20 lengths of backstroke and a little frustration

Along with my writing challenge, I have also set myself the task of going swimming a couple of times a week. There seems little way to bring writing into swimming, so here I attempt to bring swimming into writing.

Swimming to me is a contradiction. In one sense, it is freeing; being able to use my body semi-properly is good and rewarding. Progress can be remarkable, and I am proud that I can swim despite a disability that could suggest otherwise. Recently I have been doing about 20 lengths of backstroke in an hour; not much for some but a pretty decent achievement for me. It is also the only form of exercise I can access easily (I don’t count physio!) and it is unbelievably good for me: stretching out my twisted and often sore back and making my muscles work. When I swim, using my body for other things becomes easier – even things as simple to most people as standing up. Swimming works such wonders that I should do it all day every day. But I don’t.

Part of this is a stubborn aversion to anything I am told to do for the sake of my body, which I tend to regard as a lost cause (not in a depressing sense but in a past-the-point-of-caring one). There’s also the practical reason of having other things, like work or have fun, to do – swimming generally takes it out of me for the whole day, meaning I waste many hours for one hour of exercise. In term time, it very seldom seems a good use of my time and so sometimes I don’t go for months at a time.

This contributes to the other reason for my avoidance of the pool: frustration. It may be a nice feeling to use my body sometimes, but only if it decides to play ball, for which there is no guarantee. Cerebral palsy is strange because it affects you differently every day, so something which seems easy one day, like controlled breathing, is almost impossible the next (cue major spluttering and inward dark muttering). This is entirely demotivating and can, on tougher days, remind me of the dislike I have often felt for my body. Cerebral palsy also means that without practice you lose the ability to do things really quickly and quiet dramatically. This doesn’t just mean I get a little slower or lose a bit of form. It means that while I used to be able to do a whole length of breaststroke, I can now hardly do it at all. So once I haven’t been swimming for a while, I lose the enthusiasm to go – I know that I will struggle and become frustrated. You can see how this easily becomes a self-perpetuating problem.

I was once told that if I did enough training I could have been a Paralympian, Given my hostility to the idea of exercise, this was and is somewhat laughable, but I do wonder if constant training would have allowed me to overcome the frustration I often feel in the water. But I chose my academic and writing career instead and am immeasurably glad that I did. Still, it wouldn’t kill me, or lead me to fail my degree, if I went swimming just a little more often.

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