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The "Wu Word" Blog

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 ;-)

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