Thursday, 16 April 2015

A faint whiff of chlorine

I have written so much about swimming, because our family has been completely consumed by it. If you think that I go on and on about it here on the blog, you should see my journal. God must be sick to death of the subject. 

One  minute you're thinking to yourself that it might be a good idea to get your little girls some swimming lessons, and the next minute the eldest is swimming ten hours a week and the youngest three and you find yourself turning up twice a week as well. And then there's the inordinate number of hours spent on the poolside or up in the viewing gallery plus galas that go on for so long you lose the will to live and kit that requires a second mortgage. Surely all you need is a swimsuit and a towel? Maybe one of those little rubber hats? 

You'd be surprised. And I haven't even mentioned the horror of the 5.30am training session. Least said about that the better, I think.

Sucked in, imperceptibly, bit by bit, then swallowed whole. That's us. 

In the past twelve months there have been many challenges as a result of the dramatically increased commitment to the swimming club. These challenges have been on several levels - logistical and financial, problems with timing and traveling, interpersonal stuff in the water and out of it. Tears have been shed and sleep lost. Energy and exhaustion both in the pool and out of it. Triumph and disaster. 

But last night, as we were getting ready for yet another practice, something else struck me. 

It was my younger daughter, Katy's turn. She's moved up to a new squad and although she's still learning technique, her lessons have taken on more of the nature of a training session in recent weeks. She's determined to follow in her older sister's footsteps and nothing is going to stop her. Her teachers have all commented on how hard she works, and how carefully she listens and follows instructions. 

Last night she was collecting her kit together and dancing about in her swimsuit. She'd put in on hours in advance so that she would be ready and she was discussing with Elizabeth what the night's lesson would be. They would be working on tumble turns (in the US it's known as a flip-turn, I believe - the way they do a somersault just before they get to the wall and push off with their feet all underwater). Katy was describing a problem she has with tumble turns and Elizabeth was demonstrating the correct procedure. They were having an earnest and grown up conversation right until it dissolved into hilarity when Lizzie fell off the sofa while trying to replicate the manoeuvre without the benefit of water. 

A jumble of thoughts went through my mind (once I'd established that she hadn't broken any bones). 
  • Katy was hanging on her big sister's every word because Lizzie is a great little swimmer and Katy so wants to be like her.
  • Lizzie was loving her sister's attention and admiration and was trying hard to share her knowledge.
  • Katy was jumping up and down in anticipation of her lesson; couldn't wait to set off.
  • Lizzie has gained so much confidence in the last year. It might be fragile at times, but her mastery of something difficult has boosted her enormously.
  • Katy too, in the last six months, has grown so much as she's made such good progress up through the stages in her swimming. 
I watch them swimming (for hours) and sometimes I see Lizzie in one of her training sets and she'll suddenly somersault in the middle of the lane before carrying on, hardly breaking stroke, just for the joy of being in the water.

Katy, too, will bounce up and down while listening to instructions in the pool, or spin round and round while treading water just because she can. I have a photo that was taken as Lizzie climbed on the blocks just before an event at a gala. She has a shy smile on her face. I love it. She looks so happy, so relaxed. 

They're enjoying it. Now, obviously, we wouldn't be doing this if they weren't, but I have to say that sometimes the happy part of it all gets lost in all the hard work, and the hamster-wheel of training sessions and rinsing swimsuits and washing hair. 

We know that they love swimming - as do I, believe it or not - but it can get very serious indeed and before you know it you've lost sight of the reason you're doing it at all. 

First of all, we got the children swimming lessons because we wanted them to be safe around water. To enjoy swimming pools and the sea and have a chance of knowing what to do if they ever fell into a canal or a river. That kind of thing. Then there was the opportunity to move from the lessons into the swimming club, and I was naive enough to think, 'Oh, that's a good idea. Lizzie can enter the odd swimming race. It'll be a bit of fun.' I had no earthly idea of what we were starting. 

But... before I once again get sucked into dwelling on the difficulties and negatives let's look at the good things that swimming has done for us: 
  • Both my girls are in great shape, physically. Lizzie particularly, as she swims so much and so hard, but Katy is catching up fast. Lizzie's little body is a lesson in anatomy and she is strong, fast and flexible. Her cardiovascular system allows her to swim hard for almost two hours and then produce a personal best in a freestyle sprint. Then come home and do cartwheels round the garden. 
This is wonderful for a mum like me who has struggled with her weight and size all her life. It is my prayer for my girls that they find a way of getting regular exercise that they enjoy, that doesn't feel like a chore. They're learning to look after their bodies in a way I never did. Lizzie learns about rest and nutrition and when to push herself and when to ease off. It's amazing and encouraging to hear them talk about healthy choices, even if they do then go on to snaffle too much pizza. 

I hope that establishing a pattern whereby sport is incorporated into their lifestyle might mean they avoid the problems I've had, physical and emotional.
  • They sleep well. 
  • They've made some good friends in the swimming club. It's widened their social circle from simply the kids at school and given them a different perspective. They spend such a lot of time with these children (and their little brothers and sisters) that they get to know each other well. 
  • They're learning about supporting each other when things go right and also when they go badly.
  • They learn about teamwork and co-operation - when you watch a relay team in action you realise how hard they have practiced working together. When someone is in a race, the others often form little groups at the end of lanes and cheer them on, and a personal best time is celebrated as much as a medal. 
  • Swimming is teaching them about keeping going when things are tough. About doing the hard thing, and not giving up. We're still in the  middle of this, to be honest, with Lizzie's early morning training. It is indeed very hard, and we haven't cracked it yet, but I live in hope. 
  • They're learning how to win and how to lose with grace. (On the other hand, they're only young, and they sometimes need a bit of help here...don't we all?) 
  • They're learning about listening, taking instructions, respect for authority, behaving well, trying your best, persevering, coping with disappointment and being kind and generous.
These are big lessons. I have difficulty with them myself; I think some of them are things that we have to learn over and over throughout our lives. Let's face it, some people never do get it, do they? I want more than that for my girls. 

Lizzie is almost ten, and she's growing up fast. Among the youngest in her year at school, she seems lately to have a new maturity, and I can't help thinking that it's partly because of her swimming and the things that she's experienced. She has friends at the club whose ages range from 7 to 16, rather than just her own age, and I think that is good for her. We have had some terrible times as well as some top-of-the-world moments, but I think she is growing up beautifully and I am very proud of her. 

As for Katy, her determination is so impressive and we've been so proud of how bravely she's responded to challenges. She has made up her mind that she will not be left behind and she is working so, so hard to improve her strength and stamina and technique. It won't be long before she gets a chance to race too. Can my heart stand it?

So it looks as if our total immersion (haha) in the swimming club won't be changing for a while yet. With both daughters enthusiastic and determined, the radiators and airer are constantly festooned with swimsuits and towels, and the basin full of damp kit. We are constantly searching for a way to keep goggles from misting up and we get through more shampoo than you can imagine. The man in the cafe at the sports centre knows how I like my coffee. When I walk through the front door, when I get in the car, when I kiss my girls goodnight I can often detect a faint whiff of chlorine.

It's life at the moment. It's hard work, unrelenting. Sometimes I just want a week or two off. 

Then, I look at my daughters enthusiastically stuffing kickboards and pull buoys and hand paddles and snorkels and flippers into their kit bags and squabbling over water bottles and oohing over the latest racing swimsuits and comparing notes on trackstart dives and whether your ears pop when you dive down to the bottom at 12'6" and I realise that they're healthy and happy. 

We'll keep going. 

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