Swimming Hope for the Non-Swimmer

Hilary Topper's signature pose in florida

By the pool as a little girlThe other day after I finished a pool set, Ray, one of my training partners, said to me, “let me ask you something. How do you build your endurance? You seem to keep going.” 

I smiled. But, on my way home from the Aquatic Center in East Meadow, I started to think about my first time in the water in 2014.

My Swimming Experience

I was never a swimmer. I did go to summer sleep-away camp when I was 8-10 years old and the counselors used to throw us (or rather make us jump into) the freezing cold lake. I hated it! 

I would doggy paddle across the lane. I didn’t care that the counselors shouted, “put your head in the water.” I wasn’t doing it. No way!

Long Beach, where I grew up, had a program where every week the teachers would take us to the Long Beach pool. I loved splashing around with my friends, but the only thing I learned is how to do the side stroke. If they wanted us to swim the “crawl,” I would doggy paddle. They would yell and I would swim tarzan style, with my head out of water. (Just recently, I learned that is an actual drill.) It didn’t matter. The swim instructors had no interest in any of us, except for those who showed real talent in the water.

As long as I knew how to float and tread water, I was good to go!

As for the ocean, my mother never let me go out beyond my knees. Even as a teen growing up in Long Beach, I jumped over waves and that was it! You heard about someone drowning every year in Long Beach and I could hear my Jewish mother saying, “don’t go in too deep, the riptide will pull you out and you will never come back!” So, like a good girl, I listened.

Swimming 25 Yards as an Adult

My training partner at the time, Marti, and I signed up for a triathlon in Florida in September 2014. We had never seen a triathlon but we were determined to compete in Sanibel, Florida at the Captiva Tri. After we signed up and bought our airline tickets, we went over to the Long Beach Pool. This was back in June 2014.

I didn’t know that you were supposed to wear goggles! I had a bathing cap and a suit. I had no gear like I do today. We shared a lane. I struggled to get across the pool. It was 25 yards and seemed so far away! I couldn’t make it.

I was doggy paddling across the pool and throwing in a few Tarzan strokes. Since I hated getting my face wet, I thought this was the way to go. (I didn’t realize that Tarzan was a real thing until I started training with Iron Fit Endurance.)

In the middle of the swim, I started to dry heave. This was not going to happen! How could I do such a stupid thing and sign up for a triathlon without knowing how to swim? 

After giving myself a hard time, one side of me was saying, “forget it. You can’t do this!!!!” And the other side, said, “just try to get it done. Don’t worry. You got this.” 

Taking Swim Lessons

I finally decided to join a Masters Swim team out east on Long Island. The group, Open Water Swim LI, trained at Connetiquot High School. It was about an hour or so away from my Lido Beach home. But, I loved Bryan Krut and Christine Esposito. They were wonderful. Bryan jumped in the water with me as I was struggling and taught me how to blow bubbles. 

Now, I really had to stick my face in the water! 

Christine was patient and worked with me so that I was able to easily get across the pool and swim 25 yards. I couldn’t believe I could do it.

Learning to Swim

It wasn’t until I started swimming with Magdalena (Maggie) Stovickova and Roy Lester that I really felt I could swim. 

I remember early on, Maggie looked at my bathing suit and laughed. 

“What are you wearing? This bathing suit is way too big!” 

I couldn’t believe it. I always bought larger sized bathing suits. She told me it was at least 3 sizes too big! “It will create drag in the water,” she told me. 

So, I purchased a bunch of bathing suits on Swimming Outlet and bought size 4. I could barely get into them. I remember the first time I wore a size 4, everything was hanging out. I went to see Maggie and she said, “now that’s the right size!” I laughed and shook my head. 

But, I got used to it. I also got used to wearing goggles, ear plugs and nose plugs. (I never realized how much the water impacted your ears and sinuses!)

My First Triathlon

My first triathlon in Sanibel was incredible. I never had a feeling of accomplishment than when I did that race. My training partner definitely kicked my butt on the bike and the run, but I kicked hers on the swim, which was about 450 yards in the open water! It was rough, real rough. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was. (People laugh at me when I say, “the rougher the better.”)

Swimming Hope for the Non-Swimmer

There is hope for you non-swimmers out there. Believe me, if I could swim, you can swim. 

So, when Ray asked, “how long did it take to build up your endurance?” I smiled. I’ve been swimming now 2 to 3 times a week either in open water or at the pool (when it’s open) since 2014, almost six years. 

I guess the answer to his question is 6 years? But, I’m not really sure. I picked it up quickly and when I swim, I feel like I don’t want to stop. The freedom that I get when I swim is incredible. Even when I swim back and forth in a small pool or in a 25 meter pool, when I get started, I just want to keep on going… (Sometimes when I go on vacation and swim in those little pools, I go back and forth forever, feeling as if I were a fish!)

So, in any event, there is hope! Just keep on swimming… 

Happy swimming and share your experiences in the comments below.ak