Getting Back into the Water: Swimming Preggas

Three weeks ago, I slipped into the cold, chlorinated water, smacked my rubber swim cap over my ears, pressed my fingers firmly against the eyes of my goggles, and crouched against the wall underwater [arms pointed forward, fingers cupped together] to push off into swimming my first mile since... since... gracious, I think since sometime in the spring semester of my Senior year of college.
We joined the Y mostly for Will's sake - I am realizing he is fast outgrowing our ability to stay contentedly at home (minus a few exciting shopping trips and biblestudies) on a weekly basis. He needs to get out. I'm not ready to put him in preschool yet, partly because all the preschools I liked were a bit above our budget, but mostly because I figured that would start him right after Baby Henry arrives, and I think any unnecessary changes to our routine might upset the general equilibrium. Plus, I have good reason to believe his immune system would take a serious beating at first, and I'm not willing to do that with a brand spankin' new baby in tow. And I love the idea of taking Will to the outdoor pool all summer, signing him up for little classes, giving him a chance to make friends and be in a new environment. And helping him learn to swim!

Anyway, the timing worked out for joining the Y because I am in need of a little cardio boost in addition to the Tracy Anderson workouts. Tracy definitely leaves me feeling it in my muscles, but my true loves are long cardio-centric endurance workouts. That's my thing. When you can zone out and just lose track of time and feel the endorphins rushing through your system as your muscles contract and stretch and your lungs struggle to catch up. The longer the better, in my book. 

I have never really seen workouts as this "no pain no gain" thing. I like to do workouts that I simply love doing. Yeah it still takes discipline and motivation; I still have to push myself really hard, and it is still work. But if I don't get enough sensory enjoyment during the workout, I feel a little like a hamster in a wheel: trapped and disgusted that I have to do this in order to balance out other factors of my American lifestyle - driving everywhere, watching TV on the couch, eating Chickfila, etc. For me, it quickly begins to feel like a vicious, unenjoyable cycle. This is why I avoid the treadmill like the plague, and why I have never gotten into weight lifting or the machines. Is that just really weird of me? My girlfriends who swear by weight lifting and intense short workouts would probably feel the same horror about a long sweaty run. :) To each his own for sure!

I just cherish the many memories I have made over the years from, of all things, my workouts! Whether that was long bike rides in the lazy farmland of the Foothills countryside with my mom... or mountain biking, literally up mountains and root-corrupted trails, under tunnels of sweet mountain laurel and around boulders, as a counselor at Kahdalea in the Blue Ridge Mountains... or lacing up my shoes and shimmying into my sports bra to go running in the early mornings pretty much everywhere I find myself - the beach on vacation, my grandma's Colonial Williamsburg historic neighborhood, the Greenway trails in Charlotte... or finally, swimming laps in the cool, clear blue water of the Y where I grew up. 

Lap-swimming brings back waves of memories for me. I believe it must be that strong smell of the chlorine, smell being our most nostalgic sense.  

I grew up in a pool. My parents are both lap-swimmers and exercise fanatics, and have been my entire life. I can't remember a time we didn't have a family membership to the Y... where my five younger brothers and sisters and I all took swim lessons year round and piled into our blue '88 Suburban with squeals to go to the outdoor pool nearly every day from May to August... where we had underwater tea parties and Sharks & Minnow's games, and there was always a favorite lifeguard or swim coach who could be counted on to toss my brother and I in the deep-end as we shrieked with terrified delight. I always loved the atmosphere of fun 80's music over the loudspeaker, families laughing together, and even the occasional excitement of a bolt of lightning or a clap of threatening thunder that would chase us all under the umbrellas for 20 minutes, eating cheap freezie pops and staining our mouths blue, until we could all race (Walk, don't run!!!) at the first whistle, splashing back into the water. 

I was a lifeguard in college for three different Y's, and it is a sucky job for the precise reason that it is a great big-family option... they do their best to make it cheap. Therefore, I realized two weeks into my summer that this was literally THE WORST job I could've taken with my goal to save money for the upcoming school year. But it was too late to get a better summer job at that point - so I just resigned myself to enjoy all the things I have always loved about the Y... the healthy, clean environment, the children who come prepared from experience to adore their teachers and lifeguards, and the kindness of the people who volunteer their time to create a sense of community. 

I have loved lap-swimming since I was 12; in fact, swimming a mile was my main fitness routine in college, before I fell in head over heels for running...  but I never knew how good it could feel until I started swimming pregnant. My new body no longer feels foreign or awkward when muscle-memory kicks in and I paddle into a steady rhythm for free-style, breast-stroke, and back... stretching out my arms, cupping my hands, kicking from my hips, breathing in cadence. I use the counting tactic my friend Ariel came up with when we used to swim laps at 6 in the morning before classes - dividing the 36 laps of a mile into 6 sets of 6 - (2 laps freestyle, 1 lap breast, 2 laps backstroke, 1 lap breast). I still manage to mess it up sometimes with my adorable pregnant brain, but mostly it breaks up the mile to feel really fast, and the sets are just simple and short enough to make it easy to keep track of.

I am slow, much slower than I used to be, but I am steadier than many of the swimmers around me and rarely need to break, which makes me feel a little exhilarated in my vanity. I feel the baby move inside of me sometimes as I stretch out weightless in the water, though its only in the beginning, and I wonder if the rhythmic movement of my body for 45 minutes lulls him to sleep.

Just as with all my favorite forms of exercise... running, cycling, swimming... I have time to get into the zone, to fall into a steady rhythm, and then I can daydream, pray, think. Unlike the other two, however, swimming forces me into silence... Into a state of quiet with the white noise of my splashes and the vibrations in the water. In the span of each set, I find myself going from a therapeutic focusing on my muscles and helping my body feel the workout from head to toe, to flickering images of old memories that involve holding your breath and opening your eyes in the blurry, eerie underwater, and snorting chlorine accidentally up your nose... to finding myself in thoughtful reflection and even quiet prayer.

I suspect that of all my chlorine-filled memories of swimming, these next 3 months may become may favorite. Swimming preggas unites my desperate desire to do something with my lagging body, my need to burn energy and release stress, to my need to just relax and release the strain on my back and belly. 

To rest and feel happy and content at my stage in life, at my unique limitations,
 and still, to feel so empowered at what I am able to do. To get a second wind even as I get a second to just breathe and release the tension. I hope this will carryover into labor, to my second wave of experiencing motherhood. Either way, its addicting in the moment! I am going 3-4 times a week without hesitation, and doing the Tracy Anderson DVDs every other day.
Somehow I know I will always look back at this happy, sunny spring when I was a young mom of a toddler and 6 months pregnant, and I waddled dove back into the water after 3 long years. 

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