Step one: get back on the horse

It’s been almost a month since being sidelined with Meningitis, and every ounce of me has been itching to feel the pounding pavement beneath my feet, or the wind whipping at my face on the bike, or the calming rush of gliding through water. The things that make me feel free and alive have been absent, and I desperately want them back, but it’s been a slow process. I’m getting better, but there is a fog that still plagues me. I’m struggling to regain my energy, headaches randomly creep in, and sleep is an impossible task – I just don’t feel like myself. So, this morning, with 3 hours of sleep, I forced myself to crawl out of bed and go do the one thing that washes away the aches and pains, the doubt, and the anxiety – swim.
I haven’t crawled out of bed much before 9am in the past few weeks and the darkness of the cool morning was a stark contrast to the warm, bright mornings I was used to seeing. It felt like the days of summer had disappeared over night, and I’m afraid that soon enough these early starts will greet me with snowy drifts and a freezing nose. Until then I’ll take the fall temperatures and semi-darkness.
When I arrived at the pool a familiar scent of chlorine instantly wafted through my nostrils and I inhaled it like a sweet drug. I looked around the old confines of the change room as the damp tiled floor soaked the bottoms of my dragging sweat pants – normally something that annoys me first thing in the morning, but today I was feeling too grateful for annoyances. It seemed like I’d been away for so long but that’s the punishment of time when you’re eagerly awaiting something special. As I walked out onto the pool deck I was acutely aware of the childlike grin on my face. The water was calm and only slightly rippled by the few early swimmers. This place has been a source of resolve for me a few times before. I don’t know what it is but something about swimming brings me to a place of peace.
As I slowly walked down the stairs into the cool water I felt like a frail old woman preparing for my morning water aerobics class. Normally I would drop myself off the elevated deck, but this morning I opted for a safer and slower entrance. The cool water instantly sent a shiver up my spine, and without much hesitation I submerged myself and allowed the water to envelope around me before resurfacing. The journey to the other end looked longer than I remember, and just like the first time I ever swam the long course pool, I felt nervous about making it all the way. But instead of thinking for too long, I pushed off the wall, glided under water like a slow yet graceful seal, and just started swimming. Whatever doubts I had about forgetting to swim or not being able to get to the other side quickly vanished. A goofy underwater smile spread across my face causing my goggles to shift and droplets of blue chemically water seeped in stinging my eyes. I really didn’t care, and like my old friend Dory, I just kept on swimming, feeling alive and miraculously cured of whatever ailed me. From one wall to the other, I would push off, relaxed and free. Thoughts about my missed race and what could have been this season crept into my busy mind and it only pushed me to keep on going, slow yet steady, and determined. At first the numbness and tingling in my legs felt strange and uncomfortable, but I eventually adjusted until it just began to feel normal. This is exactly what I needed, the free flow of water against my body and a friend to share the lane (thanks Mel) – if only we could high five and swim.
Even though next season is still – well, next season – this felt like the first step to what lies ahead. Perhaps, for now I should just enjoy the peacefulness of slow and steady because without a doubt there will come a time again soon enough when it will be back to the old suffer grinder fests that I’m used to enduring. Crazy as it sounds, I’m looking forward to it, all the while counting my blessings that I can still do what I love. In this journey I have no doubt there will be more curve balls hurled by way; what matters is how I throw them back.