Growing up was hard for a variety of reasons, my mental and emotional health has been questionable for most of my life, even as a little kid my peers found me unpredictable and annoying, their parents felt I was a bad influence, then I got fat and socially unacceptable to be around so I really struggled to find a place where I felt accepted or ‘good enough’.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first started learning how to swim, but I believe lessons began shortly after my mother, who was talking to her friend one day, didn’t notice that I had fallen into the rather deep lake alongside the park we were at. I guess I was about 4 years old, I can actually remember seeing the murkiness of the water as I sank and feeling strangely peaceful.
Luckily I was fished out pretty quickly (no CPR required) by a stranger who’d witnessed my failed attempt to show off my not so great balancing skills to my little friend along the top of some concrete edging and he dived in and pulled me out from the murky depths and deposited me to the relative safety of my shocked mother who was wondering why on earth I was suddenly all wet.
The guy disappeared before he could be thanked and I was left in tears feeling extremely embarrassed that I’d been dumb enough to fall in. While to this day I can’t stand the smell of lake water, otherwise I was unharmed and my mother decided to enrol me in swimming lessons.
At some point we realised I had found my niche and for a long time swimming became my outlet. I idolised Australian gold medalist Kieren Perkins and took my fear and anger issues out on the water. Unlike every other sport I had ever tried I wasn’t too bad at it either and eventually got accepted into a local squad.
The verbal abuse the team copped from our coaches was pretty standard practice in the day, they worked us HARD but it paid off and as the years passed I was even head hunted into a state squad, we trained several nights during the week, had 5am starts on a Saturday morning and went to regular competitions. I wasn’t Olympic material, but I often won ribbons and medals and it was the only part of myself I felt truly proud of.
Unfortunately, despite my love of swimming and the regular squad training, as I grew up my penchant for McDonalds as a tasty snack/ handy emotional crutch meant I also grew outwards and my tweenage physique was not exactly flattered by a swimsuit.
While my squad team mates rarely made mention of my weight (probably because I was faster than most of them) and the coach commented I could be faster if I’d watch my weight it was eventually teasing from perfect strangers around the pool that brought me down. The pool, my place of safety away from school, away from sadness and depression of life was no longer welcoming and eventually on a hard day I heard the words ‘beached whale’ one too many times from a little kid and too humiliated to keep going I hung up my goggles for good.
Over 20yrs and an eating disorder later and I can still count the times we have been back in a swimming pool since on one hand, unfortunately we still can’t let it go, not even for the sake of our children which is a shame for several reasons, not least of all because there was something about swimming that just felt so right to me.
The harshness of the world would disappear under the silent comforting blanket of the water. It was the one place I could actually feel like I was good at something, I felt weightless, like I finally had some sort of control over something in my life, I was free.
Did you have a place or activity that made you feel safe or free from the troubles of the world when you were a kid?