Fatherhood at Fifty – Flip Turns

I do so love the water. I love to be in the water. I love to be near the water. I have a energetic need to live in a place that is close to water. It’s not a surprise that my zodiac sun sign is Cancer and I represent my astrological symbol totem animal in every way: I have a tendency to be crabby at times, I love to be in my shell and I’d likely perish if I drifted too far onto the mainland on a permanent basis! A couple of months back I wrote a post about my Labor Day outdoor lap swim and called it Final Lap. In the post I reflected on my last outdoor pool swim of the season and a number of other potential changes on the path in the months ahead. You can read it here if you missed it on the first pass.

My pattern for the last few years has been to swim and bike more in the summer and then switch to elliptical work inside the gym in the winter. Yoga on the other hand is a constant throughout the year, although I do get to more actual classes in during the winter when the biking season is over. I mix in my martial arts workouts here and there for variety. I even ran on the treadmill a couple of weeks back, but was reminded that running no longer serves my higher mileage body. Every once and a while in the winter I’ll visit one of the clubs in the area and get in an indoor lap swim, but the indoor pools are often crowded. And with that I’ll end Jim’s fitness summary for 2017!

I guess I’d say my overall relationship with swimming has been on again and off again through the years. Despite my love for water, there’s always been something that has prevented swimming from becoming a more permanent and regular part of my workout routine over the last 30 years. I’m a decent swimmer. I learned to swim like many kids do; by attending group swim classes in the morning in a freezing cold pool. Perhaps I have some lingering trauma from Beechview swim club that has prevented swimming from blossoming more in my adult years? Who knows?

I can swim a very good breast stroke. I can only swim about three strokes of butterfly before I sink. I never do the backstroke because I’m not really too big on not being able to see where I’m going – and that doesn’t apply to being in the pool only.

And then of course there is freestyle: the true measure of any swimmer’s skill set. This next little factoid will tell you all you need to know about my relationship with freestyle through the years:

In the 1990s I decided I wanted to do triathlons. Every single second of every training session or triathlon swim I ever did, I did by swimming breast stroke instead of freestyle.

Now there are reasons for this decision that make total sense on the surface level:

  1. I swim a really fast breast stroke. In fact I often pass some people who are swimming freestyle both in the pool and in races
  2. The amount of energy I expend swimming breaststroke is way less, thus I have more energy for the bike and run.
  3. I get into a better rhythm in that I get to come up for air on every stroke while swimming breast stroke instead of trying to figure out alternate side breathing every third stroke swimming freestyle.

There are some other reasons that sit on a deeper level that have kept me swimming breast stroke instead of freestyle over the years:

  1. Fear
  2. Insecurity
  3. Ego

I was afraid that if tried to I swim freestyle in the deeper open lake water I would tire and sink and eventually put myself at risk of drowning. I was insecure about the fact that I was getting lapped while swimming freestyle in the pool by nearly everyone including children. My ego would tell me stories like “you just don’t look right in the pool swimming freestyle with sinking legs, while gasping for air and doing touch turns instead of flip turns” (more about that later).

About four years back though I decided I start to take on those bottom three reasons and create a bit of a change in my relationship with freestyle swimming overall. I started to figure out that one of the reasons that my freestyle swimming was so weak was because I had a terrible leg kick. I began to watch other swimmers kick. I even watched some videos on line and eventually I improved my kick just enough to…….

make pretty much no difference at all in my ability to swim freestyle. My legs still felt heavy and sank while I tried to swim freestyle. I found myself exhausted from even one length of the pool. I went back to swimming only breast stroke again on the rare occasions I decided to swim.

Then one day about three years ago, I noticed a swimmer using a leg buoy between their legs while swimming. I had always seen those funny looking, infinity symbol shaped pieces of foam at the poolside: I just never knew what they were used for. I tried one out and realized that my arms got a really good workout and more importantly that my legs didn’t sink while I swam freestyle. For the next year or so, I started to alternate 10 laps of breast stroke with 10 laps of freestyle using the leg buoy. Eventually I got strong enough with my arms that I could even do a couple of lengths once and a while without the leg buoy and manage stay afloat with a simple and gentle dolphin kick.

For the last couple of years I’ve continued my swimming ritual more actively both summer and winter time. I almost always do about half my laps breast stroke and half of my laps freestyle with an increasing number of my freestyle laps done without the leg buoy. Who says that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The one thing I still have not come to terms with though is the idea of flip turns. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of flip turns!

