The water is your friend.  You don’t have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move.  -Aleksandr Popov 

When you hear the words summer vacation, what is the one thing that comes to your mind? Water. Whether it’s traveling to the ocean, floating down a river, spending a day at the beach, or just going to your local public pool, summer means being close to water. Even if you never jump in, water seems to having a cooling, calming effect on the mind and body.

As a young girl during summer break, only $2.00 was necessary to achieve the perfect day. My older sister and I could hitch a ride or bike to Pulaski Pool, and for $0.50 our admission was covered. Another $0.25 got us a locker, and with just over $1.00 left, we could buy ourselves some candy when we were done swimming. I have to say candy and a pool still makes kids pretty happy. Some things must be timeless.

At Pulaski Pool, our greatest achievement was being able to jump off the high-dive. The only qualification for ultimate pool fun was passing a swim test in front of one of the lifeguards. I vaguely remember having a few swim lessons as a young child, and I definitely recall nearly drowning during one lesson in particular, but I don’t remember ever learning to swim. All I know is that I somehow knew enough to pass that test. And at the time that is all that mattered.

My swimming abilities grew somewhat in high school swim class, a requirement of course because I can’t believe anyone would willingly subject themselves to the embarrassment. I recall everyone lined up along the railing in equally ugly maroon, polyester swimsuits. They were cut like a swimsuit from the 1950’s, but I promise you I didn’t feel one iota of the sexiness of those pin-up girls. My swimsuit was itchy and loose in places I wished it weren’t, due to my less than ample assets. And even though I felt self-conscious and unassured standing on that cold tile, once I was in the pool my confidence returned.

I briefly toyed with the idea of joining the girl’s swim team my freshman year, but opted for hanging around with the boy’s swim team instead as a timer for their meets. I blame my raging hormones and a few cute swimmers for my lack of judgement. And I am especially grateful that my girls are entrenched in swim team early, so hopefully their judgement is better than mine as they get older.

As much as I enjoyed swimming, I didn’t get to do it very often. When I entered college, and had access to a lap pool, I immediately thought, “This is perfect. I can swim laps for exercise and not gain the freshman fifteen.” With my limited funds, I purchased a purple Speedo swimsuit, a matching swim cap, and a pair of goggles. My intentions were set.

Then the realities of college set in. New friends, a job, parties, and of course classes and school work. Needless to say, I probably got to the pool less than five times in four years. Sometimes, as much as you are drawn to something, life, and lack of focus, gets in the way.

Fast forward a few years to being a mother. I always knew swimming was a life skill I needed to teach my kids early, though I didn’t much feel like putting on a suit and hopping in the pool with them. Especially after just having babies and feeling less than swimsuit worthy. But once they were potty-trained and could do lessons on their own, I signed them up. At the time, I had zero thoughts of competitive swimming. I simply wanted my kids to be competent enough not to drown.

Then something crazy happened in our neighborhood. Every summer all the children would disappear for two months, and my kids were left with no one to play with for most of the summer. Where did they all go? Turns out most of the other families were members at local private pool and had kids on swim team. Having grown up in Milwaukee, this was strange for me on several levels. First of all, what happened to $0.25 admission to the public pool? Where was the public pool? Six and seven-year-olds can join swim team? How much do I have to pay to join?

I was reluctant at first, but it turned out to be the best money I’ve ever spent on my children. Through their involvement in swim team, my two older girls have gained strength, confidence, and friendships that I’m sure will last a lifetime. I am looking forward to next summer when Jane will join her sisters in this amazing community. And hopefully Henry will follow in their footsteps in a couple years. He still needs a few more lessons under his belt.

As for me, I decided last summer to commemorate this new period in my life by finally completing a triathlon. Of course that meant I needed to get my butt back in the water. I was a bit nervous at first. I knew how to swim, but I wasn’t certain I was doing everything correctly or efficiently for long distances. So I opted to join an adult swim class at our pool. The first few classes were rough. I had to stop every one or two lengths of the pool to catch my breath. How was I going to swim a ½ mile without stopping?

Then something amazing happened. I worked on my stroke and my breath control, and I began to see drastic improvement. It’s funny how a little focus and practice actually works. As I progressed, my enjoyment level increased. I have rediscovered a love for swimming.

As far as exercise goes, it is one of the best total-body workouts you can get. Every day I get to the pool, I look around at my fellow swimmers, and I realize another wonderful attribute of swimming. It is a form of exercise I can do for the rest of my life. Whether you’re a six-year-old or a ninety-year-old, swimming is beneficial.

But for me the most remarkable thing about swimming is what it does for my mind. As I am stretching and reaching as far as my arms will allow, I am focusing on all the muscles in my body working at the same time. I am working to propel my body forward in the most efficient way possible, but the action is astonishingly calming. As I am counting and controlling my breaths, I am clearing my mental space. I have discovered swimming is meditation. And where I find it difficult to concentrate on dry land, underwater it comes naturally.

I am now turning to the pool when I am feeling overwhelmed by my daily life. I dive into the water with the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I emerge lighter. Whether I am able to swim for 20-minutes or 90-minuntes, I feel the same when I surface. What was once troubling my mind has become manageable, and where I previously felt overwhelmed, I now feel focused. Swimming is an amazingly inexpensive therapy session.

You’re only one swim away from a good mood. -Speedo