Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To Dream the Improbable Dream

I wouldn't have called a triathlon "impossible," but when a friend suggested it after I first took up swimming, I laughed so hard I could barely breathe. "You don't understand," I told her, "I can't even put my face in the water when I swim - THAT'S how bad I am at it!"

That was just 5 weeks ago. At the time, I was technically still obese, according to my BMI. Since then I have lost 5 lbs, gone down a clothing size, and dropped my BMI into the merely "overweight" range. This morning I swam 6 full laps with my face in the water. This is an elementary skill for even the youngest kids learning to swim. For me, it was an enormous accomplishment!

This is a new leg of an ongoing journey. My obesity came about gradually over the course of several years. During times of stress, financial worries and grief, I turned to emotional eating and inactivity in order to cope. Having three babies within 4 years only compounded my health issues.

Many times I have started to exercise regularly, with varying degrees of success, and each time I've been derailed by a new stressful event in my life or some minor injury. Most recently, the disruptive injury was a little more serious. I started running in November with the goal of running my first 5k in the spring. Then I stopped running in late January due to intense pain in my left leg. The pain refused to go away, so I saw a doctor and was diagnosed with a stress fracture. I was looking at 4 or more weeks in a walking cast boot, and maybe even more time beyond that before I could run again.

Desperate not to lose the momentum I'd been building toward getting in shape, I reluctantly purchased a membership at a local pool. The first few days were challenging, to say the least. I felt self-conscious, not because I was overweight but because I was such a terrible swimmer. I did take swimming lessons as a kid, and I enjoyed being in the water...but when it came to correctly executing the strokes? Forget it! Somehow I had developed a strong mental block between myself and proper breathing techniques. I've never been able to dive, and I developed a nasty little habit of holding my nose with my fingers anytime my head went under the water.

At first I was looking at swimming as temporary suffering that I had to endure just until I could run again. I swallowed my pride and flailed awkwardly from one end of the pool to the other for 30 minutes every morning. Then I discovered that I could do the backstroke and keep my face out of the water, all the while looking much less awkward. Before long, I started getting faster and stronger and started feeling more confident in the water. Much to my surprise, I found that I was beginning to enjoy swimming!!! Then after I got some goggles, I suddenly became brave enough to try putting my face in the water. It was difficult at first, but I've been practicing it for a couple weeks now...and the impossible - or at least highly improbable - doesn't seem quite so daunting anymore.

I've been completely outside of my comfort zone, but I pushed myself to overcome a great deal of self-consciousness and fear. Meeting success in the pool has given me a confidence I haven't felt in many years. Right now ANYTHING feels possible - even a triathlon - and that is why I've started this blog. I'm dreaming big now, and I want to record my progress and share it with anyone who is interested.

I have a very long road ahead, and my initial focus is recovering from my injury and continuing to learn how to swim properly. I've been out of my boot for a week but don't plan to attempt running again just yet. First I'm going to try some yoga to strengthen my leg muscles and help prevent re-injury. I also want to lose about 5 more pounds before I start running again, because the less I weigh, the less strain there will be on all my bones and muscles.

If you'd like to follow along on my journey, thanks! I hope we all get something valuable out of the experience!

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