When I was nine, I taught myself to swim. In the outdoor, unheated, full of dead flies (I used to rescue the live ones) primary school pool.
It’s possibly my earliest victory over ideas of ‘can’t’.
Although this was ostensibly a swimming ‘lesson’, I don’t recall any teaching happening. We were pretty much left to splash about. Us non-swimmers had colourful floats to play with. There was no encouragement for me to learn, no one pushing us to achieve anything, but, for some reason, during one particular lesson, I decided that today I would swim.
Determined, I held onto the bar at the side of the pool and kicked my legs furiously. I let go of the bar. My arms joined my legs in frantic whirling. To the casual observer, it probably looked like a shark attack in progress. I stayed afloat. I grabbed the bar again, kicked and kicked, and once more let go – splashing about for longer this time. Water got into my mouth and eyes. I didn’t like that very much. I repeated the action until I was travelling several feet to the bar. The teacher neither noticed nor remarked on my efforts. Nor did anyone else. The only person making me persevere was me.
At the end of each lesson, all the swimmers had the chance to show off their prowess by swimming a length. ‘I can swim now’ thought I, on this portentous day. I joined the queue. I swam a length. An ungainly length (I still don’t swim elegantly) but a length nonetheless. I could swim. Job done. No one thought this was a big deal. No one congratulated me. No one cared particularly. But for me; a victory.
This story’s in my mind as I’m training to run 10k. I’m not a natural runner. I don’t enjoy it very much. But I’ve decided I’m going to do this. My nine year old self has popped up to remind me that, when I set my mind to it, I can achieve pretty much anything. All by myself.
It’s great to have people around to support, encourage and inspire. And I do have people around me that are ready with encouragement. (Including, in this instance, my brother, who’s been roped into running with me. He’d have been one at the time of the swimming victory, so probably didn’t have much to say about that.)
But, at heart, I’m one of life’s loners. That just seems to be the way things are.
And that’s ok. Because I know that, inside, I have what it takes to let go of the bar.