I come from a family of swimmers. My parents were both swimming instructors and ‘aquatic professionals’ when they met and I was 6 weeks old when first put in a pool. No matter how tight the money was, we were always in swimming lessons, my brother and I often the youngest children at our level.
I grew up with stories of what a great teenage job being a lifeguard was, and the great stories of the jokes and pranks that come from being a group of young people hanging around a pool. I always just assumed I’d become a swimming instructor as well.
When I moved to Yellowknife at age 12, the swimming facility was brand new and exciting. I had finished all learner levels, I needed to take bronze medallion and bronze cross – both which came with an age limit of 14 and 15 respectively. I had to wait two years before I could qualify and during that time I took a break from swimming, and looking back, from the only exercise I even remotely enjoyed at the time.
The course, when I finally took it, went well. I was easily able to master the first aid and rescue techniques that would let me become a lifeguard. But there was one problem: I had to swim 500m in less than 20 minutes to pass. And I couldn’t.
My first attempt had me slide in at 24:05. A month of practice and I improved this to 22:45 on my fastest swim, but my lungs weren’t up to the test. I would emerge, gasping, red faced and with burning lungs, ashamed again that I hadn’t made it.
My instructors were understanding, and I wasn’t even the slowest in the class – but I couldn’t pass the test. I never followed in my parents footsteps, and I stopped swimming for a long time.
Two nights ago, after recovering from a bout of stomach flu my mother suggested we go to lane swim. Returning to the same pool of my teenage failure was a bit poignant, and as I swam the laps I remembered all the time I spent here – learning rescues, burning my lungs trying to drag myself through the water. This time, I timed myself and a very leisurely 500m took me 15:21s and I wasn’t even out of breath. How ludicrous that as a teenager I didn’t even consider myself out of shape.
It feels nice to be reminded, once again that I can do things now I never could before.