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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Overcoming a Mental Block, Thanks to a Hail Mary Bellyflop


The neon diver at West Hollywood Pool, circa 2015

Isn't it funny how we get these mental blocks about certain things?

Some formative event happens—and we become convinced of something that may not actually be true.

Or, to the contrary, some formative event never happens—and we assume that's because it could never happen.

For me, one of those hangups involves getting out of a swimming pool.

I've been swimming laps consistently since 1998 or so—at hotel pools, gyms, and public plunges. And no matter what the pool, I've always insisted on climbing a ladder or handicap-accessible steps to exit the water.

I've seen other swimmers launch themselves out of 4 feet deep of water with simply the power of their upper body strength, maybe balancing on a knee before padding off wet-footed to one locker room or the other.

To be honest, I've marveled at this sight.

Granted, if one end of the pool is shallow enough—2 or 3 feet—I can get myself out. But in most circumstances, I'll dip under multiple lane dividers and dodge other swimmers just to step my way out rather than hoist myself out.

I've had that option—up until just recently.

I was at the Santa Monica Swim Center, where I'd gotten assigned to swim in lap lane #11. That's right in the middle of the entire Olympic-sized pool, which is more than 7 feet deep pretty much in its entirety.

There's only one lane that provides a ladder exit—lane #1.

I couldn't change lanes because the rest of them were full. As it was, when I'd checked in that day, they couldn't find my reservation and had to put me in the last remaining lane.

So, I spent my entire time slot swimming with one eye on the rest of the lanes, trying to determine how other people were getting out of such deep water without a ladder or even a railing to grab onto. They all seemed to levitate onto the pool deck with very little effort.

And I just couldn't believe I could do the same.

In fact, just a few days before, I'd "tested the waters," so to speak, to see if there was a way I could launch myself out of the pool by floating up to the edge and rolling out—or even flopping my legs out first.

My theory was that because the Santa Monica pool is different than some of the others I'd gone swimming in—that is, the water level is right at the edge of the pool—maybe there would be some trick I'd never tried yet.

After all, in other pools, I had tried to lift my body weight out by the mere strength of my arms—and failed.

And I weigh a lot more now than I ever did then.

But those other tactics I'd tried before in the Santa Monica pool didn't seem to work. At least, I couldn't get them to work without making a spectacle of myself. And that's exactly what I was trying to avoid.

That's why I didn't want to cross 10 lanes to get out while the lifeguards were calling out through a bullhorn, "The pool is now closed!"

So when the time came, I waited and watched. I saw an older man and a woman about my age and size (maybe bigger) make their way out onto the deck without flailing or drowning.

I put my feet on the one step embedded in the pool wall, bent my knees to gain some leverage, and sprung up as high as I could go using the force of my lower body.

That was enough to get me to bellyflop out of the water enough to pivot my body, swing a leg over, and roll onto my back. The whole thing happened so quickly, I doubt if anyone really noticed.

And no one was there to judge me or give me a score on my performance anyway.

Once I stood up, I put my hands on my hips, looked down at where I'd been, and said out loud, "Huh. OK!"

That wasn't so bad. Though I'm not 100% convinced I could do it again exactly the same way.

But the worst part is over. I got over that feeling of "I can't" and "I could never."

We'll see what happens when I return for another swim tomorrow.

Related Posts:
Taking the Plunge During a Pandemic

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