Are swimmers and astronauts the same? Are the effects of swimming in a pool and floating in space the same?
Of course, they aren’t exactly the same; swimmers don’t experience loss of blood circulation in their legs, swelling behind their eyes, and loss of muscle mass when they are in the water like astronauts do. But I think the longer we spend outside of our element, the harder it is to regain control over balance, stability and spatial awareness.
When I was younger, I lived in the beautiful mountainous Lake Tahoe, in a small town that extended from the lakeshore up to 10,778 feet: Incline Village.
It was here that I learned the art of skiing, the delicate sport of racing down long avenues of snow marked seemingly haphazardly with red and blue gates. The crisp dinging noise of cowbells sliced through the cold air that pierced through the seams of too-tight speed suits and soaked into uncomfortable ski boots; my five years of racing is an experience I won’t soon forget.
Even before that, when I was 3, I began classical ballet.
Skiing and ballet go hand in hand. They both require strong legs, strong backs, and balance. (I credit my kick to the hours of jumping, squatting and lifting I had to do in both sports).
I still remember the pinch of ballet slippers and pointe shoes, and the rigorous stretching my teacher demanded we do to maintain our fast pace through the Royal Academy of Dance program (RAD).
I enjoyed my 10-year experience with ballet immensely, especially when winter came and rehearsal and recital season swept everyone into a nervous, energetic haze.
Not long after I started skiing and ballet, my mom also signed me up for the recreational swim team in Incline Village.
At first, I was the slowest on the whole team. There was the slow lane, and then there was me, who couldn’t make a 100-yard freestyle in two minutes.
But as I rested on the wall (which I did frequently because I couldn’t make the intervals), I noticed how everyone else seemed to be getting progressively better, both speed and stroke-wise.
That everyone was getting faster while I wasn’t, coupled with my grandparents traveling from the East Coast to come see me for a week and watch me swim, woke up my competitive spirit.
Once I warmed up to the idea of a sport in a pool, I quickly became faster and was devastated to learn that the recreational swim team only practiced during the summer. So my parents looked around for year-round swim teams near Incline Village and found Truckee Tahoe Swim Team (TTST).
Throughout my swimming career, almost every single stroke coach I’ve trained with has said I have an amazing feel for the water, that it looks like I know just where everything is and how my arms, legs, torso and head move.
Chris Oshiro, now head coach of the Arden Hills Swim Team, said my starts were great because of the extent I could point my toes, and Jeff Pearson, the owner of BOOST Swimming, said the way my legs are able to sway back helps with my butterfly.
Nick Baker, founder and head coach of the Peak Performance Swim Camp, was always thrilled about how flexible my back and shoulders were in fly and how far I could press my chest forward while keeping my arms and hips at the surface.
But I digress; I don’t participate in ballet or skiing anymore, and I’ve noticed a significant change. Not in my swimming, but more what I do outside the pool, like walking, running, biking and anything involving hand-eye coordination.
Word to the wise: don’t let me play basketball, volleyball, football, baseball, soccer or water polo because I hide from the ball and usually trip over my own feet.
It’s embarrassing when someone tries to throw me a pen and I reach for empty air five inches from where the pen actually is.
I think it’s the weightless feeling, the zero-gravity experience, that completely disorients swimmers. I mean, what other sport is done horizontally? I’d like to request that NASA research if professional swimmers really can’t do land sports.