From the vaults – A life in lengths, July 2011

In May, 2011, I broke my left wrist and was in a cast for 6 weeks. In Dec. 2015, I broke my left ankle and have been in a cast these past 6 weeks. Since I’m now faced with restoring the strength and muscles of an appendage, once again, I realize that my very best means of exercise is still to swim. I was reminded of this post I wrote about what an important part of my life water, and swimming, have always been. And always will be.

So, here I am swimming for exercise …


No, Wait!! HERE I am swimming …


Astrologically I’m Cancer – a water sign. I don’t remember learning to swim. My family bought our cottage the year I was born, so I spent every summer there until I was old enough to work and stay in the city. I do remember living in the water most of that time, swimming in the lake as early as Easter weekend, and driving my Mom nuts if the ice hadn’t quite melted. We wore bathing suits from the moment we got out of bed in the morning until we had to go back to bed at night, At least, that’s how it seemed.

It’s funny … we lived in The Beach in Toronto, south of Queen St. and less than a block away from the boardwalk and sand next to Lake Ontario, yet my best memories of swimming are always from when we were at the cottage.

Mom was scared of water and never put her head under, but Dad could float – with his hands behind his head and his feet crossed, as though he were relaxing on a lounger. I can do this, too, so I figure I inherited my swimming gene from Dad.

When I was in Grade 3, an indoor pool was built as part of the new senior public school, Glen Ames, next door to our elementary school, Williamson Road. Lucky me! Grade 3 students were given swimming lessons – once a week, I think it was. Plus that same pool was open in the evenings and weekends for *free* swimming. I loved Toronto! The public pools were free to use, just like our lake up north in the summer.

Malvern Collegiate also had a pool, plus the bonus of a speed swimming team and synchronized swimming lessons. I’m a strong swimmer, but was never that fast, so 5th Place in Toronto one year (out of a field of 6) was my best showing. I can swim distances though and I like nothing better than swimming lengths. We did try to swim across South Lake once or twice, too. What an achievement that we made it! So while I continued on the swim team for a few years, and endured early morning practices during the winter months, I still preferred solitary swimming.

I became a lifeguard and eventually took the swimming instructors’ course, but soon learned I wasn’t cut out to teach kids – anything. The lifeguarding was cool though and paid very well indeed. Certainly much better than what my friends made by babysitting. In Grade 13, I even got the job guarding the school pool during my free periods. (I recently met up with one of the male gym teachers at a Malvern reunion. When I told him I’d had this cushy job of guarding the pool, he said, “You’re the reason the boys had to start wearing suits in swim class!” Ahem!) The best part of guarding and teaching, though, was when we kicked everyone out of the pool, they went home, and I had the pool to myself for a while. Heaven!

Off to university, and I was thrilled that our student fees at Queen’s gave us free access to all sports facilities, including a fairly new Olympic-sized pool. I discovered early on that, if I swam lengths immediately before writing an exam, I could calm myself down and focus much better than if I studied right up to the last minute.

Moving to Calgary was a shock – there were many pools in the city, but… I had to pay to swim!!! I didn’t swim here for many years. Just too cheap to pay for something that had always been free to me. Someone gave me a City of Calgary Parks and Recreation card that still had 4 visits on it. I was going to go back to swimming again, for exercise, but then fell and broke my wrist. After 6 weeks in a cast I was finally able to get into the water this past Monday. I’ve been swimming lengths for three days now and I feel great! 30 lengths each day on Monday and Tues. Up to 36 today. And I’m not pushing it either. Plus my wrist is already feeling better. Bonus!

But the best part of swimming lengths, for me, is that I can either turn off my brain and just count the number of lengths as I complete them, or I can think, think, think things through. For some reason, I’ve come up with some of my best ideas whenever I’m in contact with water – doing dishes, showering, swimming. For instance, this blog post was conceived and written in my head while I was in the pool this morning. Highly frustrating though when paper & pen or computer don’t work as well under water. And to try to remember my thoughts until I can dry my hands does not always happen for me. So I just have to hope that, if it truly is a brilliant idea, it will last or at least return when I’m able to do something about it.

So, Woohoo! for the exercise I’m finally getting, and for the calming effect that swimming lengths has on my mind, emotions and life – not to mention the couple of pounds I’ve already lost. Like J. Alfred, I’m measuring out my life, but with pool lengths rather than coffee spoons.

Since I wrote this blog post, someone has come up with this brilliant idea for AquaNotes! Perfect for someone like me!!


10 responses

  1. Janice J. Richardson

    Grew up in Kingston too – we had the beach and the Y and Queen’s facilities, all any water baby could want. It was idyllic. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Janice! (As any good Queen’s alum would, I want to ask if you’re related to the Richardson Stadium Richardsons …)

  2. We too had a cottage growing up and swimming came as naturally as breathing. We didn’t, however, have more than one bathing suit, so though some were comfy putting on a wet one, I had to wait for it to dry. Coincidentally, I grew up by the Lake (Ontario) in Mimico/Etobicoke, and can’t ever remember swimming in the Lake. Too cold/smelly, as I recall?

    1. Yes, there were times when Lake Ontario on the east side of Toronto reeked quite a bit, but we were always at the cottage during the summer months anyway, so seldom swam in the Big Lake.

  3. So sorry to hear about your broken wrist and ankle. But it was interesting learning how much you loved the water as you were growing up. Good for you that you are getting back into it. If water inspires ideas, then this looks like a great idea!

  4. They say that’s the best way. Funnily enough, my son never knew I was afraid of the water until long after he learned to swim and he was never afraid.

  5. Oh, I envy you your swimming prowess. I was scared of the water (despite being a Cancerian) and was an adult before I finally ‘learnt’ to swim. I can do a rather elegant breaststroke, with my head held well out of the water. I still hate putting my head underwater or being out of my depth. One day, I’ll conquer my fear and learn to swim properly.

    1. I was very fortunate to be thrown into the deep end, so to speak, long before I knew fear.

  6. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Susan Toy on the joys of swimming.. I swam virtually every day from mid-may to end of September last year and loved it.. I began swimming at 18 months..How about you? Head over to Susan’s post and tell your story.

    1. Thanks for reblogging, Sally!

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