Friday, September 14, 2012

Glide Faith

It happened again.  And I love it every time it happens.  That moment when I’m working with a student and they “get it.”  They have that sudden realization that they’ve just achieved something they never thought they could do in the water.  That moment when, after trying again and again, something clicks due to some image I gave them, some phrase, some change in the cosmic vibrations of the pool – and they get it, what ever it is.  And when they get it, they just grin.  Not a small grin, but one of those big ear to ear grins that would turn them tomato red if they could see their own face.  But fortunately they can’t and continue enjoying the moment.

I was working with a new student in her 20’s who had never taken formal swimming lessons.  Before our first lesson when we were sitting and talking, she told me her goals were to pass a necessary swimming test for boating, generally be more comfortable in the water and perhaps, in a couple years, do a triathlon.  She was already a runner, but she needed to learn how to swim.  And to that I said great, let’s get started.  In my mind I said, THANK YOU FOR NOT REGISTERING FOR A TRIATHLON NEXT MONTH.  I know that for some people setting such a deadline is just the motivation they thrive on.  But where’s the joy in pre-registering for a plan to almost drown or worse, being successful at it?

Once we got in the water, for someone who never took a swim lesson, she sailed through the rudimentary stuff.  Back float, front float, flutter kick on the wall and flutter kick with a board.  I had to work a little to calm her, get her smiling, get her laughing.  I had to help her understand that if she tenses her neck, her legs will sink.  Which is counter intuitive, since the legs are about a body length away from the neck, yet this is true for many people.  She pushed off the wall and did front glide well enough after a couple attempts, no problem.  Then back glide.  Problem.

The glide is an act of faith.  To do the front glide, you have to push off the wall with your legs, but it’s best to put your face in the water first with your arms outstretched in front of you.  You have to push off the safety of the wall assuming a position that leaves you unable to see where you’re going, since you should be looking directly down at the bottom of the pool, body shaped like a missile.  Plus all the investment is made up front.  Once you push off, you’re supposed to be still and sleek, slipping through the water and staying up with no additional propulsion from hands or feet.  You gotta invest everything up front and enjoy the ride.

But the back glide is an even greater act of faith.  Still all the energy investment is up front – you pay at the door.  But one must fight instinct.  Because everything that’s instinctive for adults to do and not do destroys the back glide.

First you push off from the wall as if you’re jumping up off the floor – but horizontally.  It’s instinctive to keep your feet flat, as if in preparation for that eventual landing back on the ground.  But the back glide rewards toe pointing – streamlining the body to make better use of the energy paid up front.  One leaps from the wall to fly, not land.  Have faith.

The next instinctive thing is to look where you’ve been – to lift your head, putting chin to chest so you can see down towards your feet.  But then that neck/leg connection comes into effect, the legs sink, feet hit the bottom of the pool and the glider stands up.  Instead one must relax and gaze skyward.  It’s the ceiling or stars that hold the secret.  Look up and have faith that the water holds no malice.  Don’t encourage it to drop you and it knows no better than to support you.
Little children listen to swimming instructors with complete faith.  And when you think about it, it’s amazing!  “Point your toes after you push off.”  And they do it.   “Head back – relax.”  And they do that too.  They soar on their back on request.  They’re like little water faith machines, unable to conceive of falsehood, while many adults have to work to revive that child inside.  My job is to help someone learn to soar that first time, so they never have to touch down again.  To fly.

I may not have looked like a tomato, but when my student finally flew, I grinned from ear to ear.