Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Swimming gives wonderful intangible rewards.

Swimming is a wonderful low-impact workout for the entire body.
In all honesty, I’m not much of a swimmer. The important thing is that I like it. That alone qualifies me to try and motivate others to get out and have a bash for all the right reasons.
You’ll soon see what I mean.
As a non-swimmer who took lessons for years, there is some real satisfaction, a kind of intangible reward involved.
A little over halfway to my goal, there is a feeling where the arms begin to burn, and yet I feel strong, I’m managing my breathing, I can see the shore going by at a pretty good clip, and I know that I can do this…
This afternoon when I arrived it was lightly spitting rain.
There are those who say you can’t go swimming when it’s raining because you might get wet.
Ignore those people, for surely they are misogymnasts or something. Some kind of gymnast, anyway.
I swam yesterday, using a combination of strokes, without touching bottom. I went about ninety metres the first time and about seventy metres the second time. I would describe myself as a non-swimmer for that alone—after that I need a rest. Otherwise I’m plummeting to the bottom, my sordid failures and lurid mediocrities flashing before my eyes like a blue light special at K-Mart before they closed her down.
Okay, so today, I did eighty metres three times. I swim to the next groyne (that’s a real word by the way) starting more or less where my shoes are. I go out until I’m in about four feet of water. When I swim, I do a modified dog paddle, with a two-footed kick, very slow but also very large—I make a thump like a ship’s propeller when I kick. I keep my head up so I can see where I’m going. My arms are under me, not out to the sides, and I sort of scoop backwards, both hands at once, just like a beaver or muskrat. When I just can’t do it any longer, I might roll over on my back. I don’t do a classic back stroke, it’s too hard. I burn out too quick. I might scull along with my feet trailing, and I have a couple of odd little strokes for that. It’s not a question of speed, but of using what reserves I do have as efficiently as possible.
I can do a proper face-down crawl, but synchronizing the breathing has always been beyond my ability. A crawl with the head up is faster, but I burn out quicker and then have to rest anyway. But I can do a crawl for maybe thirty metres. An excellent upper body workout involves doing a heads-up crawl with legs trailing. If you’re not kicking efficiently to begin with, this is surprisingly efficient and almost as fast. I can do a side-stroke on my left side, but the right side isn’t anywhere near as good.
In order to save my life, in water of relatively warm temperature, the odds are I could swim a lot farther than eighty metres. Draining everything I had, (and taking my time, and not panicking) I might be able to go the full 240 metres, grab a dock or a rope or most likely crawl ashore. I might survive, right?
Now, if I was lost and traveling across country, I wouldn’t try to swim even a thirty or forty-metre wide river or swamp. It’s too chancy, and you’re going to want to preserve your clothes. You might be carrying a few things to begin with. If you go upstream a ways and can’t find a ford, you might want to swim for it. A strong swimmer pushing a raft or float can survive a fairly long time if the water isn’t too cold. The raft allows you to keep your clothes and shoes dry.
In my opinion, and at least in my own case, that sort of stuff is strictly last resort.
Swimming is low-impact. Unlike throwing a ball, which might tend to pull and yank on tendons, or running, which tends to pound and punish the knees and ankles of joggers, there is a lower risk of serious joint and ligament injuries. I’m a tall, skinny guy, and without football drills or weight lifting, my neck’s not that strong. I have a long, skinny neck, some back injuries and at my age, every so often the knees, the elbows, the neck bother me.
Even walking waist deep in water is good exercise, although doctor-prescribed hydrotherapy usually takes place in a heated pool. Cold water is good for reducing pain and inflammation.
(That’s why you put ice on a sprain.)
Right now, my neck feels like it had a good workout, as did my arms and shoulders. Swimming is an excellent aerobic exercise. There is some sensation in my lower back, but I am far better off to work that lower back, in a reasonable manner. This pays off in winter, when I’m a lot more sedentary. My knees bother me a lot more in winter, possibly due to the cold, but in winter I’m not cycling or swimming either. You fall out of shape pretty rapidly. That’s just a fact.
Walking on a nature trail for a kilometre or maybe a little more, once or twice a month, doesn’t hurt me any either, although it does cause some pain in the hips. In terms of riding the bike, (which I’m actually pretty good at) my longest trip this year was about thirty kilometres. That’s not bad for a fifty-four year old guy with long-standing back problems. (And he smokes, too. – ed.)
I used to take pain pills, prescribed by a doctor. I still had pain, often a lot of it. So what I did was to stop taking the pills—and stop doing stupid things like trying to go back to work as a drywall guy, or a roofer, or doing something really hard like high-pressure water-blasting, on twelve-hour shifts, on call and on shut-downs.
All I was doing was punishing myself and not getting anywhere. I failed at all of them jobs!
I guess you could say I retired early, and now I do whatever the hell I want. It doesn’t pay much but I have my freedom.
You got to like that, ladies and gentlemen.

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