This was originally published as a regular post, but it kind of fits with my “About Me” so I’ve copied it all up here for easy access!

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It was about 2 years ago.

I was at the pub. It was a weekend evening and I’m certain there was a glass of red wine in front of me. The usual solving of the problems of the world was going on. That, and a bit of local gossip.

I’m not sure exactly how the conversation started, but I do know that my friend Fiona somehow came up with an extraordinary idea. One that would later prove to be life-changing in more ways than I could possibly imagine.

Fiona suggested that we join up with Can Too for one of their swim programs.

I had heard of Can Too before, but was a little fuzzy on the details. All we basically knew at that point was that it was a charity program that trains people for running and ocean swimming events.

I was confident. I was cocky. I had a childhood spent in the water. Summers in the pool and at my grandparents shack. Swim lessons and bronze medallions. My apartment complex has not one, but two pools, and the lap pool has had a fair bit of use from me in the time I’ve been living here. I would be totally fine.

What I was conveniently forgetting was that I was in my mid-thirties, overweight, and I spent a significant portion of the last 15 or so years drinking red wine, and (for way too much of it) smoking cigarettes.

Anyhow, I guess that overconfidence got me over the line and signed up and financially committed, so deluded as it may have been, I’m chalking it up as a good thing.

The first night was a bit of a shock to the system. We turned up and it was all excitement and introductions and fun stuff…for a while. Then we were into the pool and sent off with instructions to do a warm-up of 400 metres.

400 metres! For a warm-up! I managed but soon discovered just how slow I was, particularly compared to the swimmers who were back for their second or third round of Can Too.

Then we drills! Like real swimmers…and we swam for a whole hour. Oh. My God. And there was a whole program of stuff we were expected to do along with the one weekly pool session and Saturday ocean session.

But I survived. I even kind of enjoyed myself, even though I was exhausted and sore for the next couple of days.

Then the first beach session rolled around on the Saturday morning. It was a gorgeous day and I discovered I was a brilliant olympic-level swimmer the first go and everyone lived happily ever after. Or not.

It was cold. And grey and raining in the angled sleetish kind of way. Not exactly the sort of swimming weather I was used to (i.e. holiday, sunshine, lazy books on the beach, fins and snorkels).

I was pretty nervous. To put it mildly. In my head I was wondering what the bloody hell I had gotten myself in for?! Fiona and I walked along the road at Bondi beach (somewhere the inner west hipster in me had generally thought “too touristy” and had never had much time for). I had some serious misgivings. In fact, I may have suggested to Fiona that if she wanted to bail that we could walk away and never mention anything about the whole bad idea ever again.

Luckily Fiona is generally a bit braver than me and was having none of the piking idea. We fronted up, had a briefing, and went for a swim.

The next weekend we did the same. And the weekend after that and the one after that. That November was pretty dire at times. The water was freezing…some days it was down to 15°C, and it rained a lot. I’m Tasmanian originally and I know all about rain, but that November was rainy even by my standards.

And somewhere along the way I fell utterly and completely in love with the sport. The worse the weather and the bigger the waves, the braver I felt being out there. The days where it was beautiful were an opportunity to stretch out and have a longer swim.

It was hard and I was tired and sore after every session for a long time. But as I stuck with it I found I could swim further and faster and feel less destroyed after each session. Along the way I met some of the most beautiful people I have ever come across. I’m not sure exactly what it is, whether it’s because so many people get into the sport through charity events, or the far that you’re kind of out there alone so there’s not a while lot of glory involved, but ocean swimming does not tend to be a sport that attracts arseholes.

It’s probably another whole story but in one of those tricks that the universe seems to love to play on us, in the later weeks of my swim program and right in the middle of my fundraising activities for Cancer research, my father, who had been defiantly living with cancer for the past 12 years, finally got as sick as they’d been saying he was bound to. That combined with an unhealthy dose of masculine denial and leaving things too long, meant that he ended up in intensive care. My training was interrupted as I headed to Western Australia, then resumed again as things stabilised. Things went along the course of the proverbial roller coaster and he got worse and went to palliative care for a bit. It was a horrible time and I went through all the guilt and trauma of conflicting responsibilities and not knowing where was the right place to be. The situation worked itself out, the sad way that too many of the stories of the big C still do (I was there, after all the worrying), a couple of weeks after completing my goal race. My point here, is that due to Can Too and ocean swimming, I somehow found myself surrounded by people who got it and got me and got what I was going through, right when I needed it the most. And that’s nothing to be sneezed at.

There were other benefits as well. For a number of years prior to taking up swimming, I had been struggling with a dodgy shoulder. As a general rule it varied between kind of sore and cripplingly painful. I’d spent a fortune on treatment and nothing was anything better than extremely temporary. It was definitely related to spending all day every day in front of a computer, and I’d been starting to think about my career options and whether I would have to leave a job that I was good at and enjoyed and find something else when my shoulder finally gave out. I was unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised to discover that as long as I kept swimming more or less regularly, my shoulder still had its moments, but they were pretty rare, nowhere near as severe, and I could actually go for extended periods with no pain at all. I’m not sure exactly how or why it helps, but I’m not in constant pain anymore and that’s a pretty good motivator for me!

I know some people will want to know about weight and general fitness benefits. I’m not sure that I really lost any weight (I don’t measure these things) particularly as I find that swimming makes me hungry, but I do know it’s changed my body. There are muscles places there weren’t before and clothes fit in better ways. I have noticed some general fitness benefits. Swimming is a funny sort of conditioning. It doesn’t necessarily translate well to other types of fitness. It is low impact…although there are still a few ways you can hurt yourself, and I notice it has helped my general breathing and lungs. Upper body fitness is definitely improved and I noticed how much easier my boxing classes got over time, especially compared to the same people who weren’t also swimming.

And most of all, I start every weekend now at the beach. With amazong people, doing something I love and that makes me feel great. No more starting the weekend sluggish and sleeping off hangovers for me! What more could you want in a sport?

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