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Swimming, but sinking

By simetra · Dec 2, 2019 ·
  1. Thinking back to my school years, one of my strongest memories is how utterly untalented I was in all things sport-related. But my sport-problems started even before I entered elementary school, especially with swimming.

    I was perfectly content with my floaties.

    Being in the water was amazing as long as I had my neon orange arm floats strapped on. I could enjoy the feeling of being weightless without having to worry about drowning. My mom did not share that opinion, so on our first trip to Greece, she decided it was time to teach me how to swim. She was optimistic because she had no idea what she had signed up for. After a few failed attempts on several days—during which I acted not much differently from a cat thrown into water unsuspectedly, waving my limbs panic-stricken and swallowing a considerable amount of saltwater—she gave up. After she had stopped trying to make me swim, I had a great rest of the trip floating around.

    Then we started swimming lessons in elementary school.

    I thought I had seen hell when my holiday in Greece was disrupted by having my floaties taken from me. I knew better as soon as I stood next to a swimming pool in a swimsuit with a strawberry pattern, grouped with the few students in my class who hadn’t learned how to swim yet. The teacher, whom I remember being considerate and patient, taught us the moves. First, she showed us what to do with our arms, then, holding on to the pool edge, she did the same with the legwork.

    Up to that point, I was following along easily. But then we had to combine both arm and leg movements and attempt to stay above water. After rocky beginnings, my classmates adapted and learned how to swim. Me? Not so much.

    At the end of the short-term swimming course, the teacher had us all swim a few meters to prove that we were now fit for our first swimming badge, featuring an enthusiastic penguin on it. She gladly gave the badge to all the students (and they were as excited as that penguin) except for me. I had failed to stay above water (and I wasn’t excited, either). I remember her standing in front of us, worriedly examining the badge in her hands, saying to me, “You were making all the right movements. Technically, you were swimming, but you didn’t actually swim.” With a grievous look on her face, she hesitantly handed me the badge nevertheless. She felt uneasy, I was embarrassed, everyone else stared at their penguins or talked among themselves.

    Things got even worse in middle school,

    but first, I wasn’t too concerned about it. I underestimated the demands our PE teacher would put on us and I furthermore overestimated my swimming abilities which I had been able to improve over the summer to the point I could keep my head above water. Even though I knew about Olympic swimming and the different techniques it involves, for some reason I did not expect us to have to learn some of them. Or jump into the pool from the edge without holding our noses closed like swimmers do. Or make turns like swimmers do.

    Needless to say, no miracle occurred. I was by far the worst swimmer among my classmates. Every time we went to the public pool, I experienced a sequence of embarrassing or humiliating moments. Thinking back, I wonder why I did not pick myself up and take swimming lessons in my free time to catch up with my peers. It was probably a mixture of several factors:

    1. I was busy with other school tasks; when I started middle school, I had school on six days of the week.
    2. I was especially occupied with math since it was my biggest weakness apart from sport and I did not want to risk repeating an entire school year just because of one subject.
    3. I had no hope for improvement nor interest in it. In my view, I was beyond hope not only in swimming but in all other aspects of PE as well.
    Until today, not much has changed.

    Luckily, I was able to graduate high school without having had to repeat a single school year throughout my education. My abilities in math and swimming did not improve. It has been around six and a half years since I last had a swim. The reason for that is not so much my limited abilities, but more so the fact that I feel extremely uncomfortable wearing so little fabric in public spaces. I imagine those years not having practiced swimming at all may have had a detrimental effect on the little swimming skills that I had to begin with. I am not sure if I will ever find out, though.

    I wonder whether this might be hinting at autism. I have read that one characteristic of a considerable number of autistic people is general clumsiness, or better put, problems with coordination. On the other hand, I have read a few accounts on autism forums of individuals that love water and swimming, so it does not apply to all people on the spectrum. The most striking thing in my case is the fact that I somehow managed to understand and replicate the necessary movements visually but nevertheless did not achieve the expected outcome—i.e. I did not replicate them effectively—which strongly hints at the aforementioned coordination issues. Additionally, I also never learned to ride a bicycle without stabilizers and neither was I able to put my rollerblades to use outside of the apartment because I could not adapt to uneven ground. Don’t ask me about my experiences with skiing.

    Of course, this is only one of the many aspects of my life I will discuss as my blog develops, and by far not the only reason—and also not the most important one—why I believe I might have ASD. Rather than convince the reader I am autistic, my aim is to connect with people who are diagnosed and willing to share their own experiences on the topics I discuss mainly from my viewpoint and individuals with more expertise in the field who can shed more light on the little information I have picked up along the way. I am always happy to learn from people. Thank you for reading! I hope to see you again soon.

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