LGN 124: Swimming

2017-2018 goal: I want to swim in the Caribbean Sea.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Doing anything outside of your comfort zone is a matter of trust. That’s what I’m learning. Swimming is pure, in a way, because it’s not about gear or equipment. The only thing you have to put your trust in is physics — hydrodynamics. Literally all you have is your body, air, and the water.

I love learning. I love that feeling of downloading and installing new software into my bioware, my operating system. New knowledge. New skill. New levels of competence and efficiency. It’s miraculous.

I tend to excel at whatever I put my mind to. Maybe that’s because I immerse myself, no pun intended. I gear up, watch instructional videos, do research online, ask questions, attempt to sate my insatiable curiosity. It’s a trait I appreciate even if it’s an addictive personality trait, as some would say.


I wish I could do a video somehow for my channel. It might help a lot of people to see a middle aged black dude learn how to swim because even though there are plenty of black people who do swim, statistically speaking, it’s not enough. Tragically so.

Swimming while black: the legacy of segregated public pools lives on

There’s Nothing Funny About 70 Percent of Black Americans Not Knowing How to Swim

Why don’t black Americans swim?http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-11172054

But check this out:

31st Annual Black History Invitational Swim Meet

I don’t like to see people leaning so heavily on — how do I say this? Past trauma, whether historic, cultural, or personal. Being stuck in victimhood is life-stealing. All of that history is true, egregious and had/has consequences but, to me, it’s a matter of emphasis. Place emphasis on what you can do and what you can control and what constructive actions you can take. Remember the past, teach the past, learn lessons from the past and always, always, always move forward.

For most of us, there are no barriers to learning how to swim. It happens to be one of those skills and lifestyles that’s passed down like a family heirloom. Like hunting, camping, higher education and so on. It’s a form of wealth, as far as I’m concerned. It can start with anyone. Hopefully, more people start or at least get their children learning early. Let’s end the bull— right here and right now.


I want to be in the water even though I don’t have the skills yet to be 100% safe. I want to practice more but I don’t want to do it alone, if at all possible. There are lifeguards all over the place at the rec center but still. And I know all the swimmers out there are like, “Just float or tread water. Everybody floats.”

At this point for a beginner (but not for much longer) that’s like a bird telling you to just hold your big, featherless wings out and glide if you fall off a cliff. I’m getting there but achieving a comfortable, effective float isn’t something I can do consistently yet.

I want to play in the deep end and rip out that but-I-can’t-stand-up-where’s-the-ground trepidation and leave it in the water. I’m impatient. The classes, for now, are progressing too slowly for my tastes. Twice a week would be better, too. I’ll deal with it. I’ve got a plan and that plan involves having a rock solid foundation. Rock. Solid. That requires the time involved to acclimate muscles and endurance and hopefully lung capacity. I think it’ll help my back, too, if I do it enough. I was thinking that if I really want to challenge myself in the meanwhile I can try to build up to not touching the floor of the pool for an entire class.

My strategy involves going through the Fairfax County Parks class progression. If that proves to be too slow after the second class I’ll get a private instructor. Maybe. That sounds expensive. Hmmm. I just looked at the class level skills below. Maybe I can skip the second swimming class and move on to the third.

I watched some Navy Seals training videos. Holy %$#@! Aside from the general endurance and performance like 50 yard underwater laps, they tread water while holding swim bricks. Float, swim, and do underwater maneuvers while their hands and feet are tied. That is intense.

Partially written a few weeks ago and updated

When adults, especially, are learning something new there’s so much fear. I’m watching YouTube videos on floating, buoyancy, basic strokes and surviving in deep water. But they don’t take fear into account. People tend to panic. It’s not lack of skill, coordination, or fitness that’s stopping people from learning how to swim.

There’s so much fear. It’s kind of sad. Eight people are signed up for the level 1 swimming class. Only four showed up last week. I’m sure there will be more next time. All adults and each dealing with some level of intense discomfort to overcome. I watch people doing the drills and exercises and as soon as their feet don’t touch the floor they start to thrash. Except for me. So far. When I get to the class level where we’ll be in the deep end — I’ll have to dig down for that. I’m looking forward to it, though.

There’s not much I enjoy more than seeing people challenging and ultimately overcoming their fear. When they say, “I can’t” and then they do. I love it. Like this guy:

Ten sessions, people. Ten. Assuming one a week, he went from abject phobia to swimming in the ocean in less than three months.


I jumped into a dumpster full of ice water at Tough Mudder. I would have hesitated but before I even realized it Lisa took my hand and said, “Ready? Two, three…” Before I knew it I was in it, freezing, crowded and a little chaotic. Then you have to duck under the partition, which sucked. That shock and awe experience kind of makes jumping into a spacious, heated pool a cakewalk by comparison.

When I’ve done REI kayaking that requires a wet exit, I always dreaded it. It gets easier each time but still. Anticipating it is stressful in the days ahead and then you suck it up and do it and it’s over. Not pleasant, but over.


Summer of 2016, our family went on a cruise. I needed to do something adventurous so I did a kayak/snorkeling excursion. And of course, I can’t swim and had no idea what to expect.

There were a bunch of families and couples and then there was me. We were using two-person kayaks so the father of a Japanese family volunteered to go with me. We paddled out a bit into the waves and around a shoal(?) and on to a beach. From there we got an intro and instructions. Don’t try to walk forward in the flippers because you’ll end up tripping and bending them. I did exactly that, by the way. Oops. I had never used a snorkel before that day. They showed us how to turn the PFD around to support us when face down. Compared to the PFD I own and use when kayaking they seemed inadequate.

