Swimming is the one form of exercise that I’ve continued with, both before and since having MS. I’ve just had to completely rethink my approach to it. I used to race against myself every week, gradually increasing the number of lengths I could do in 30 minutes. I have to admit that I started from an extremely low base, of about two lengths! Let me explain.
When we first married, many moons ago, Pete suggested we went running together. A little apprehensive, I agreed. It was a nightmare! I managed a few hundred metres then collapsed in a heap, weakly waving him on. I was so appalled at the thought of having to repeat the experience that I hastily announced that I would get some exercise by going swimming after work instead.
That was when I remembered that my swimming mainly consisted of splashing about in lakes or the sea on holiday, and that I had barely entered a swimming pool since enduring the mad scrum of school swimming lessons. And so I discovered that I could do about two lengths, max.
However, with regular weekly sessions I was pleased with my steady improvement. I stopped less frequently, and rapidly increased the number of lengths until I reached something of a plateau. I would still push myself each week, trying to squeeze an extra length out of my time, but kept strictly to my 30-minute limit.
After having climbed into the pool weary from my working day I would leave with my head feeling spring cleaned, light and airy.
During that commonly experienced lengthy period between a possible and definite diagnosis of MS, I continued to go swimming but would get frustrated. I would still push myself but sometimes felt like I was barely moving. Then I had some physiotherapy and began the long road to rethinking my approach to … well, most things.
No longer was the idea to push myself to the limit, to keep going until I felt I would burst. Now I was to be kind to my body, resting it regularly so that it could keep going for longer. Pausing; being gentle; conserving energy.
This attitude had to apply to every part of my life, not just swimming. It was (still is) very hard to do! It goes against everything that you’re told. However, I started to give it a go. In the pool, I would swim a length, pause, swim another, get frustrated and swim a few, thinking ha! I can still do it. Then I’d get out and regret it immediately. I’d have no energy for anything. So, next time: swim, pause, swim, pause, try not to look at the clock. Well, I still do half an hour and I still count the number of lengths. But gradually, gradually, I relearnt, and now I keep to the same number of lengths each week. I know that’s the number that works.
And I still get out of the pool feeling great. Well, my head feels great; it tells me that I can do anything. My body, though, is keen to take it easy for the rest of the day. Which brings me to where swimming has landed me.
I came home from swimming the other morning, feeling invincible! It was fantastic; I could do anything I put my mind to! I switched on my computer to find an email about a day arranged by ParalympicsGB to encourage more people with disabilities to try out different sports. Well, I could do that! Before I knew it, I had completed the online form, ticking a wide variety of sports to try … and now I’m off to Sheffield next weekend to try out as many sports as possible, and hopefully meet some paralympic athletes. I expect it will be me and a load of 10-year-olds all hoping to get to Rio – them, not me! At 40-plus-quite-a-few-years-on-top I’m simply hoping to have a fun day out and live out that Olympic and Paralympic motto to Be Inspired!