Time to get back into the swim of things

By Helena Rodriguez: Local Columnist

I love water and I’m having a big splash this summer getting back into the swim of things.

Water is one of my greatest weaknesses. I dream of water, in some form or another, almost every night. I read that water represents sensual desires, but maybe these continuous dreams have more to do with being raised in this desert.

The best times during my childhood were the summer days that Becky, Julie and I spent running through the sprinkler and swimming at the city pool. In my young adult life, my most memorable time was driving through California’s Scenic Highway with a group of college students, marveling at the waterfalls and dipping my feet into the Pacific Ocean. In recent years, it’s been swimming in the Jemez River with Becky, although I must admit I had this fear of the “presence of the river” as writer Rudulfo Anaya calls it. I’ve also enjoyed soaking in the natural warm water pools in the caves of Jemez Springs and riding in boats and on water rides in Texas with my daughter Laura.

I’m taking a swimming class at Eastern New Mexico University this summer. While it’s been refreshing, and therapeutic, as one classmate put it, it’s also been frustrating.

Swimming is like riding a bike. Once you learn to swim, it becomes second nature. You may be rusty at first, but then it comes back to you. My frustration, however, is that I never learned to swim the right way to begin with. Now I’m learning.

The sore muscles and red eyes were to be expected. I haven’t swam on a regular basis since 2000 when we lived in an apartment complex in Abilene, Texas, with a swimming pool shaped like a perfume bottle. But trying to change the very way I breathe is proving to be a challenge. I’ve always breathed primarily through my mouth. As every good swimmer knows, the key is to breathe through your nose.

Nobody ever told me that.

As a child, I was an average swimmer. I could get around the water fairly fast at the height of my swimming career, but I had the feeling I wasn’t doing something right. I learned to swim the old fashioned sink-or-swim way. Becky and Paul showed me a few basic techniques and then I went to the 5-foot mark, my idea of deep water. I said, “If I can jump in and get myself back out without drowning, then I’ll go off the diving board.”

I survived this risky jump, so Becky followed me to the 12-foot depth. I was nervous as I stood on the low diving board and ending up jumping off to the side near the edge of the pool. But as I hit the water, I felt the weight of the deep blue waves lifting me up. What a sensation! I excitedly pulled myself out, and went, dripping wet, to jump in again.

At one point I was fairly good at diving, but now that I’m swimming again, I’ve had issues with trusting my hands to lead me headfirst into the water. I’m working on that as well as the breathing thing, taking the instructor’s advice to practice in the shower. I’ve heard breathing through your nose is the key to losing weight as well as relaxing. I’m hoping a yoga class I’m taking this fall will also help me with this breathing technique. If that doesn’t work, then I guess I’m just an old dog who can’t learn new breathing tricks. I never could get the hang of smoking, which is a good thing.

Besides the breathing part, I’m slowly turning back into the fish I once was. I’m improving my hand strokes and I’m starting to get the hang of “the froggie.” The froggie is what I call this breast stroke where you bop your head in and out off the water while curving your knees outwards as you bring your heels together. You then kick your legs apart and then bring them together behind you as you squeeze hard for speed.

The moral to this column is to keep on splashing. I can’t wait to swim in the beaches of Yucatan when I go to Mexico in July. Even if you’re a couch potato like I once was, it’s never too late to get back into the swim of things.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: