~by Judi Rich, Dynoswimmer
“To plunge into the water, to move one’s whole body, from head to toe, in its wild and graceful beauty; to twist about in its pure depths, this is for me a delight only comparable to love.”
~Paul Valéry, French poet and critic
At 41 years of age, I finally found, once again, what had been missing for so long in my life—swimming. Not just going out back and wading in the pool or doing a few laps on my own; or going to the beach and doing a few dozen laps between lifeguard stands—but getting back on a team and doing “real structured workouts”. Being around others who also share my passion of swimming, who encourage me, and who love the water as much as I do. Swimming alone just doesn’t compare to being on a team and for 13 years I had been searching for just that—a masters team that is supportive, that competes and who would challenge my abilities.
It was a Thursday afternoon and I had gone to Frieda Zamba to look into a team for my 8-year-old son, Michael. I spoke to Eileen and after a few minutes of talking about youth teams and lessons—masters swimming came up. She told me that there was now a team in Palm Coast who swam right there at Frieda Zamba—Dynoswim. When I left the pool, I was so ecstatic that I immediately called my mom, my sister, my husband and a few friends along the way to the sporting goods store. It had been over 17 years since I swam on a team (my early to mid-20s)—but I knew that if I wanted to take control of my life and start living a healthier lifestyle, I would have to start swimming seriously again. I would need the discipline and encouragement that a team could offer to keep me focused enough to continue. The very next day—Friday, May 12, 2006—I showed up for practice. I introduced myself to Dean, founder/head coach of Dynoswim Aquatics, and my very first question to him was, “Do you compete?” When he said yes—I knew this was the team for me. I told him that I hadn’t swam competitively in nearly 20 years, that I was very out of shape (noticeably so), stressed out at work and a smoker. I remember him telling me that one of the first things I’d need to do was quit smoking—which I knew and was planning on doing. Then he asked, “When can you start?” I replied, “Now.” I had come prepared—my suit was on, my goggles and cap in hand and I was ready to dive in and swim. I will never forget my first practice. Oh my—I thought I’d die. Dean put me in a lane that I didn’t think I belonged in. He obviously had more faith in me than I did. I couldn’t believe how “out of shape” I actually was, gasping for air with every stroke and did my best to just make it through that entire practice. Well, I made it through that practice and the following day’s practice. From that point on, I knew that this is where I was meant to be. It took another 4 weeks until I completely quit smoking and when I did—the improvements were dramatic. This was awesome. A team built on a philosophy I totally believed in and could relate to. A team that believed that anyone, at any age and at any level could benefit from swimming and swim for life. A lifestyle.
As a child, swimming was just that—my lifestyle. For as long as I can remember, swimming had been a very large part of my life. At a young age, I had taken swimming lessons, lifeguard and CPR training. Growing up at the Jersey shore and living on the water had made swimming accessible and an important part of my childhood. I was fortunate enough to grow up swimming, boating, sailing, waterskiing, crabbing, fishing—along with the many other joys of seaside living. Long swims up and down the lagoons (canals) were part of my daily (seasonal) routine. High dives off of the flying bridge of my dad’s 27-foot wooden boat or off the dock’s pilings were my starts. Hours upon hours of swimming, diving and doing flips were definitely my favorite past times. And I would race anyone who was up to the challenge. Any time, any place, any stroke (except fly). I wasn’t training for anything or even part of a team—I just enjoyed it and it kept me busy and feeling “alive”. I never thought of it as “working out” which kept it fun and interesting. It was a place where I could be one with the water. No rules, no pressures, no stress. A place where I could go and think; or just zone out.
In addition to swimming, I did a lot of sailing out in the Barnegat Bay. Sailing was another way of getting away from everything—it was peaceful, quiet and serene, and exciting. Many times I would start out on a beautiful sunny morning to get caught up in the typical Jersey shore lightning storms. When the wind and current would pull me away from getting back home—I would take down the sail and mast (the lightning rod), tie the line around my ankle and swim my boat home. Along with the many pulling sets of swimming my sailboat home—I would also do long swims throughout the lagoons. I would disappear for hours. My mom would send the boys across the lagoon out looking for me in their little motorized boat. They would throw me a life jacket, per my mother’s instructions, that I would either toss back at them or tie around my ankle and continue to swim. If I got bored of the lagoons, I would venture out into the bay. Not realizing it at the time—all this was gearing me up for a lifelong passion for swimming and a major stress reliever down the road.