Those first few minutes — getting into the water, bending down to get my head under the water and giving the snorkel a whirl.  Then getting the snorkel itself under water and experiencing what that’s like. Trying to control when to breathe and when not to breathe. Off by myself because I didn’t want anyone to notice that I was nervous. When water first rushed into the snorkel and reached my lips, my initial reflex was to try to suck air in through my nose. There was no air beneath the surface of the water, of course. Okay. Relax. Clear the snorkel. Breathe. Choking on salt water is no bueno. Stop doing that.

It was a proverbial sink or swim, do or die situation. Staying on the beach wasn’t an option, right. So walk out to the chest, then the shoulders — it’s like rock climbing or zip lining (which I’ve never done) or rappelling. Once you make the decision to trust the equipment — trust the rope, trust the knots, trust the harness, trust the PFD, trust the snorkel, trust the guides, trust the instructors — it’s easy. Then you can think about breathing or technique or getting better and more efficient.

Then it was blissful. Seeing the coral, the reef, the fish, the other people diving. One of the instructors dove down and came back up with a sea anemone. We went father out and I triumphantly and nervously laughed at how far we were from the beach.

Then I started getting motion sick because the motion of the waves got more intense near the reef. The cyclical up down around rocking. Snorkelburp. No good. Then I got tired. Swimming is a lot of work even with a flotation device. One of the instructors, I realized, was out there swimming in the ocean the entire time with no PFD. We were out there for at least 45 minutes. How the heck did he do that?

Being tired and a little queasy, I was in a hurry to get back to the beach so I started to head that way. Then I realized that I was alone, away from the rest of the group. It seemed like a bad idea to wander off. I didn’t have a buddy so — maximum care.

It was a good day. I wish I could have done what some people did, which was to temporarily take off the PFD and dive down to see the reefs and wildlife up close and take photos. Maybe some day.

Swimming Syllabus

Here’s the Fairfax County ParkTakes syllabuses for the swimming lessons. I didn’t realize that there are six levels. I think level four or five would be sufficient for me. I’m pretty sure I could get through them by the end of the year, assuming they’re offered consecutively.

The instructor kept telling me that she wanted me to feel my body in the water. Be aware of my body. I want to GoPro myself so I can get a sense of what my body is doing but that may not be allowed, understandably so.

I’m supposed to be practicing rotary(?) breathing before the next class. That might could happen.

I’ll highlight in green my current swimming skillset. Prepare to be underwhelmed. (They use pool noodles and probably body boards in level one. I can do that stuff, no problem.) I can do more since I’ve floundered around in pools before — even though it’s been years — but getting back to the surface and gaining access to oxygen consistently and predictably? Not so much. I can’t do the back float strokes yet. Soon but not yet.

My current class -> Swimming I skills include:

  • Safely enter/exit water
  • Blowing bubbles 3 seconds with mouth and nose submerged
  • Flutter kick on front and back at least 2 body lengths or 5 seconds
  • Float on front and back then recover to a standing position
  • Glide on front and back at least 2 body lengths and recover to standing position
  • Front Crawl arm pull at least 2 body lengths
  • Swim on back using arm pull at least 2 body lengths
  • Swim on front and back using arms and kick

Swimming II skills include:

  • Safely enter/exit water
  • Jump from side into chest deep water
  • Front Crawl 3-5 body lengths
  • Swim on back 3-5 body lengths using arms and kick
  • Bob/rhythmic breathing (blowing bubbles) 5 times
  • Submerge face in water at least 3 seconds while blowing bubbles
  • Kick on front and on back at 3-5 body lengths
  • Float on front and back with head in proper position
  • Glide on front and back 2 body lengths then recover to a standing or vertical position
  • Roll from front to back and back to front position
  • Change direction of swimming on front and back
  • Treading water arm/kick motions in shoulder deep water (supported by instructor or wearing a PFD)

Swimming III skills include:

  • Safely enter water by jumping from the side into deep water
  • Front Crawl 15 yards
  • Elementary Backstroke 15 yards
  • Back Crawl 5 yards
  • Bobbing under water while traveling in chest deep water at least 5 times moving toward ‘safety’
  • Rotary breathing 10 times
  • Change from a vertical to horizontal position (front and back) in deep water
  • Tread water 15 seconds in deep water
  • Float on back in deep water 15 seconds then recover to vertical position and return to safety

Swimming IV skills include:

  • Front Crawl 25 yards
  • Back Crawl 25 yards
  • Breaststroke 15 yards
  • Elementary Backstroke 25 yards
  • Tread water 30 seconds in deep water
  • Feet first surface dive
  • Dive from side of pool into deep water

Swimming V skills include:

  • Front Crawl 50 yards
  • Breaststroke 50 yards
  • Back Crawl 50 yards
  • Elementary Backstroke 50 yards
  • Standard Scull 30 seconds
  • Tread Water 1 minute
  • Dolphin Kick 15 yards
  • Racing Starts
  • Feet first surface dive

Swimming VI skills include:

  • Front Crawl 100 yards
  • Back Crawl 100 yards
  • Breaststroke 100 yards
  • Sidestroke 25 yards
  • Butterfly 25 yards
  • Flip Turn – Front Crawl and Back Crawl
  • Individual Medley (Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, Freestyle)
  • Tread water 2 minutes
  • 200 yards – continuous swim

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