on swimming

October 21, 2019

I would love to make a documentary on why women swim. I see so much visual possibility, and I can imagine a great many stories –– funny ones, moving ones, inspiring ones –– being shared. I think many women choose the water after some kind of trauma. A surgery, perhaps, or an emotional struggle. It’s a gentle, soothing place. You feel your limbs stretching, your breath regulating. We are 60 per cent water. Swimming is intuitive. It’s instinctual. It’s nature. I don’t believe most women swim to achieve a perfect body. I think we swim to feel comfort and wellness in the body we have. Many women swim through pregnancy, as it gives them the gift of weightlessness. Many swim after childbirth because it feels like a gentle way to take care of a post-partum body. It’s one of the first activities that many new Mums do with their babies. It’s where women come to be alone, but to feel buoyed by the water, and their fellow swimmers. After three babies, and many years running on hard tarmac, swimming was the antidote I needed. It felt like a kinder approach to exercise, and something I could sustain for the rest of my life. I know a number of women, well into their 70s who have swum all their lives. You see it in their faces, as much as you see it in their bodies. A serenity, I think. One lady at my community pool, wears lipstick to match her frilly hat. Swimming is an occasion. Another lady spends as much time nattering to the young life guards as she does pushing her flutter board up and down the lane. But everyone seems as comfortable in water, as they are on land. “More, actually,” says a mother of three teenagers. She swims like an amphibian, with long, exaggerated movements that have become her signature. “For me, swimming is a meditation. I write speeches while I swim, work through arguments, solve problems, zone out. It’s exercise, and so much more.” The water, the ritual, it keeps women centered. “When you enter the water, something like a metamorphosis happens,” writes Roger Deakin in his 1998 book on swimming. I couldn’t agree more. Something happens to us, we are reminded that we are akin to whales, and designed to do this.

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