Hobby Road Test: (Re)Joining A Swim Team

I am a hobby kind-of-girl. As in, I very much enjoy them and have dabbled in a lot of them. Over the years, I have joined both bowling and pool leagues. I’ve gotten into scrapbooking, as a way to preserve memories of life and keep records of the best articles I’ve written over the years. I’ve learned how to Rubik’s Cube. About eight months ago, I started taking improv classes. And more recently, I embarked on a photography mission, using my camera less for photos of friends and more for artfully composed shots that I then print and hang in my cubicle.

But there’s one hobby that I was once very into that I’ve let fall by the wayside in recent years. Swim team. Related: Girl Talk: How Taking Improv Classes Changed My Life

I should back up. My parents both grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and never learned to swim because, well, there weren’t really pools. In fact, my mom didn’t take a swimming lesson until she was 32 and pregnant with my younger sister. She didn’t want me to befall the same fate of being a doggy-paddler, so she enrolled me in lessons at the same time even though I was two. Some of my earliest members are from the pool, like noticing how awesome the sky looked when you opened your eyes under water and looked up. I also have a very distinct memory of my swim teacher bribing me to dive into the deep end by throwing a soda in and telling me that if I wanted it, I had to swim for it.

By the time I was five, I had joined the Aqua Devils—my pool’s swim team. I remember the older kids would always line the sides of the pool and cheer my age group on during races, mainly because five-year-olds are really cute when they swim. Also, it takes them forever to get to the end of the pool and they need encouragement not to just grab hold of a lane line. I stayed on the team through age 12 and became a pretty fierce freestyler and butterflyer. At that point, my option was to join my school’s swim team. But since their practice began at 5 a.m., I said, “No thanks.”

Some 11 years later, circa 2003, I had come to the realization that no matter how much I paid for a gym membership, I was never going to go. I started thinking about what exercise I had actually enjoyed when it dawned on me: are there swim teams for adults? I consulted online and found that yes, there are. All over the place. Including one that met evenings just a few blocks from my office. And joining was far cheaper than the gym.

I went to my first practice on a Tuesday night and felt stupidly nervous walking into the pool. I remember two things striking me about that practice. First, that I’d forgotten since how much math is involved in competitive swimming—the standard pool is 25 yards, so coaches give you sets with specific pace times, which you are expected to be able to count. I also remember how physically exerted I felt. Strike that—I thought I might die. By 45 minutes into the hour and a half practice, I couldn’t feel my limbs anymore and my lungs felt on fire. But I kept going. On the way out of the pool, I felt dizzy and could barely stand up. That’s when the coach said something very smart: “I can tell you have a lot of heart.”

I decided that I couldn’t bolt, never to be seen again. I started going once a week at first. Then twice a week. This continued for years, to the point where practices didn’t feel rough on my body at all. But then, my swimming slowly started to wane. At this point, if I go to practice once every four months, it’s a lot.

And then a few weeks ago, The Frisky decided to do Get a Hobby Week. I thought about finding a new activity to immerse myself in, but I decided that what I really wanted to do was rededicate myself to swim team once a week.

My first practice back was rough. This time, the counting wasn’t a problem. Also, my lungs didn’t burn like they did that first practice in 2003. (Even though I haven’t been swimming per se, I’ve been exercising and am in good shape at the moment. I have a theory that since I’ve lost 40 pounds, it’s now much easier to pull myself through the water.) I felt encouraged that my swim pace was actually five seconds faster than it was when I was swim team regular. Still, as the hour mark of practice approached, I started to get winded. My arms and legs stopped obeying when my brain told them to keep going. My calves started to cramp up. I was struggling.

Related: Girl Talk: Assorted Thoughts On Losing 40+ Pounds

When our coach finally told us to cool down, I felt hugely relieved. And hopping out of the pool, I took note of how amazing my body felt. My arms, legs, and core felt more worked than they had in a long time. My lungs felt at ease. My mind felt cleared from having 90 minutes to just think about stuff as I glided through the water. I headed home and made myself a delicious dinner.

I’ve gone to swim team practice the past three weeks in a row. And I feel great about making this a constant in my life again. Thank you, Get a Hobby Week!

Interested in joining a swim team yourself? Here are some things you should know.

  • US Masters Swimming has swim teams all over the country. Find a team near you here. You should be a good swimmer, but don’t worry too much about your speed. Most teams accommodate everyone from former college swimmers to beginners.
  • Give yourself a lesson on pace before you get in the pool. This one helped me a lot. While you’re at it, get yourself a good suit—I love Speedo Endurance ones because they last forever. Also, a latex cap and good pair of goggles.
  • Cramps are a big issue when you aren’t in great swimming shape. Stretch well before and after practices, and drink water as you go. Eating bananas regularly can also help since they have tons of potassium.
  • The only thing I don’t like about swimming? I get what I call “bathing suit hickeys” on my neck, where my suit rubs against my skin. But rubbing a little Vaseline on my neck before you get in the pool makes this a non-issue.


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