Saving Minnie Mouse

Allow me to tell you a story about this little weirdo. She loved her Minnie Mouse swimsuit and wore it a lot, but oddly enough she didn’t wear it to go swimming often because she couldn’t swim. Her mum had tried to teach her, but she wasn’t a strong swimmer herself so instead she invested in swimming lessons for her daughter. Now this was a long, long time ago, but the little weirdo can still remember one lesson in particular very clearly.

One week the class was learning to float on their backs and the swimming teacher knelt down by the edge of the pool and said, “Try and keep your belly above the water. You don’t want Minnie Mouse to drown.” Well, the little weirdo tried her hardest, but she just couldn’t keep Minnie Mouse out of the water. She felt useless and knew she’d never be able to swim.

I can’t remember how many lessons I had in the end (yes, I’M the little weirdo), but I made up my mind that I couldn’t swim and that was that. Even when we had lessons in primary school, I accidentally touched the bottom of the pool when I was being tested for my 10m award and felt guilty that I received the badge. I didn’t deserve to get it. I found it a few months ago and still had that feeling of guilt and uselessness.

I’ve never been afraid of the water as such and I’ve always enjoyed messing around the pool (play responsibly kids!). My dad and step-mum have a pool so many a weekend has been spent playing catch or having water flights and even partaking in night time dips in the rain. I’ve also had two great holidays at Centre Parcs with my friends where a big part of our days would be spent chilling in the various pools, doing a swimming style conga down the rapids and daring each other to go in the freezing cold plunge pool.

One thing I wouldn’t do very often though would be to go down the flumes or the slides. I’ve never liked the sensation of getting water up my nose and I’d definitely panic slightly (OK, a lot) if I suddenly realised that I couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool. So I would stay clear of anything that might put me in those situations.

I think our trips to Centre Parcs were what made me take swimming lessons again in my last year at uni. I signed up for ten weeks and I didn’t miss a single one. I wasn’t great at the end, and felt a little embarrassed when I heard my friends cheering me on in my last lesson, but I felt proud too. I’d done something to take control.

Fast forward 12 years and at the beginning of June I signed up for the Summer Shape-Up at my local leisure centre. Three-month all-inclusive membership for £99. Bargain. But only if you use it! I’d signed up in the past and always wasted the opportunity. Not this time! I wasn’t going to put pressure on myself to go to the gym every day because I knew it wasn’t realistic and I’d get bored. Instead I’d go to the gym twice a week and go swimming twice a week. It was time to learn to swim.

I still remember going the first time and thinking after what a waste of time it would be. My technique was appalling and I could only swim for about ten minutes before feeling worn out. But I didn’t stop. At first I worked on swimming half lengths. I was still very nervous about other swimmers splashing water up my nose which would lead to me flailing about and panicking that I couldn’t touch the bottom. I told myself that when I was able to swim 20 half-lengths, I would have the stamina to attempt a full length.

While all this was going on I had started having coaching sessions as part of my coaching diploma. I didn’t really know what I’d talk about in my required six sessions, but my coach Carol-Ann Reid has an amazing knack for asking you about your day/week/fortnight/month and picking up on a gesture or hesitation, digging a bit deeper and asking if you’d like to take the topic further.

And so one session I found myself telling her the story that I told you fine people at the beginning of this post. I told her about the little weirdo and her beloved pink swimsuit with Minnie Mouse wearing a burgundy, polka dot bow and I told her about that small, insignificant comment that my swimming teacher made all those years ago.

Except it wasn’t insignificant. I’d held on to those words for three decades. Together Carol-Ann and I worked through it and she helped me to realise why those words had had such a deep impact on me. To that little weirdo, Minnie Mouse was as real as her family, friends or some random person she saw in town. It didn’t matter that she was a cartoon character or even that she was just a representation of that character. If I didn’t float, Minnie Mouse would drown. Drown means die. If I couldn’t float then the only way to protect Minnie Mouse would be not to try to learn to swim anymore.

It was a revelation. How had I not realised this myself? I must be stupid, right?! That’s the power of coaching though. Sometimes it takes someone completely removed from the situation to shed some light and make things clearer. Carol-Ann didn’t stop there though. She worked some NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) voodoo on me and helped me to visualise that little weirdo learning to swim with confidence.

Well, that was a couple of months ago and this morning I swam 20 full lengths. Without stopping. That’s 660m! I can’t even run that far without slowing down to a walk at the moment. It’s not the first time I’ve done it – I think I’ve managed it twice before – but the fact that I go swimming twice a week and I ENJOY it is something I never imagined would happen.

The other week someone splashed water up my nose and two things happened. Well, three actually. The first was that I started flailing about like a loon. The second was that I realised I couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool, but it didn’t matter because I was treading water with ease. The third was that I blew the air out of my nose and the water came with it. Panic over. I’ve got this. I’m a swimmer, don’t you know!

I was telling someone this story the other day and they said, “You’ll be doing triathlons soon!” I pointed that I can’t ride a bike and they pointed out that I couldn’t really swim a few weeks ago. Touché! I guess that’s the next thing to tackle. But while I’m working on that, I might just take a closer look into the Swim Serpentine event that was in my parkrun newsletter. The half mile is only another four lengths, give or take...

I'll do another blog post soon about the power of coaching, but for now I'll leave this Instagram-post-turned-blog-post with the wise words of Marshall Mathers III - You can do anything you set you mind to, man. I'm proof! (That last bit was me, not Eminem!)
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  1. YAY! Well done! By the way you are too cute in that swimsuit!!

    1. Thank you lovely lady. I do rock a swimsuit, especially a Minnie Mouse one!