IN THE SWIM – With Christy Parker


Christy parker continues his efforts to improve his swimming technique at Aura’s adult lesson classes.  

Perhaps the oddest thing about re-joining Aura’s adult swimming lessons (Intermediate level) for the second of six night’s lessons was discovering that some of the stuff I had failed, depressingly, to master the week before seemed surprisingly easier on my return. Minutes into the water I found that swimming on my side, (although I can’t think of any reason why I’d ever actually want to do it!) or travelling on my back had become somehow manageable. The lessons imparted by the ever-patient instructor Marcin must have become ingrained in my subconscious and my body apparently rehearsed the moves unbeknownst to me in my dreams. A couple of my fellow learners had a similar impression. This was very encouraging for those of us whose ancestors weren’t dolphins.

Then Marcin got us to swim freestyle (forward) and turn, after every three strokes, to take in breath. Under Total Immersion (TI) technique, breathing doesn’t mean lifting one’s head out of the water, turning it towards the Capel Island and gasping in a lungful as I had long believed and practiced. No, like Trapattoni’s ‘leetle details’ there is a lot more. “Hips, shoulders, head,” intoned the tutor as if preparing us for the catwalk.

Chancing the arm

One of the fundamentals of TI is the ‘streamlining’ of the body, brought about by close alignment of the head with the spine, the toes pointed downwards, the arms -when extended fully- more like sleek paddles than say, appendages for carrying beer packs to the boot of a car. In imitating a human spear, the whole frame more or less turns when the mouth takes in air. Then you immerse the face in water again, take several strokes and repeat the process on the other side. “Try to rest the head on the arm as you turn, like so,” demonstrated Marcin, appearing to imitate a man who had just fallen of a very high building.

It was difficult to do this while continuing to kick water but, with belief and practice, it works and works well. At the end of the night and having again swallowed half a swimming pool, I had half mastered it. Spending another half hour rehearsing the lesson would undoubtedly have been of great benefit –but the sauna proved irresistible instead.

The following week circumstances decided me t to swap Tuesday for Thursday night’s session. In the course of the warm-up exercises – bit of free-styling, floating from a wall kick-back kind of thing, you know yourself – I learned another valuable lesson. Avoid eating a spicy curry dinner an hour before going swimming; the indigestion was horrid.

This was to be a night focused on back strokes and the like and one I’d personally prefer not to remember. In propelling oneself backwards off the wall of the pool it is necessary to grab on with both hands and then position the legs between the arms. This hunched position resembles a bat falling out of bed. It, too, is very inadvisable after a feed of curry. For one moment I thought I wouldn’t need my legs to do the propelling at all!


By now I had somehow reached the stage where I could progress backwards with my arms by my sides while surveying the rafters. I even ‘back pedalled’ to the point where I hit my head off the wall of the pool such had been my glorious momentum. I would very happily settle for this degree of ability for the rest of my life and let the world of float by while I digested a lengthy series of Tika Masala’s.

Marcin had other ideas. We were told how to back stroke, each arm in turn propelling us forward in wonderful rhythm, our heads well back in the water and our breathing in sync with our movements. Instead I took on the demeanour and behaviour of a half-naked drunk man hailing taxis, lost my balance a yard out from the wall, keeled over sideways like an overloaded dinghy and floundered to my feet as my swim cap made a beeline for my neck. This amazing circus act was repeated about a dozen times.

At one stage I made it three yards down the pool before capsizing, only to suffer foot cramp as I tried to re-launch myself. Meanwhile my three fellow-learners appeared to have morphed into fish. At one point Marcin suggested, “Chris you use the float for now,” a direction equivalent to taking a pilot from the cockpit and placing him three seats from the rear of the plane, strapped in tightly. I tried to console myself that this pain and humiliation was all for my own good, as many a psychopath in the teaching profession used to inform us in years gone thankfully by.

Getting there…

Unbelievably, worse was to follow when we were requested to commence manoeuvres by swimming on our backs with arms arched behind our heads. It sounds simple, it looks simple and to me it was simply impossible. I swear, I’d have hoped for the pool to open up and swallow me if it wasn’t already doing so.

But wait, with Marcin by now practically denoting all his efforts and patience to me personally –to keep me from drowning presumably- I began to improve. I suddenly wasn’t sinking sideways in a spectacular splutter. I was getting better and I hoped that the rest of the class could see it from the other end of the pool, where I was intent on reaching someday soon as well. Then the half hour was up and my progress stymied. Yes I should have stayed on to practice…. I will next time -without curry.

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