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by Jerry McCormick

January 25, 2016

My ALTS Experience—Part 2: Quieting the inner voices

Driving to my first swim lesson, a million thoughts were swimming through my head:

What the heck am I doing? Is it too late to change my mind? OMG, people are going to see me in a swim suit! Will people laugh at me? What if I drown? Who is this guy who’s going to teach me how to swim? What if he doesn’t know what he’s doing?

Stop. Deep breaths. Be logical.

What the heck am I doing? Being brave.

Is it too late to change my mind? No. But you will regret it if you do.

OMG, people are going to see me in a swim suit! These people don’t know you, and you don’t know them. So what?

Who is this guy who’s going to teach me how to swim? An experienced professional.

What if he doesn’t know what he’s doing? Clearly he hasn’t drowned, so he can swim, so he can teach you how to swim, too.

That all made sense, but when I arrived at the pool, a water polo team was practicing—teenagers in peak condition with six-pack abs. And there was me: a middle-aged, overweight black guy.

Don’t get discouraged. You came here to learn to swim.

I put on the swim suit and marched out of the locker room. No one laughed.

It was time to get in the water.

Here in San Diego, the weather is near-perfect most of the time, so I’m learning in an outdoor pool. But the water was surprisingly cold. My instructor, Chris Holley, told me that I would get used to it once we started moving around.

Chris helped me to put on a swim cap and goggles. I doubt I’ll use the swim cap much, but the goggles are a huge help.

We worked on a technique called “sculling.” We stood in the water and moved our hands back and forth with our arms outstretched and our palms facing away from our bodies. Chris said he wanted me to get used to how it feels to move water with my hands. Because I am so out of shape, I was tired pretty quickly. But I was also excited, because this was my first step toward learning to swim.

Before long, I noticed that the water had stopped being cold. My body was adapting to it. I also wasn’t afraid. I was chest deep in the water, and I was OK. I already trusted Chris, and I knew that no matter what, he would take care of me. I also knew that I was gaining the tools to take care of myself.

Chris worked on some breathing exercises with me. We took deep breaths in and blew them out. Then we began to put our faces in the water.

First the chin, then mouth, and before I knew it, my whole head was under water. I used the breathing techniques that Chris taught me. It was freaky to see my air bubbles going up and knowing that I would be okay and not drown.

I was amazed at how quiet it is under water. I’m a bit of a comic book geek, so I pretended that I was Aquaman and played a game to see how long I could hold my breath. It was cool, exciting, and scary, all at the same time. At age 47, it was the first time in my life I had put my whole body under water.

I wasn’t scared, but I was choking up a bit. Just 55 minutes earlier, fear was trying to talk me out of doing this.

Driving home, the voices were back in my head:

OMG, you did it. I cannot wait until the next lesson. We need to practice more. We need to lose weight so we can look cuter in the swim suit.     

If this is the first lesson, I can’t wait to see where the rest of this goes.

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