Today was the first day of swimming lessons for the 3rd graders. Most kids have some level of water experience at this stage of life, however through a generous gift of an anonymous donor, each 3-5th grader in my district receives 7 days of swimming lessons each year. As I have experienced so many times before, the first day is almost always a mixture of excitement, nerves and general 3rd grade chaos. Today was no different.
Each session always starts with a basic water proficiency test. The kids gather in the shallow end (about 3 1/2 feet). In groups of 3, the kids jump in and put their face in with arms clasped out front and flutter kick to the middle of the pool. If they are proficient at that, they cross a lane line and do the back stroke. From there they turn directions and do the crawl. Very few 3rd graders are proficient to that stage. Depending on skills and comfort level they are placed in a group by color - Red for those with little to no experience all the way up to Green for the fish of the class. I have a lot of fish this year which was really cool actually. I love swimmer athletes because you can't judge a book by the cover on that one. My best swimmers are those kids who are completely non athletic in any other area. It makes them stealthy rock stars and I just love that! But, I digress. My favorite moment of the day was with one of my less "fishy" kids.
Child "A" has been excited about swimming all year. I had no clue of what was to come. He walked right up to the edge of the pool when it was his turn and he jumped in with the rest of the kids. He jumped in with the confidence of Michael Phelps right up until he hit the water, at which point he started screaming in the loudest voice I have ever heard, "I can't swim, I can't swim, can you people hear me, I said I can't swim". He is flailing arms and legs everywhere, it was like a Tasmanian devil in the pool. I leaned over the edge and said to him "stand up" "Oh", he says. And I see his legs hit the bottom of the pool and about 1/3 of his body emerge from the water as he realizes he is fine. He then spends the rest of the test going through all the hand motions while walking with feet firmly planted on the bottom of the pool. Needless to say, he was placed in the "red" group. He then spent the rest of the swim session, clutching the wall but trying to sneak into another group. I know it is wrong to find the whole thing funny, but I really did.
It all come back to me again tonight when I had my 3rd track session for the half marathon training program. I hate track nights. It is cold and my legs always hurt. I even have fantastic new shoes that proclaim "run happy" right on the box. While they felt soft and nice on my feet, I still had right leg pain that was as annoying as hell. To top it off, we were doing sprint work tonight. Much like my experience of last year, I cranked up the speed and pretty much looked the same as when I have a normal "tempo" run. Whatever, I'm no Usain Bolt.
But my sister is. Well, to me she is. And to the coach too because he was trying to talk her into moving into the fast group. She has been hanging out with me and going way too slow for her own running. I have been trying to go faster, but it isn't fast enough for her. So the coach was telling her how she should move. She tried to hem and haw about how she shouldn't, that she couldn't maintain that fast speed for a long time like the others in the fast group. I could tell the coach wasn't buying it. He told us that you shouldn't be afraid to run fast because it is when you run too slow that you get hurt. She then mentioned that she had noticed that on our run last week when she was running with me that she kept feeling like she was loosing her form. Yes, like I said, I'm slow. I try and I'm faster than I used to be but I'm still slow. And I'm always in pain. Makes me wonder if I would be in less pain if I moved faster.
The whole thing reminded me of my student at the pool this morning. He couldn't swim, yet that didn't stop him from wanting to be with the better swimmers. Maybe he is on to something. I can't run fast, but it doesn't stop me from wishing that I'd be asked to run with the faster runners. I know I'm not one of them but I still wish I was. When I watch the Biggest Loser, they always push the contestants to do things they never knew they could. How do you find that balance between what your mind and maybe even your heart wants and where reality lives. Maybe that is the key that separates athletes from the rest of us. They see the vision and they go for it. Their hearts and minds are in charge.
I don't know how it will all turn out. I know that tomorrow my student will still be in the red group and on Saturday's long run I will still be in the back of the pack. But maybe just dreaming a little of the what if, might be worth a shot. Maybe sneaking into another group for just a glimpse of their world wouldn't be such a bad idea.
My hope for 7 days from now is that my student will take a chance, let go of the wall and get those feet off the bottom of the pool. Maybe I can take some inspiration from that myself and get my feet off the track in just a slightly faster motion. We all need a little inspiration sometimes. Sometimes we need to let go of the wall to be able to break through it.