I mean how can I be expected to time my breathing just right that I should do a somersault at the end of each lap and not take on a nose full of water? What happens when I get too close to the wall before turning and wind up cracking my ankles on the edge of the pool while turning? And I know I must look ridiculous flailing around underwater trying to figure out which way is up and which way is down? I haven’t even tried one flip turn in over 30 years.

I may have conquered elementary freestyle, but when it comes to flip turns, my good old friends fear, insecurity and ego are still very much in the mix. That is until just this past week.

This past week on Monday I found myself all alone in the pool for a much needed zen like swim after a long and full weekend. The pool should have been crowded at 6:00 pm but for some reason it was just little old me. While I was swimming I was thinking about how much Christiana has been focusing on getting our daughter into head down position as we approach the home stretch of our pregnancy. In case you are unaware, there are websites devoted to helping get your child into optimal birthing position. We have taken classes that have included exercises we can do to encourage the baby to get head down. Sifting exercises with a Mexican blanket, inversions on an ironing boards, forearm balances off the edge of the couch. We even heard stories about how some people have tried to go to the pool and do somersaults just to get the baby to turn head down.

While most say that you don’t need to worry until week 34 or 35, our daughter has still been a bit of a traveler though. She likes to move around. She kicks a lot. She dances when the food comes. There are times where it seems like she is doing flip turns inside Christiana’s belly even as she gets bigger begins to run out of real estate to work with. That got me thinking about something this last Monday during my swim in solitude.

I thought if our little daughter can flip around in the pitch dark with joy, no fear and the trust that everything is going too be just fine, then maybe her daddy could at least give it a try too?

As I was winding down my swim on Monday night, I stopped in the middle of the pool and stood up in the four foot deep water. I squatted down so my head was just above the water line and then like I was 12 years old, I plugged my nose and did a somersault. Amazingly I survived!

Next I walked up to the wall and stopped about three feet away, right where those blue marks are at the bottom of each lane. I squatted down and repeated my somersault, this time pushing off the wall with my feet and back towards the middle of the pool as I came up. Once again I survived! With that confidence I decided to give it a shot….a full on flip turn!

I swam a nice, slow length of freestyle without the leg buoy and as I neared the wall I slowed down just enough more to get my breath timed out just right. As my right arm came over my head and dove back into the the water, I pointed my head to the bottom of the pool, flipped over into a somersault, pushed of the wall with my feet and came back up into another stroke of freestyle. I nearly hit my head on the floor and cracked my ankles on the wall, but I did it! I had just completed my first ever successful flip turn of my entire swimming career. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it!

My guess is that over the next few months I’ll mix in a few flip turns along the way with my touch and go turns. Eventually maybe I’ll get to half and half like I have with freestyle vs. breast stroke. Maybe someday I’ll even look like an old pro swimming and kicking and flipping, and if I do I’ll remember to thank my daughter for reminding me that all of our fears are created in our own minds and that the only way to move beyond them is to try something new. There’s a whole lot of new heading into the Herbert house in the months ahead. I can’t wait to see what magic our Aquarius little girl will bring to her Cancerian Daddy’s daily life. I do know this though…

Thanks to her, I’m ready to take the plunge!




About Jim Herbert

I've been wanting to write my whole life. By age 45 it had amounted to nothing more than a storage locker of half full journals and a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Then Paris in the fall of 2011 happened. It was the catalyst I needed to consistently blog. At first I had a hard time hitting the publish button, but now two blog sites and over 300 posts later I'm hitting my stride. I'm also a budding speech writer. I've recently been heavily involved in the Chicago Storytelling scene and have also won the Chicago Toastmasters Area 66 International Speech Contest. Check out our website at www.emergingintojoy.com for more details about the amazing things that are happening in my life. A book or two are nearing completion. With another Paris trip on tap for Easter of 2015 I can only imagine that there are Infinite Possibilities on the horizon!!!
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1 Response to Fatherhood at Fifty – Flip Turns

  1. Merle Cohen says:

    I love to read your posts. They are so amazing. Your conversation about Christiana is really amazing. I would really like to see you both before you have your little girl. If you read this before I am planning to come in Tuesday to hand out some 🎁 presents. And have a bit of lunch in the bar if it is Not too busy. Tell me the name of the African American man who is a manager, he is always so sweet to me. See you Tuesday

    Sent from my iPad


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