Suzanne Tobias

However you do it, just getting it done beats treading water

Around the start of this year, I told you I had decided to train for a 500-yard swimming race.

“Race” may be too strong a word, actually. Three months into my training regimen, I have to say that it doesn’t matter what my final time is, or how I look, or where I place, or what stroke I swim, or whether I do flip turns, or how fast the swimmers in the adjacent lanes will be going.

I just want to finish.

I and the other moms and dads participating in the Parent 500 – a just-for-fun, no-experience-required challenge scheduled for mid-May at the Wichita Swim Club – have been practicing together every Sunday afternoon and on our own as often as schedules allow.

As I explained back in January, the beginning was brutal. I couldn’t swim 25 yards – one short length of the pool – without pausing to rest.

My arms hurt, my legs hurt, I swallowed water, I couldn’t breathe. I muttered, moaned and cursed. I doubted I would ever swim 500 yards in one day – with lots of rest between laps, and maybe some poolside margaritas – much less all in a row. I was as rough a swimmer as you could imagine, a sinking boulder among graceful, able-bodied dolphins.

Now, three months later, I can say with a smile:

It is still brutal.

The smile hides my tears, you see, because it doesn’t seem right. I thought this quest would get easier, that I would magically morph into a sleek, effortless swimmer who glides along the surface of the water like a stingray or a dragonfly, a couch-potato-turned-mermaid who transforms her life and her body in a few short months.

I didn’t think it would be this hard. But it is. It is really, really hard.

During practice last week, the coaches gently reminded me to keep my head down and my eyes focused on the bottom of the pool. Keeping your head high in the water, they said, causes your hips and legs to sink. That, in turn, means you spend more energy trying to fight through the water instead of gliding on top of it.

Of course, I nodded. That makes sense. Yes. I can do that. Here I go.

I kicked off from the wall with my head down, my hips and legs up. I looked great, I bet. (I couldn’t admire myself because my head was down.) After two or three strokes I turned to breathe, and my mouth and nose filled with water. Cough, sputter, snort, hack. Ugh.

I swam to the opposite side of the pool and tried again. And again. And again.

Remember that scene in “Miracle,” where the U.S. hockey coach makes his players skate back and forth for hours, until they’re all puking on the ice and begging for mercy? But he says, “Again! … Again! … Again!” and he keeps blowing his whistle? And then the custodian turns out the lights but the coach makes them keep skating, and they’re all sweating and stumbling and writhing in pain?

This wasn’t that bad. But it was hard. And I didn’t want to do it, but I did.

I signed up for this 500-yard aquatic torture for two main reasons: 1) to get exercise; 2) to gain some perspective about what my son, his teammates and other athletes do every day; and 3) to see if I could do it.

So far, at least, I’m still in the game. Like Dory in “Finding Nemo,” I just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.

It’s not easy. It’s not pretty. I’m not fast. But I’m kicking and breathing and pulling and swimming.

I’m doing it. And so far, that’s enough.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.