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The "Wu Word" Blog

May 2018

The Last Stroke

About 2 to 4 years ago, I learned the backstroke.  Mind you that I am a late swimmer that learned at roughly 10-years-old.  I was petrified and had two nearly drowned episodes before 10-years-old.  I never learned the ‘right’ way to swim.  As long as I was not sinking and staying above water then I was OK. 
I developed a huge fascination with the backstroke.  It was the only stroke to breathe above water while hearing the soothing and rhythmic breaths in our plugged ears.  It was the only stroke to swim backwards without seeing anything or anyone forwards, only to look up and above at the moving images that we were in motion with.  Finally, it was the only stroke where we had to develop an intuition and dependency on counting to not smack right into the wall.  The backstroke was the last stroke for me to learn, but it was the first stroke that I had a serious kinship with.  It was the stroke that had me throw caution to the wind and do it in a team relay for the very first time at the Transplant Games of America 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  P.S.  We won a bronze for that team relay! 
Without fail, every two years, I reunite with my swim coach, Coach K, to train me once again for the Transplant Games of America. This year, it will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah.  As usual, I was all about improving my comfort zone freestyle when Coach K surprised me when she asked: “How’s your backstroke?”
As a part of my swim routine, I do roughly 100 meters of back stroke in between my freestyle and breaststroke.  I never thought much about the backstroke. Therefore, I did not think twice when Coach K had me on my back and requested that I do almost 200 meters of backstroke in a row. 
She completely shocked me when she boomed, “Your back stroke form is excellent!  Have you signed up for it at the games this year?”
I removed my ear plugs and spouted, “No.  I never thought about it.”
“Well, you gotta think about and you gotta sign up for backstroke!”
My long-lost last back stroke was now suddenly front and first up with Coach K teaching me to try to sprint upwards and out backwards from the wall without seeing anything in front of me. Session after session, pool water shot up my nose.  I sputtered and coughed up chlorinated water.  My lungs felt like they were burning. I kept trying to keep my head above water when I sprinted backwards off the wall, but as Coach K said, “No, when you sprint back, you are going underwater and you have to breathe out of your nose!”
I was utterly confused.  Here I had believed backstroke was all about being above water and me not having to depend on breathing under water and now I was being coached differently.  I was starting to seriously doubt back stroke.    I went to my other swim guru: My sister.  If there is anyone who knows swimming, it is my sister.  She has swum in open water swims in Hudson River and under the Brooklyn Bridge.  She has gotten stung by jelly fish and lived to tell about it after surviving rough and choppy waters.   When I told her that I kept inhaling water up my nose from backstroke, she said to me: “You are supposed to go ‘hmmm’ or ‘mmmm’ when you do backstroke.  Synchronized swimmers who are underwater and upside down do it all the time.  Your body naturally reacts to exhale and blow bubbles out of your nose when you go in meditative mode of ‘mmmm.’  You should hum, too.  It reminds you to breathe.”
“No way!”   I tested out her tip, and it worked!  I couldn’t believe it!  She was right!  I am still getting water up my nose, but a whole lot less! 
The backstroke is my last stroke that has turned out to be my most favorite stroke and first understanding of many factors of breathing, our bodies, and of being.  The backstroke and all involved has shown me the power of breathing and being and of inhaling and exhaling in a way that comes down to the strength and nature of our bodies capabilities and abilities.  I made such simplicity into difficulty.  Yet, it often feels like doing the simple is the most difficult of all to do.  When did your last resort turn out to be your first and favorite?  When have you made simplicity into difficulty?  When has practicing simple been so difficult and complicated for you?    When are you are in a place of being and breathing and in awe of your body and all its natural strength and abilities?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-)


