Sunday, January 12, 2014

"The Girls" May Try to Break for Freedom

The photo above shows the pool North Central High School, 
where I usually go to swim on Saturdays with other 
members of Indy Aquatics Masters. Snow and extreme cold 
had closed schools and most of the pools where IAM 
practice sessions are held, so that meant a lot of  people,
including children from area schools showed up 
to swim. The place was crowded and noisy all morning
with the purposeful flurry of people swimming laps,
back and forth as they performed drills intended 
to improve their conditioning and times.

I'd missed quite a bit of time in the pool over the past
month, so have been feeling the effort more
than usual. My weight loss has been stagnant, too,
so I feel the need to return to my routine.
Nevertheless, one of the other members gave me an 
encouraging word the other night, when he remarked that
he noticed how much stronger I've been swimming.
He's an experienced triathlete, a man who's competed 
in ten Iron Man triathlons so his comment meant a lot to me.
After Saturday's practice, I looked in the mirror 
to notice that my swimsuit has started to get baggy, 
so was both pleased and dismayed to see how much 
the suit had loosened around my boobs.
It was an additional month before my last suit began to 
cling to my body, instead of compressing it.
I bought my present one just a couple months ago!
Seriously, just eight weeks ago.  And they're not cheap;
the last one cost just over $100, including shipping.

It took me a while to earn the money to buy my suit,
and wore the old one longer than I should have; while 
I kept telling myself that our coaches have seen a nipple or 
two during their lives, it wasn't long before 
I was myself too embarrassed to wear the damn thing
one more time. So the upshot is this: since June,
between dieting and swimming, I've gone through three
suits, with a fourth to come in the next few weeks. 
I have another one in a drawer that I tried on 
and it is now a bit too large, as well.
Besides, it's not suitable for the kind of swimming 
I do, being too low cut. I'd probably come 
out of it altogether - or in the altogether.
I'm sure it'd be a real scene to have The Girls' 
noses peeping from under the shelter of the 
suit's Mossy Break-up camouflage print.
I love that print and wish Speedo or Tyr
would make a suit from it. No such luck, I guess. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Social Behavior Adaptations Needed

Illustration borrowed from smokefree(dot)gov
When asked why I want to lose weight, I generally ask whether 
the person wants the politically correct reason or the truth.
The PC reason, of course, is "for my health" and,
while it is legitimate because of concerns about high cholesterol
and the possibility of developing Type 2 diabetes,
the truth is I am tired of being invisible, invisible to men 
and to prospective employers.
But especially to men.

All my life, I've dealt with issues related to my body image. 
Basically, I had/have none. As a child, my brother, sister 
and I were neglected, unkempt and unwashed. 
I was rarely addressed by my name; classmates 
called me "Stinky," "Cootie," or "Scag." 
Until I was well into my 20's I was often called ugly to my face. 
At the age most girls begin dating, it was clear to me 
that the boys I liked would not be paying attention to me 
because, well, I was, of course, ugly
Confused and insecure, I could tell you more 
about the fantasy world I wove for myself 
than I could any details of my everyday life.

One summer during college, I watched television coverage
of the Russian gymnasts competing in the Olympic Games. 
The women had beautifully sculpted bodies, 
like racing Thoroughbreds, honed and lean from years 
spent in the gym. It occurred to me that, 
if weight training helped to create the gymnasts' looks, 
it could do the same for me.

I went to the strength coach at my university,
a middle-aged man who worked with football players, 
gymnasts, and wrestlers. Of course, he'd never
before worked with a woman. Coach Bill developed a routine 
for me, basically the same as the men were doing,
but with lighter weights and more repetitions.
In order to avoid developing bulk, he added a lot
of stretching exercises to increase my flexibility.

Over the next year, I lost about twenty pounds. 
There must have been dramatic changes
in my appearance, but I never saw them myself, not
in a mirror (that I can recall) nor in a photograph.
I just remember what the measuring tape
told me, 38-25-38, and the fact that nice-looking
men were coming out of nowhere to hit on me.
Having very little social experience to speak of,
I had no way of knowing that men who say
nice words weren't necessarily nice men.

