The older I get, I realize most of us aren't exploring new things; life is just reintroducing us to who we really are, to begin with. I loved to swim growing up. When I was six, my family stayed in a hotel for two months while our home closed in escrow, so naturally, I stayed in the pool. I was always scared, so my dad would throw me in and tell me to trust him - and eventually, I did. After that, every year on my birthday I had a hotel party.
Swimming was my favorite hobby until societal norms and body image issues got in the way of something that I loved as a child, being free.
As a teen, I fixated more on my insecurities and less on happiness, so I stopped swimming (and having birthday parties altogether). I had a little confidence in high school, none in college, and by the time junior came, I had gained 100 lbs. But the summer before graduation, I decided I had enough, and I wanted to be happy. So I ended a toxic relationship, got a therapist, and a personal trainer. About a month into our workouts, he randomly asked me, "Have you ever thought about swimming? It's a great workout."
He was right; according to experts, swimming weekly builds endurance, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness. It's a workout where nearly all of the muscles are used; and you also release the natural-feel good compound endorphins while swimming, which helps combat anxiety/depression. Still, I couldn't bring myself to tell him the thought of swimming at my campus gym made me uncomfortable. I thought people would make fun of me, so I never tried.
After graduation, I promised myself I'd join my local gym and start swimming again, but there was one thing in my way: my big Tracee Ellis Ross hair extensions.
I loved the show Girlfriends growing up, and I always wanted hair like Joan (I met Tracee after college, and I all I could manage to tell her mid-tears was you're the reason I have big hair!). Changing my hair post-break up made me feel like a new person, but every time I'd try and swim, it'd get matted, so I'd stop. I tried making a wig, but securing it was a struggle, and I got tired of feeling uncomfortable, so I took it out and rocked my curly 'fro.
After that, I fell in love with the water again. I don't even remember what day things shifted for me, but every time I got in, I came back out stronger. I owned every minute in the pool, confidently swimming in my lane no matter who swam better, or faster. My hairstylist warned me that chlorine would tear my hair up, but it grew instead.
Here are some things that I learned on my swim journey.
Do not, I repeat DO NOT use a swimming cap. Your edges will thank you later.
Losing the cap puts less pressure on your edges. Also, I've never met a swimming cap that didn't let chlorine creep in. Ditch it, and put your hair in a loose high bun or braids instead.
Wet your hair, then apply oil to your ends pre-swim.
Filling your hair with fresh water provides a barrier, so the chlorinated water doesn't penetrate it as fast. Adding oil to your ends as a sealant protects it even more (I use almond oil, it stimulates hair growth).
Speak kindness over your body.
I never wanted to swim because I was ashamed of how I looked. I thought my stretch marks were ugly, and I wanted to see results overnight. Taking the time to thank my body for stretching for me, instead of giving up, made me appreciate it in a way I never did before.
If your gym has a sauna, bring your deep conditioner and give yourself a treatment post-swim.
Adding this step to my regimen took swimming from being just another workout to a whole self-care experience. I even have a playlist, download Sauna Vibes on Apple Music, and thank me later.
Get OK with the possibility that your hairstyle might have to change.
I missed my extensions at first, but now I wear a curly top knot Monday-Friday and experiment with fun ponytails on the weekends, so there's balance. I don't regret taking them out because I learned to think about what I needed first and my hair second. Rocking my natural hair gave me the courage to embrace my hair, and my blackness no matter where I was. Most days, when I swam, I never saw anyone who looked like me, so it forced me to take up space and not just at the pool, but in every aspect of my life.
I've gone from swimming as a girl with my dad, to hating my body as a teen, and now I don't go more than three days without swimming. It's helped with weight loss too - I'm officially 60 lbs down, and I've become the friend who's consistently asked: "Can you teach me how to swim?" and I always say yes. It's hard to think about what my life would be like without swimming, and to think - I almost let anxiety keep me from my safest space.
Featured image via Gifer