What do you love about swimming?
For me, I’ve just always loved being in the water and playing games with my friends. Starting from when I was 7 or 8 years old, I walked to our neighborhood pool, met my friends, and we played cards during adult swim, and sharks & minnows when there were enough of us there, and I swam on the swim team until I was 15 years old. The swimming pool was the fabric of my summer existence.
During & after high school, other priorities came up, other sports, other interests, academics and eventually a job. My first job out of college was with Voyageur Outward Bound School where we took groups of teenagers on backcountry wilderness canoe trips. We taught them life skills and expedition skills. But my favorite days were teaching the kids whitewater kayaking skills. It seemed that again, water became the fabric of my existence. It’s a miracle I never developed trench foot during a 3 week expedition in which it rained every day but one.
Dusting Off the Clubs
By the time I was 26 I longed for work that was more meaningful and impactful and in a roundabout way I decided to try to get into medical school. The day I took my MCATs (Medical College Admission Test), I thought to myself, “If I’m going to become a doctor, I need to learn how to golf.” So I dug around in the garage, found some dusty old clubs that my parents had owned and enjoyed when they were 20 years younger, and took myself and a few balls up to the ballfield that I had played in as a kid…the same ballfield that was on the way to the pool from my youth.
Let’s just say that it didn’t go well. I decided I would be a non-golfing doctor.
Diving Back in…
Fast forward five years, I had matched into residency, and somehow made the bizarre decision that training for a triathlon, rather than pure running for exercise, would give me more free time. What was I thinking?? I started riding my bicycle to the rec center and took up swimming again after about 10 years away from the water sports I’d loved during my childhood and those first years after college.
It was…just as I had remembered it. Smooth. Silent. Silky. Weightless. Magical. Mystical. Mysterious. Consistent. It was an activity where I could both disappear from the demands of Emergency Medicine training, and immerse myself into something familiar and comforting. “You have a nice stroke,” was something I heard often.
Let’s fast forward again. Since then…Back Surgery. Total Immersion. Pain free Swimming. Triathlon Coach. Youtube Host, interviewing legends like Mark Allen, Terry Laughlin, Gwen Jorgensen, Leanda Cave. Did I mention Mark Allen? Kirsten Sass. Volker Winkler. (Look them all up)
My pursuit of triathlon became it’s own career path, and throughout it all the water was my place that was both familiar and challenging. Endless improvement and ingrained patterns from my youth. New friendships and YouTube “fame” had people introducing themselves to me at the World Championships…”You’re Suzanne Atkinson, I love your podcasts and interviews.”
Holding Things Together
The water was the glue. It always brought things back together. Even things that had fallen apart, like my body from a bucket tear disc injury, back surgery, car accident, physical therapy, ankle arthritis (those soccer moves!), and most recently being a temporary caregiver for my partner who had a cardiac arrest (he’s fine now, 1 in 10,000 survivor of 3 cardiac arrests…now we train together), and navigating my mothers progression with dementia, aricept overdoses, and the relentless march of time. I submerged myself in the water and the water made me whole again.
At 50, I suddenly feel fit and fresh. I’m not in the same physical shape or the same weight I was at 47, or even 48…but 50 feels different. It feels fresh. It feels ready. It feels forward. I’m optimistic. The water is still there as it has been the past 45 years of my life.
What do I love about swimming? Everything.
What do YOU love about swimming? Post in the comments…
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