t h e i n t i m a t e s t r a n g e r

Old flames

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50m breaststroke 0:?? (gold)
100m breaststroke ?:?? (gold)
50m freestyle 0:?? (gold)

50m breaststroke 0:49.5
100m breaststroke 1:50

50m freestyle 0:36

6 Apr 2013:
50m breaststroke 0:49.1

27 Oct 2013:
50m breaststroke 0:47.26
100m breaststroke 1:46.93
50m freestyle 0:35.09

17 Nov 2013:
50m breaststroke 0:46.02
50m freestyle 0:34.81


* * *

I started swimming regularly again around the beginning of 2011, what with all that free time in between jobs and not knowing what else to do with myself. That respite helped me to regain some stamina, which I had lost over the years — I could barely swim a few laps continuously, and only on the breaststroke. By April 2011, I had pushed myself to 60 laps, before exhaustion and pain took me out.

Soon after, I found another job. I continued swimming but only sporadically because I could not sustain the interest. Instead I did a lot of yoga, finding comfort in the meditative practice as I tried to regain my footing in life. I also did some modern dance but stopped after some months because I just couldn’t remember the moves and it just wasn’t me. Trying to stay ‘busy’ and distract myself from less happy thoughts, I picked up Muay Thai next, which I still do, as well as roller-blading on weekends.

Perhaps it was the excitement of the London Summer Olympics in July-August 2012 that got me thinking again about regaining my old form. I was already looking out for adult advanced classes but the only coaching available was one-on-one. Then a friend from diving, who is also a part-time swimming/first aid/scuba-diving instructor, started a small adult class of 4 for mixed levels in October. We worked mostly on fine-tuning techniques, and it improved the efficiency of my strokes significantly.

On 1 January 2013, I completed 100 laps of breaststroke. It was surprisingly easy and marked the start of a very productive year in the pool :-)

In late February, there was a call for swimmers to participate in the annual inter-agency meet. I signed up, with much trepidation, for a single event — the 50m breaststroke; I couldn’t yet swim the freestyle comfortably (which frustrated me greatly), much less sprint a whole lap without possibly just dying halfway. I submitted a personal best of 0:52, which was the third fastest time in 2012 for the Women’s Veteran category. So I figured I wouldn’t do too badly, just as long as I didn’t come in last! And that, was my very simple goal for the meet. Heh. And I had just 1 month to train.

So I swam, almost everyday. There were a couple of group training sessions with the team from my agency — 5 guys, one of whom used to be a school swimmer. He had been participating in the annual meet for several years and was in his mid-40s. And, he was still fast enough to win races. Wow, huh. There was a former national swimmer and a dragon-boater who had also competed in previous meets. The other 2 were new to the agency and the annual meet, like me. A sixth guy who swam the year before, was a no-show as he was training for a biathlon.

On the morning of the meet, I languished for almost 3 hours before my event was called. There were 10 entries for the Veteran Women’s 50m breaststroke and I was scheduled to swim in Heat 1 with last year’s winner, a former national swimmer. By then, I was thoroughly worn out by anxiety. The resulting hyperfocus narrowed my field of vision and blunted my sensory perception — I remember jumping in and surfacing and not seeing anyone… ???… !!!!!… okayyy… and swimming in this strange vacuum of sound. I also remember fighting to hang on past the 25m mark, the ragged gasps for air, and the awlful, awlful pain as I struggled to keep kicking and pulling, even as I weakened rapidly. I finished second in 0:49.1, more than 5s behind the leader. But I didn’t know yet if I would get a medal; I managed to beat Heat 2’s winner by 0.88s for a silver, and was only 1 of 2 who swam under 0:50.

Winning a medal — and the silver — ignited the Arian in me. I was amazed that I had improved on my time of 0:49.5 back in 1988. Wow. This gave me the momentum and motivation to continue swimming. I knew that I could do better and I was already thinking about the next annual meet.

