On Your Mark, Get Set…


Splash! As if in slow motion the brisk water envelopes me inch by inch. My form is perfection by any swim instructor’s standards. My fingertips are immersed first, followed closely by my precisely cupped hands. My arms glide in succession as though following along in a tightly formed marching parade. My carefully tucked and capped head charges in next followed by my elongated torso. My legs descend into the water remaining together as if one unit. Last, my feet and pointed toes torpedo into the water completing the swift dive.

The refreshing feeling I am engulfed with comes not from the water itself, but rather from the exhilaration I derive from the knowledge that I am where I belong; where I have indeed always belonged.

In truth, I don’t even remember learning to swim. If there were indeed formal lessons, they were surely successful and useful, but also long ago forgotten. I remember receiving my favorite doll at the
age of three and I remember the day I learned to tie my shoes but I have no recollection of learning to swim. I used to fancy that I was born with the skill and instructions, formal or informal, were unnecessary.

I presume I learned from a culmination of places that were significant to me in my childhood. The Atlantic Ocean that cascades onto the beaches of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, the lagoon behind my grandparent’s home and our family pool located in our back yard. Likely, it was a collaborative effort from many people at numerous places in my life which have made it possible for me to propel and excel in the water. I wonder if any of them knew just what a miraculous gift they were presenting to me, this
knowledge and skill called swimming?

There is a funny story told of me as a young girl. Our mother would let my siblings and me outside to play. It would be accurate to say we had the run of our street. They were charged with the task of minding me but were easily distracted with friends and fun so I was able to venture some on
my own. Every day that I wanted to go outside, I had to wear a life jacket because no matter what marvelous happenings were taking place in our neighborhood- building forts, riding bikes, or playing ball- I’d find my way to AND into our pool. My mother knew I couldn’t resist the water. Did she hear it calling me too? Probably not. She most likely saw me as a mischievous child looking for trouble. Most people would.

I cannot recall a moment in my life that the water and I did not have a relationship akin to that of old dear friends. The friend you truly considered family even though there were no blood ties. I have
always felt an intense draw to the water. Whether salt water, fresh water, chlorinated pool water, I had no bias. I wanted to be submerged, to ask it to commune with me, to allow me to be a part of it, if only briefly, for a few moments a day. I once saw sea turtles hatch and make their way instantly to the water. I felt we were kindred spirits as I understood their urge and instinct to give into it. I believe the draw intensified when I learned at a young age that the water would always make room for me. It was never too full to let me in.

When I am swimming laps my arms are carefully forming the proper strokes to push me forward. At the same time, I hear my thoughts so clearly and loudly. It is as if there is a giant microphone right next
to my brain picking up every thought. Some of the most brilliant answers to some of my most dire questions have been answered while I was submerged. The water follows my lead. When I want to float, it supports me. When I want to release stress and anger and swim hard until every muscle is burning, it provides just enough resistance to challenge me. When I want a break from the solitude, it is there to offer fun and splashing games with my family.

The water is a constant, a necessity. For all living things, great and small, water is a basic need. Without its consumption, all would perish. For me, it feels so much more than consuming is required. Immersion is a mandatory component. I must, just as the sea turtles, make my way to the
water. It is where I find myself and can clear my thoughts and hit reset, each and every time. When swimming parallel to the beaches I find contentment, awe and God. When swimming laps I find discipline, solitude and peace. The simple truth is that in any body of water, I am
filled with joy.

After my dive in, I rise to the surface amidst bubbles large and small and begin forging ahead with my concise and timed strokes . It is at this moment while my body is forcefully charging through the water that I discover something, a realization of epic proportions, my own little secret. I look around to my fellow swimmers. Some are free-styling, others are doing the butterfly, and one is just floating by on his back. I smile at my wonderful and amazing enlightened discovery. I laugh out loud and my jubilee echoes throughout the enclosed pool deck. My pool mates are now looking at me, the lifeguard too, completely unaware of what could possibly have me so bemused. I am holding on to the side of the pool giggling while adjusting my blue mirrored goggles. I slide my nose plug down. I place my feet upon the wall, almost directly underneath my hands and launch myself backwards and a huge wake is created. The water seems to move over for me at the same time it embraces me. I am elated! They are completely unaware that we are all doing something extraordinary. They do not realize we are flying.

But I do.

©Jennifer Woolford 2014