From the age of seven until twenty-two, I was a competitive swimmer. At fifteen I was the lead on my high school's 400 freestyle relay team at the 1979 Washington State swimming championships. We won the event and became All-Americans. In college, I swam a mile under twenty minutes, the 50-yard freestyle in 24 seconds and the 100-yard freestyle in 54 seconds. I placed second at NAIA regionals in the 400 individual medley having never swum it before. At least once in my life I swam nine miles in one day. On most other days I swam four or more miles, and lifted weights. I bench pressed 135 pounds. And while there were periods in my swimming career when I might have been considered decently fast, by no means was I elite, though I swam with and against a couple of Olympians.
All of my time in the pool made treading water effortless for me. I could tread holding both hands above my head for minutes at a time without tiring, and could sculpt the water with my hands well enough to keep afloat without using my legs.
Last night, after our son Calvin suffered a second grand mal seizure in just over two days, it occurred to me that living with the nightmare of epilepsy feels like treading water in quicksand. Relentless seizures make it difficult to keep my head above water—to get enough sleep, to hold anxiety at bay, to catch a breather once in a while, to keep my child safe, to avoid sinking in a sea of despair.
Before Calvin, a life immersed in competitive swimming presented some of my most difficult challenges. The pain was relentless. Dreaded and grueling workouts began at ungodly hours. Rest between sets was fleeting. The torture lasted for weeks, months, years. Competition proved to be nerve-racking. Defeats were dispiriting. Much of the time the suffering outweighed the joy. At times, triumphs were few and far between, leading me to wonder if it was worth all of the suffering.
In a strange way, swimming has steeled me for this marathon of caring for my non-verbal, legally blind, incontinent, physically and intellectually impaired, chronically ill teenager. All those years in the pool taught me the meaning and value of commitment and hard work, made me strong, tenacious and resilient, and enabled me to discover just how capable—physically and emotionally—I am both in calm, clear waters and in raging seas.
|Photo by Lisa Kolster|