens.
My coach, Paul, always had me swim backstroke even though I wanted to swim breaststroke. I was faster in breaststroke. It didn’t make the water slosh over my face, gagging me, and causing me to vomit after every race. But, I raced backstroke in every meet because coach asked me.
Regardless, I was a swimmer and I loved the water. I didn’t love throwing up at swim practice or after a meet, but I did love how I felt underwater. The water was fresh and cool and so crisp and clear. I was strong in the water, in control. At the same time, I was nearly invisible with a cap and goggles, nearly unrecognizable as I swam under the radar. Stealthy. In charge of me. It was when I felt the most confident, the most myself. I don’t remember exactly why I stopped. But I stopped when I was 15 years old. Athlete or not, I probably succumbed to adolescent worries of body image and getting a boy to like me.
I stayed out of the water through college, and then after college while working off my debt with two jobs. Eventually, I found a job in advertising. The work was interesting and the atmosphere, demanding. I worked my butt off, watched and learned, and got promoted from media assistant, to media planner, to account executive in less than two years. The hours were long and I often headed home to my tiny downtown apartment well after having dinner at my desk. Eventually, I found myself stressed and lonely.
I dropped a defining piece of me as casually as a hair tie on the pool deck
After a couple months living this crazy and unhealthy pattern, I found a pool. I started swimming most mornings before work. The practice I’d started in my youth all came back to me with ease. My morning swims gave me clarity, purpose, direction, and time with my thoughts. As I propelled through the chlorinated haven, I pondered some of my best ideas. . It was amazing having a routine and I didn’t even mind showering and getting dressed for work in the locker room. Much.
Then I met a man, and dedicated my free time to building our relationship. I already had crazy long days with a growing roster of clients, and I got busy after hours going out to eat and “talking” late into the night with my new boyfriend. I stayed up too late to get myself to the pool at 6am, so I stopped going. I dropped a defining piece of me as casually as a hair tie on the pool deck.
All my hard work at the office finally paid off. I got promoted to Vice President and I bought a 120 year old, 12 foot wide house and started building a life with my guy. We were living the life. Soon after, we got engaged. While we were planning our next step, he got offered a job halfway across the country. Seriously, halfway across. In Nebraska! We changed our timeline. Within two months, we got married, sold the house, and packed up our furniture, motorcycles, and cats and made the trek west on I-80.
I became a partner at an amazing ad agency in Nebraska and I loved the people and the work. But after my first son was born, I just couldn’t bear the heartbreak of the long hours and travel. I left to start my own business and then I had my second son, and my third. I was happy with my work and my sons, but with my husband traveling for work, I was often home alone doing double duty for long hours. I was exhausted and a little numb.
I did finally find a pool, and though it pained me to pay a babysitter to watch my little ones so I could swim, I dabbled in carving out a little me time. On most of those rare and special days, the escape into liquid silence and the lingering of the chlorine on my skin was a peaceful and invigorating reprieve.
On other days, it was simply a mental release. Did you know you could cry underwater? It’s true. You can. You can scream and be angry, or you can daydream and strategize and plan and love.
After six years in Nebraska, we moved back east to be closer to family. My husband and I became full-time entrepreneurs and, at the onset, money was tight. It was a budget stretch, but we joined the community association, with amazing gym and swim facilities. I dreamed of swimming in my free time. Free time? Yeah, right. We had three kids under four. That was in late 1999.
The next 10 years rolled by. Years of holding my stress, sitting at my computer, and just basic genetics led me to neck surgery: discectomy on C4 & C5 and fusion. But what would lead me back to physical and emotional health? I needed to move, glide, propel, stretch and to literally dive deep to regain my strength and to find peace and happiness again.
By then, my sons were growing and getting more independent. After being forced to slow down for my recovery, I saw an opening to consciously adjust my ongoing pace and work a few less hours each week.
So, I took a class to refresh my strokes. It was nerve-wracking at first; the class was a motley crew with all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels. Many couldn’t complete a lap without encouragement. Once I caught on to the fact that my neck wasn’t as flexible as it once was, I adapted my long-ago learned movements to a comfortable and efficient stroke. I threw myself into it, and was swimming a mile at a time before too long. That was in 2011.
These days, I swim 5-6 miles a week. I swim outside when I can, and inside when I can’t. I swim to think, to find peace, to destress, and yes, to be happy.
But whatever drives me to get to the pool on any given day, I know that the cool, blue, chlorinated water and the lulling of following the black line will always lead me back to me.
Wendy, I love this and while not a swimmer, I can relate on so many ways. I’m a beach gal, having grown up on Long Island. Not a lay in the sun kind of beach gal, but I find my peace and solitude at sunrise on the shore when it’s most quiet. I could stand or sit there with my eyes closed for hours just listening to the water come up on the shore. However, I got married, moved to Cincinnati, had 3 kids, moved to Wisconsin for 10 years and find myself now in Colorado. While the mountains are beautiful, my daughter and I recently took a trip to North Carolina to visit family and HAD we had to spend a couple of days at the beach. I was in my happy place again and never felt more at peace. It really got me thinking that maybe it’s time to move back to the East Coast.
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