When multiple swimmers are thrown in to a lane together, they are expected to swim up one lane rope and down the other. This clockwise or counter clockwise pattern keeps the swimmers from running into one another; it's kind of like driving on the correct side of the road. It's been three years since I've had to do this and last night I was thrown right in with the lane holding about five to six swimmers. I was a bit nervous at first because I was not entirely sure how excited sighted athletes would be about me being in the lane. With me swimming with them, it means watching for me when pushing off of the walls and also when I come in to stop and rest at a wall. It's not a whole lot of difference than watching for your fellow swimmers, but I can't see and so some of that responsibility falls away from me. However, I always try to be aware of the people around me. I feel for bubbles with my hands which is a good indication of someone kicking in front of you; bigger waves passing by your side could mean a swimmer passing you in the opposite direction; trailing the lane rope with my shoulder or touching it with my hand every once in a while keeps me in a straight line; and the lane rope sagging near the wall could let me know that swimmers have stopped and are waiting for new instructions. These are all little clues I picked up over the years of swimming competitively, but it is still a bit nerve wracking to jump into a lane of six swimmers who were all complete strangers. I did smack a few people in the back or shoulder when coming into the wall, but there really was no reason for me to be nervous.
The first lane I jumped in to was a slower pace lane and I had opted for the slower moving crowd as I was not sure how long I could actually maintain speedy swimming. My aerobic fitness-the fitness that lets you keep going and going-is not really as high as it used to be and I didn't want to hold anyone up or to miss sets because I couldn't keep up. After about ten to fifteen minutes of floundering in the first lane, I was moved over to a faster one. Every three strokes or so, I would catch someone's feet and once, when pushing off the wall, I swam right over a guy who was pushing off under water. I and the coaches quickly realised that that lane was not a good fit. So, I slid under the lane rope in to a faster lane.
The workout that ensued was great. It was incredibly exciting and I felt fantastic when I finished. That said, when we did the longer, faster sets-such as 300 metres at just below race pace-I felt my stroke falling apart and I started breathing way too often. Break down of stroke mechanics and over breathing are both indicative of fatiguing and lack of aerobic fitness. Also, I was not entirely sure what my "just below race pace" was as I haven't raced in a triathlon ever or in swimming for three years. With that in mind, I just pushed myself at about eighty percent effort and went for it. All things considered, I think I did pretty well. I kept the bubbles of the swimmer in front of me just at the end of my fingertips and I believe that knowing where she was motivated me to keep up the pace, despite the burning in my lungs and my arms turning into noodles. It is so refreshing to train with a team who are hard workers and incredibly helpful. Every time I came into the wall and everyone had stopped, the swimmer furthest out from the wall would tap my hand or arm to tell me to stop. This signal kept me from smacking people or completely running them over. Two women, who alternated swimming in front of me, would also let me know when they were pushing off. This verbal cue gave me the chance to count to five and then push off, which allowed me to have enough space between myself and the swimmer in front of me while keeping me on pace with everyone else. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the openness with which I was accepted into the team. It's sad to say, but attitudinal barriers are sometimes the hardest barriers to deal with when you have a disability. The helpful attitudes and acceptance of me as an athlete made the whole experience that much more positive.
Emily was not able to attend due to a previous commitment and I was a bit worried about going without her. Emily is not only my guide when we are working out, but my eyes in the change rooms, bathrooms and also wen commuting to and from the training facilities. Eventually, I will be able to get to the training venues on my own, working cohesively with my guide dog Glacier, but since that was the first time I had been to that particular swim centre I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't be able to get to where I needed to go. One of the coaches, we'll call her L, was fabulous. She guided me on to the pool deck and basically forced others to take up her lead. I really think she will be a vital player in mine and Emily's success. L was the one who finally made the decision to move me over into the faster lane and also set the stage for people to be at ease with my disability: L didn't care and therefore no one else should.
Besides last night serving as a practice, it also was an assessment of my stroke and physical abilities at this stage. L put a water proof camera in the bottom of the pool so that she could analyze my stroke later and we had a good talk at the end of the session on how I felt during the sets. I told her quite honestly that it felt good, but that the longer, faster sets were a bit of a struggle; not anything I couldn't work through though.
All in all, I think training with the Edinburgh Road Club is going to be incredibly beneficial. Practicing with others always gives you some direction and also pushes you to work hard. If I had not been swimming behind that other swimmer, feeling the bubbles her feet made, I'm not sure I would have pushed myself so hard. It's that little bit of extra effort that will get Emily and I to our ultimate goal of competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games.