At least three days a week, I go swim.  I am such a ‘regular’ that the lifeguards know me by name and my favorite first swim lane.  Nearly all these lifeguards are in their early to mid-20’s and going to school.  The lifeguard gig is for them to make some extra pocket money.  One lifeguard told me that she has known since she was a tiny tyke that she was going to be a nurse.  Her eyes light up when she talks about learning about the human body.  She clamored, “I can’t wait to be a nurse!”  I said to her, “Good for you, because I never knew what I wanted to do with my life!” 
Another lifeguard shared with me that he was going back to school to be a Paramedic after being in film school for four years, only to learn that there was no way in heck he was going to be able to make a living with film.   I got the sense that he was not the biggest fan of academics and said to him, “Some people have their *hit together.  Others have their *hit splattered all over the place.  But, it’s OK.  You learn as you go.  Everything always has a way of falling into place, even when it feels like everything and you are just falling apart.” 
Some people know what they want to do what they want to do for the rest of their lives.  Plan everything out perfectly.  But as we all know—life happens and keeps on happening when you are making plans.  There are many interruptions and detours that happen that can bulldoze those perfectly prepared plans right down.  Some seem to get bulldozed more than others.  Others appear to have the most manicured of lawns and lives.
I was never one of these people.  I was also NEVER one who wanted to ‘climb up the ladder.’ I never wanted the pressure and stress.  I never wanted the money that I have found more often than not brings out the very worst in people.  I never wanted an advanced degree.  At a career panel that I attended recently, about six of the speakers shared how they knew what they wanted to do with their lives and had basked in one promotion after another with more schooling and more money.  One sole speaker shared that he had followed the same upward climb just like everyone else, but, unlike everyone else, the upward climb sent him into a downward spiral. 
He confessed, “I was not happy.  The money, the pressure, the stress…this wasn’t me.  I climbed up the ladder because that’s what everyone else does, and that’s what you are expected to do in life.  I ended up speaking with my supervisor and returning to my previous role.  I realized how important it was to be honest and humble and show humility to yourself and to others and when you are not like everyone else.  What may one or all may not work for you—and you do not always and will not always know and that’s okay as long as you are humble and have humility to then find out the answers that work for you.” 
I think about these 20-year-old lifeguards that I’ve become friendly with who are just starting.  I remember how I was when I was there age.  I think about this young man on the career panel whose story really spoke to me.  I look at the now and my supposed ‘career path.’  I’ve come to know that most of the time, I did not know.  I do not know.  I just learn as I go.  I am just “HUM”-ing as best as I can—staying true to me with HUM-ility and HUM-bleness in a world where seeming to know everything and everyone is the way to go.    It appears to be much easier to show off our public successes than our private struggles in this day in age. 
In life, it is very important to hold on to ‘HUMS'= Humility and Humble.  It takes great strength to be humble and show humility.  To admit and be honest about your weaknesses and truths to ourselves and to the world and particularly those that we love the most takes a certain kind of character.   Are you about showing your successes rather than your struggles?  Have you always known what you want to do with your life?  How were your perfectly plotted plans in life ever bulldozed?  Do you know any know-it-alls?  Are you HUM-ing? 

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-)


“Why are you so loud?”
I have been asked this question many times in my life. 
People have also said to me: “You are the loudest Asian I know of.  Most Asians are quiet and timid.  But you are loud.  Really loud.”    
My response, “That’s right!  And, damn proud of it!” 
So, yes, I admit it.  I know it.  I am loud.  Really loud.  If I could count the number of times someone asked me why or commented that my voice was really loud then I would be a filthy rich millionaire.  I was told even more times to soften and lower the volume of my voice.  No matter how hard I tried to lower the volume and lessen the projection of my voice, my voice would turn up yet again.  Alas, I can’t help it.  I can’t help being loud. 
I was not always loud.  Or, maybe I was, but then I got even louder throughout my life.  Although I always sat front and center like the diligent teacher’s pet I was, I was that student that would not ask questions or speak my mind.  I was fearful that what I said aloud would be deemed as stupid.  I was always loud in the volume of my voice, and would not say what I thought.  Then the dial of my voice was turned up and catapulted when I was in middle school and high school where I would dictate classroom lessons and lectures to one of my friends who was hearing impaired.  In college, everything began to change slowly yet surely.  I listened and heard.  I asked.  I spoke. I got loud.   
When I somehow fell into the world of public speaking and presentations, my face crinkled up in dislike for the microphone.  Why use a microphone when I could use my own voice and had the power to make my voice loud?  The first thing I would say before picking up and leaning into the microphone was: “Can you hear me?  I have been told I am loud!”  Audience members chimed in that they heard me loud and clear.   I ended up pushing the microphone to the side as a mere unused prop, depending on my own voice and volume.  I got even louder.   
Some may say that I suffer from a Napoleana complex.  After all, do you ever notice that it is the short and small who tend to be REALLY loud?  I think because we are closer to gravity and want to make sure it is the world at large and high up that hears us rather than the ground beneath us that we walk on and do not want to be walked all over on.  As my sister says, “I watch out for small and short people.  They are ferocious!” 
But, it is not just about my short stature or the height of anyone.  It is that I demand to be heard.  I need to be listened to.  Above all else, I strive to speak volumes with how I live my life loud.   Mind you, living and being loud is not the actual and literal volume of high or low, but it is about the volumes of living your life as you want to in the highs and lows.  No one is born being loud.  You learn to be loud and about loudness in the lessons that we live through and to tell about and share.  What is the point of living if you cannot live it loud?

Living loud lies in the volumes of the ways we live our lives throughout the highs and lows of life.  No one is going to be loud for you.  No one is going to speak up for you.  No one is going to listen or hear you.  No one is going to live your life for you except for you and only and solely you.  Make some noise with your voice and your life, because, honestly, no one is going to do or say anything on your behalf.  Are you loud?  Was there a point that you got loud?  When was that time you got loud?  Are you living your life LOUD?

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-)
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