I had worked hard in the gym only to find that I was
experiencing the opposite end of the same stick;
at one end was the chubby girl who was seen as "easy"
because she'd be grateful for the attention,
and at the other end was the young woman who was 
"asking for it" because she was fit and took care of herself.
The worst of these experiences involved an episode
of date rape that left me physically injured, very ill,
and traumatized. I retreated into my shell and,
while I maintained my conditioning for many years,
I rarely went out and became wrapped up in work,
going out on very few dates.

Many years later, the toned and shapely woman
disappeared into obesity brought on by a sit-down
job as a customer service rep for the IRS. My co-workers
and I were under the control of a management staff
that created and maintained a very toxic working
environment. I gained weight so fast I was in
constant pain, topping out at about 275 pounds.
I retired as soon as I was able, preferring poverty
to slowly dying at my desk.

Last spring, with the help of my doctor and
a dietitian, I began to lose weight. A big part of my
success so far has been due to the swimming I do.
But I again I find myself having to face old demons
as the rats come out of the cracks in the walls.
When I returned to my part-time job last November
 for an assignment, men who could not have been
bothered with me in May suddenly found a "new girl."
One man, of whom I am a bit scared, was offended that
I didn't want to go out with him. He didn't know why
I should be afraid of him because he couldn't
recall ever speaking to me. Uh-huh.
I shared the same lunch table with him on two or three
occasions just last spring. Apparently, I was "invisible,"
but as I emerge from my lard cocoon, my existence
may be acknowledged.

So ... how do I learn to handle this?
Listening to my instincts has helped me to avoid
trouble in the past, but how to I develop
a gracious way of avoiding bad feelings in the future?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Start

Red toe buds, painted because I'm acquiring some sense of feminine identity.
Wouldn't have done it as a habit earlier, but now I do and take pleasure in it.
A co-worker recently asked me how I had gone about 
losing nearly seventy pounds since last April. 
After I'd told him a bit of my story he said he found it 
inspiring and felt that I should write about my journey 
and the places it has been taking me. 
I decided I should start another blog because it would give me 
a place to keep notes about my observations and experiences.
It's not going to be about weight loss and recipes as much 
as it will be about swimming and the journey 
I make towards achieving my goals:
to have a sleek, healthy body and to be able to swim 
one-half mile in less than thirty minutes.

This picture, taken in September of 2007,
shows me weighing in at 275 pounds, which is about the same
weight I was when I began this odyssey in March 2013.
I didn't have any other photos of myself where I wasn't hiding
behind other people in a group, last row on the end.
At this time last year, I would have not been able to make it to the end 
of a 25-meter pool without difficulty. I looked very much as
I did in the above picture when I approached an Indianapolis Aquatic
Masters coach about joining his group at the IUPUI Natatorium.
I'd seen swimmers wearing black caps, swimming back and forth a few
lanes from me, whose relaxed swimming resembled sleek, black 
seals. When I asked Craig how I could learn to swim like that
he said, "Show up." No, I meant do I have to meet a certain time
standard or be able to swim certain strokes (i.e., the butterfly)?
"No," he said, "we'll help you with that."
And repeated, "Show up."

A few weeks later, I began doing just that, starting with two times 
a week, then three, quickly progressing to four sessions 
a week. I am now looking to add a fifth day.
I wouldn't have thought it at first, because I had a difficult time
just getting the skill and confidence to swim one length
of the Natatorium's 50-meter pool. I frustrated Craig, who
came to me with techniques and tricks designed
to help me with my stroke. Craig was very happy as I began
to show progress; he is an outgoing, exuberant man who
loves teaching and it showed with every little bit
of success I've shown him. 

This photo was taken by IAM Founder and Assistant Coach,
Mel Goldstein at the first day of the IAM 100 X 100 Swims. I am not
in this photo as I gave out after about two hours.
Overall, as the pounds have fallen away, I've seen my body 
change, becoming firm and strong. My step and 
posture have changed as I become increasingly confident.
Joining IAM has been one of the best things 
I've done for myself. Ever. 
I've never known such a group of positive, supportive 
people. I've gone from having little panic attacks 
each time I approached the pool, to being able 
to swim about two hours. I've gone from wondering 
whether I might ever be able to accomplish any goals, 
to looking forward to new challenges, trying to 
perform whatever new tests the coaches 
ask me to learn, as well as those I set for myself.

Swim a half mile in under thirty minutes, 
as well as be able to complete two-and-a-half miles?
Let's see what the year brings as I work 
to achieve that goal.