By Renee Collett
Waking up at 5:00am to jump into a chilled 79° pool for 4 hours, everyday, would have an adverse effect on anyone, right? Well, this was the morning routine that I followed for nearly 11 years as an elite synchronized swimmer. For all 11 of those years, I could not imagine starting my day any other way. That is, until I retired from the sport. Now, the thought of waking up before sunrise to strenuously exercising for hours on end in an ice bath is completely repulsive. In fact, submerging myself into any cold body of water seems like a punishment. After years of following this routine of actions, staying dry and warm is all I ever want to do.
I used to describe myself as a fish out of water. I loved to swim. I loved cannonballing into pools. I loved practicing handstands in the shallow end. I loved simply wading in the water and staring aimlessly up at the bright blue sky. But when I made my love for swimming a full time job, those feelings shifted. I began detesting water and anything related to aquatics.
When I stopped synchronized swimming, it took me almost a year to muster up the courage and just dip my toe into a pool, ocean, or lake. If the water wasn’t the temperature of a warm shower or a hot tub, I refused to enter. Feeling the cold of water reminds me of feeling tired, confused, and achey. It reminds me of forcing my body to exercise instead of dancing through the waves like I did as a kid.
I have a pool in my backyard and when I was younger, I would feel such joy from swimming in it. But when I became a competitive synchronized swimmer, I forced myself into that pool for reasons that didn’t bring me joy. I felt obligated to practice synchro in my pool; my once humble abode turned into a mind-torturing chasm of water. Until recently, I avoided my pool. Yet I have been working hard to change my thought processing. I’ve been trying to welcome my thoughts without judgment, regardless of how positive or negative they are. I want my thoughts and actions to come from a place of love and compassion. And what better way to start this new practice than by mending my relationship with the water in my childhood safe haven.
Whilst lying outside, basking in the August sun, the heat became unbearable. I was dripping in sweat and my body craved cool relief. I acknowledged my yearn for this cooling while staring at my pool, which became more and more enticing. Without thinking about how cold the water would feel once I jumped in or about the painful memories that of 5am practice sessions that would arise, I decided to go for it. I got up from my lounge chair, walked over to the deep end of the pool, closed my eyes, and dove in. Instantly, my body thanked me. I was welcomed back to my second home— the water. Before I knew it, I was swimming laps of breaststroke and backstroke in my pool…not in a competitive, exercise-like way. My body was just moving through the water without any restrictions from goggles, noseclips, or a bathing cap. It was truly a spiritual moment.
When I was younger (before my synchro days), I used to pretend I was a mermaid and swim through my pool in slow motion, feeling my hair drag through the water and using my legs to propel me from one end to the other. Oddly enough, during my most recent swim, I found myself playing mermaid. This wasn’t a 5:00am practice. No one was telling me to stay in the water for the entire 4 scheduled hours. I was allowed to push off of the bottom of the pool without being reprimanded. And when I felt my body get cold and tired, I was able to exit the pool.
I am slowly mending my aquatic relationship and seeing my water-loving, fish-like self resurface (no pun intended).