There was no turning back from then on. Half a year later, I went on to swim in 2 more races and picked up 2 more silvers, 1 bronze and 2 golds.

But even as I made steady improvements in my times, I realised just how slow I was when I was younger! No wonder I didn’t get far! Laugh. I blame it on poor technique and lack of mental preparation before races.

Of course it’s been harder in some ways. The challenge is mostly physical. I am more than twice as old, and the body takes a long time to recover. As a working adult, I can’t train as much as I would like, though for someone who needs to work for a living, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to spend as much time as I have at the pool.

But, older, wiser and more self-reliant now, I’ve been proactive about getting back into competitive swimming and looking for races to gain experience. While my parents were happy about my swimming, their support stopped there. Come to think of it, I am now the same age as they were when I swam in my first school meet.

The internet has made training videos and other useful resources really easy to get hold of. (Thank you, internet!) Regular yoga has given me better breath control, flexibility and body intelligence, which help with fine-tuning technique. It also doesn’t hurt that I can afford nicer gear (grin) and regular massages which loosen tight muscles, and help with recovery of overworked bits.

In a way, I’m resuming ‘unfinished business’. I stopped competitive swimming after the first year of junior college. The swim club wasn’t particularly active and since the girls’ relay team didn’t have enough swimmers, it wasn’t possible to continue participating in invitational meets organised by other schools. My JC was also more known for its track and field. Not surprisingly, it didn’t have its own swim meet. But what really annoyed me was how this reared its ugliness in our Physical Education teachers’ disinterest in the weekly PE classes if it was swimming or even gymnastics, both of which I enjoyed. Quite a number of swimming classes were cancelled because of rain but when it was time for running, we were made to continue!

While I could have continued on my own, I didn’t know how and was too shy to ask around or grab the few opportunities that did come my way. And, with the A-levels looming and important life-changing decisions to be made, my depression also got worse and I became more withdrawn.

When I finally got into the University, I joined the Lifesaving Club and being in a team again was good. I can’t remember when I stopped but there were many distractions — the online community and gaming.

I’ve always thought about racing again but didn’t think there were opportunities for older non-elite swimmers. I had missed the one window to explore my potential and I thought that was that. Well, it’s certainly a case of better late than never!

I don’t know if I could have gone back to swimming much earlier (read: younger and stronger). Who can say, eh? In my 20s, post-graduation, certainly not. Work kept me occupied and I was in a relationship that went nowhere and I was mostly in a rut. Sigh! In my 30s and newly single, I was just coming to terms with the earlier wasted years, doing things I would never have done, enjoying new experiences, people and places, and finding myself. Along the way, I fell back into a rut again. What can I say, it’s a nice and cozy rut. Grin. I was also gaming, too much. I did start getting more regular exercise though — yoga, mostly.

Then the mid-life crisis sent me rock-bottom. It took a while to sort out the mess and work on unresolved issues. But life is okay again — the rut still looks mighty cozy but I’ve learnt to climb out more often. Baby steps.

I haven’t been this passionate about something for a really long time, and I’ve certainly not sustained an interest for as long as I have (me and my short attention span). Having a goal to work towards, to know what it feels like and what it takes, has made me think about the other things that I would like to do, and to improve my life. I like to think that I’ve swum my way out of the rut :-) Getting back into swimming has meant I’ve less time and this has forced me to be more selective and thoughtful about how I spend my time. I’ve started reading again by setting aside proper pockets of uninterrupted time. And I’m writing regularly once more. As the writers will tell you, practice is important, and never stop writing. Swimming is also helping me to manage my anxiety and confidence issues. So hey, many birds, one stone. What’s not to love? ;-)

Honestly, I don’t know how long I’ll be doing this. It’s certainly taking up a lot of my time and energy. I suppose for as long as the flames are alive, or until some other goal drives me in another direction…

Wherever my dreams shall lead me :-)


Written by The Intimate Stranger

December 31st, 2013 at 11:59 pm

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