My First Practice: Finding My Suit And Perspective

Courtesy: Kara Sekenski

By Connor Bailey, Swimming World College Intern

Coaches seem to shout, “mind over matter” as if it were some magic spell that solves every problem—I guess it’s just my dumb luck that all my coaches have been muggles. A mini-industry has evolved to keep athletes motivated. It peddles easy-fixes and parrot tired quotations like late night infomercials. But what it offers is no better than the cheap toys that come with fast food—entertaining for a moment, but after the novelty has faded, just more colorful plastic.

Full disclosure, this story is part of that mini-industry.

Fuller disclosure, it doesn’t end the same way as the others.

Nowadays, when I get stressed I try to remember my first swim practice.

The Story

It’s California, so the pool is outside. But, contrary to popular belief, it is not 70 degrees and sunny 365 days a year, and 24 hours a day. It was a cold evening in early April. I’m a skinny little 10-year-old, my teeth are chattering and I’m covered in goosebumps.

A couple of weeks ago I had my tryout and was accepted onto this summer recreation league team. I jump in with the rest of the kids and everything seems fine.

But, soon it becomes apparent to the adults assembled, including the coaches and my own parents, that something odd is going on with the new kid (me). To their befuddlement, I’m zigzagging crazily as I swim in my lane.

Why was I doing this? Well, there were a couple reasons.

Reason #1: Baseball

I grew up playing baseball so my throwing arm is noticeably stronger than my catching arm. Because of that, I have a bit of a wiggle. While this alone is enough to make me look kind of funny in the water, it was not the main reason for my aquatic struggles.

Reason #2: My Suit

In the time between my tryout and this practice, I had lost the drawstring to my swimsuit. It was an older suit and the elastic waist was about as elastic as cardboard. I was completely ignorant of the necessities for a swimming life, so the suit in questions is a pair of baggy swim trucks. This combination of factors means that my swimsuit is constantly threatening to swim away from me. Fifteen years after the end of 80s and I was redefining “parachute pants.”

And so, with every stroke I take I also have to pull my suit up so it doesn’t float away. Swimming was hard, but I would eventually find ways to readjust my suit in rhythm with my stroke, so that was bearable. It was the turns that were the worst part. Have you ever done a one-handed streamline? Anyway, let’s just say, I had some problems.

Sierra Exif JPEG

The author in his first year swimming

You may ask: how could I get into the pool without realizing this might happen?

Answer 1: I’m skinny and have bony hips. So, when I was standing on the deck the swim trunks stayed on.

Answer 2: I’m only ten. I didn’t think about it. Give me a break.

Answer 3: Stop asking questions and enjoy the story.

Another question, why didn’t this dumb kid get out when he realized that he can’t swim with his suit like that?

Now, I could say it was because I was super dedicated and super determined, and I wouldn’t let a wardrobe malfunction get in my way during my first practice…but that’s not really it.

The real reason was fear. It was a kind of ridiculous, completely manufactured, fear that only makes sense for someone between the ages of eight and 12 years old. Now, in my head there are two (and only two) outcomes for leaving practice early.

Option 1:I get out and leave, no one really notices me leaving because no one really knows me yet. That night I fix my suit. The next day I come back and swim like nothing happened.

Option 2: As I leave everyone in the pool looks at me. As I’m pulling myself up I loose hold of my swimsuit, and it fall to the ground. I stand humiliated in front of my teammates, and I never live it down.

At the time, this second option was social Armageddon. It was a doomsday to destroy all other doomsdays. This was an asteroid hitting the earth, causing a tsunami which washes Godzilla onto land where he begins destroying every free-standing building in sight while from above zombie aliens rain down laser beams of devastation. It sounds ridiculous, and yet, this was the level of my 10-year-old paranoia.

Eventually, I would complete this first practice without any public embarrassment, and less than a minute later I would tell my father, teeth still chattering from the cold, that I would not be swimming until I had another swimsuit. The next day he would leave work early to pick up a new, fully-functioning, suit. Ten years later, things seem to have turned out all right.

Why Care?

So, why do you care about my disastrous first practice? First, I hope you thought it was funny—I certainly think so (now). Second, you should realize this is what works for me. This, as odd as that may sound, is what keeps everything in perspective. Because it’s about perseverance, because it makes me feel proud of how far I have come, because remembering that super-inflated fear puts any creeping race anxiety to shame because it’s funny, and because it’s my own story, for all these reasons it works for me. Even if I spent decades pouring over the tidbits of “inspiration” I have access to, I wouldn’t get this story, and it wouldn’t mean the same thing to me.

I’m not saying inspirational quotes are evil. They’re not, and if they work for you, that’s great. But if you feel the quotes and the sayings are too cheap, then you may need to stop looking for inspiration outside yourself, and outside of your own story.

My story probably won’t do you any good. But, making it truly personal is something that only you can do…something you can’t find in an internet article like this one.

I find my perspective in my first practice, how do you find yours?