Apart from the customary 9 months upon my arrival in this world, my very first experience with losing gravity inside a body of water was at Baile Felix (Oradea, Romania) when I was 8 years old. To lose contact with the ground and let your feet do the first desperate kicking, in order to maintain yourself above water is to find, or more likely, to regain a new skill that can give you, for the rest of your life – even while naked -, one of the most satisfying super-powers on Earth. If you strip humans from clothes, gadgets, or any other advanced (internet savvy) technology, the other powerful things left to do is run, jump, walk or crawl.

Super girl at 8! Not bad! Except I never had real swimming lessons. My sister pushed me inside the pool and I did my best not to drown, kicking with all my force to arrive at safety on the other side.

20 years later my swimming skills were not much different. All I could kick was 4-5 strokes and quick put my feet on the ground. I lacked endurance and most of all I needed to learn breathing techniques. My super-woman dream was to be able to swim uninterrupted for hours and hours without getting tired. I thought about walking and how easy it is for us humans to walk for hours and I imagined myself swimming for hours without tiring.

In order to reach “excellency” we need at least 10,000 hours of practice they say. But what if you practice 10,000 hours with no professional guidance? I still didn’t take a swim coach. Instead, after a near drown experience I had in the deepest dam I ever swam in my life (Applegate Dam in Jacksonville, Oregon) I decided to buy a belt and practice inside a pool where my feet could always touch the ground.

And so I started to time myself hoping to reach my target goal of 40 minutes uninterrupted swimming. All I had to do was kick my arms and legs and never touch the ground with my feet.

Swimming in place is one of the most excruciatingly boring experiences possible. The scenery was frozen in time, but my arms and legs were forced to kick constantly so I won’t lose my challenge to reach 40 minutes without touching the ground. My breathing was irregular, my legs started to feel the effort and my arms were taking turns of single arm strokes, constantly grabbing the belt that felt more and more uncomfortable around my waist. But I did not give in! I did not touch the ground for 40 minutes!

What happened next was probably the most exhilarating thing ever produced by my own brain up to that point: a major rush of endorphins invaded my entire body and I entered a zone of some sort of Nirvana where the trees were greener and the sky was bright blue and the sun was shining in multicolored fireworks and my body felt like a feather and the next possible thing was floating or walking on air or something very similar with flying, all these while my feet finally touched the ground and I was  out of breath, exhausted and happy like a new born entering another dimension … My first 40 minutes of uninterrupted swimming gave me my very first (and never produced again) “endorphin rush” (also known as “runner’s high”).

20 years later, with no major breaks, I try to swim my 40 minutes at least 3 – 4 times a week. Summers are pure bliss when I ‘m back in Oregon in the middle of the Applegate Dam. Gliding at the surface of the lake, with eagles and hawks flying above, fish jumping out of the water, trying to catch insects, somewhere in between hunters and prey I’m engulfed, for 40 minutes at the time, inside Earth’s amniotic fluid. My pool routine is very simple: I jump in (more like I immerse myself in) and go. I never got to swim like a pro. My technique is still my own, a breaststroke that keeps my head above the water, trying to maintain my 40 minutes flow no matter what. That means that if I have other swimmers in front of me and I have to slow down for them, I do a 180 move and change direction. I can swim in circles or laps, I pretty much don’t care as long as I can keep my 40 minutes flow uninterrupted. Most people count their laps I guess, they have their own routine, flow and techniques, but for me it’s 40 minutes on the dot and I’m out.

Occasionally some rare specimens dive into the pool, joining us mortals, displaying their perfect techniques along with their perfect bodies and over-practiced confidence, and out of the blue, I seem to be swimming with more poise and grace, force and confidence, trying to emulate their craftsmanship, but most of the time my routine includes me and only me, with my thoughts going places and my dreams and plans finding solutions, words rushing inside unwritten notebooks, (for some reason inspiration always hits while I’m in the water).

My ambition to swim 40 minutes of uninterrupted sessions opened doors towards other techniques that have nothing to do with swimming. Allowing my body to forcefully engage in routine motions, while my brain is chasing trains of thoughts, all while my feet don’t touch the ground, must have something to do with levitational meditation. My mind is tranquil, yet my body is floating forcefully above ground. The other swimmers are little obstacles that make me change my swimming direction in so many ways, it never gets boring.

The belt is no longer keeping me strapped at the edge of the pool. I float (swim) in each and every direction that allows me to maintain my flow. And when I finish …. well, I don’t get that endorphin rush like that first time, but I feel relief and jolts of joy invade my toes anticipating the hot shower waiting for me in the girls’ locker room …

To be continued …

◊ ◊ ◊

Gabriela Watts was born in Prundu Bârgăului, Bistrița-Năsăud, lives in Bucharest, Romania and spends her holidays in Oregon, USA.  She is a dedicated swimmer, a passionate traveler and reader, and loves writing and conversing with intelligent people. In March 2018 she was a guest speaker at a TEDx event organized by Cambridge School of Bucharest. In 2015 her bilingual book “Furia adolescenței / Teenage Rage” was published by RAO Publishing House Bucharest. She is currently working on her second book. 



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