It wasn’t until years later, in my early twenties, a family friend was visiting and saw me doing my daily ritual. Her name is Maureen and she was in her mid-thirties and swam for the Ocean County YMCA masters swim team. She said I was good and should join the team. I had only swam on a team for a very brief period in high school and was a little skeptical of my abilities. I didn’t even know how to do flip turns. Goggles? Who wore goggles? After giving it some thought, I decided to check it out. Well, that was one of the best life decisions I could have made. Quickly I started improving and, by necessity, quit smoking. It didn’t take me long to move up into one of the fast lanes. For once in my life, I was good at a sport—really good. A sport I could take pride in. I found competing fun and invigorating. A bit intimidating at first—yet gratifying. I remember being one of the youngest at the meets (most kids my age were away at college) and not having a lot of competition. So placing was almost inevitable—but was what I needed at that point in my life. A real confidence booster.
My swimming career was short lived once I took a job in NYC and joined the millions of other commuters. A few years later, I joined the team again while working part-time and going back to college. The college coach even let me practice with their team, although I wasn’t a full-time student and couldn’t compete. I was in one of the slower lanes there—but that didn’t discourage me. Actually, it was another motivator. A challenge. However, I ended up leaving the team once again when I began commuting.
It will be almost two years with Dynoswim and I feel great. Swimming has helped me regain my health, boost my confidence and rekindle my passion for life. It has “awakened” me physically, mentally and spiritually. I am eating better, feeling better, involved in other healthy activities such as running and biking and am surrounding myself with others who not only share the same interests but who also look at life in a positive way rather than the negative. Instead of seeing obstacles—seeing challenges to learn and grow from. It has given me the confidence and inner-strength to keep me from my self-destructive habits such as smoking. I have learned to deal with stress in a much healthier way and I feel more energized and alive. Swimming has also opened up so many opportunities and life challenges that I would have never thought possible. If someone would have told me a year ago, I’d enter a 5K open water race on an extremely rough day to place 3rd in my age group, I would have never believed him.
Last November, I went to Liechtenstein for a 24-hour relay. Another challenge worth all its hard work and an experience I will never forget. That race continues to remind me that you can do anything you set your mind to. No challenge is too big, too small or out of reach. You are never too old to take control of your life and turn it around. You can find strength from within to stop your bad habits and find new healthier ones that you will learn to love.
These experiences have brought so much more to me as a mom too. Michael, now age 9, taking pride in my accomplishments, and bragging at school how his mom flew to Germany and swam in a 24-hour race. That in itself keeps me motivated, along with watching him swim and having him come home all excited after a great day at practice. I may not be an Olympic athlete, not even close—but being a “hero” in my son’s eyes has made me feel like a champion. A hero in my own right—a Mom.
I can honestly say I’m in the best shape of my life (well, I was in November). I can swim further and stronger then I ever have before, my technique has improved tremendously and I’m a more confident swimmer. I love the challenges that being on a team has to offer along with the camaraderie and the support. It’s just the motivation that I need to stay focused and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. For all you swimmers (or non-swimmers) out there who haven’t been in a pool in years—I challenge you to take control of your life and search out a team in your community and just swim. No pressure, no races, no superhuman powers—just swim. And have fun doing it. Before you know it you will be feeling younger, looking younger and maybe even acting younger but most of all—you will be a much healthier you and a better person overall. A hero.
But beware—it is addicting.
Nice article, Judi. I am fortunate to count you as a friend.
Your enthusiasm is very motivating and has helped the team tremendously. We are lucky to have you.
Hey Jude, Wow, I am so impressed with this news and incredibly proud of you!I love you and miss you! Cousin Kathy