Four years ago, I completed my first triathlon. I knew I would be able to do it, but there was just one thing. Triathlons involve running, biking and swimming. Running and biking I had mastered—hard work, but I have confidence and can count on my body to move in all the right ways. Swimming, on the other hand, was just not my sport. Determined to finish all legs, I struggled through the swim doing the dog paddle. Yes, the dog paddle.

Clearly, this dog needed a new trick if competing in triathlons would be a reality for me. It was time to learn to swim. Really swim.

I’d taken one swim lesson before that first triathlon. It didn’t involve a lot of “swim” time, but taught me the basics like how to position my face and arms in the water, but not too much more. To prepare for this summer’s triathlon, I decided to take a lesson with a Y instructor who is also a triathlete. This time around, I learned more about form and pacing and gained some confidence, finally.

I always thought swimming was going to be “easy,” or that it should be easy if I could just learn the basics. Well, it’s not easy. I’ve learned that it takes a lot of practice and patience. There was nothing natural or familiar about swimming. From childhood into my adulthood, moving my limbs in that dog paddle and holding my head high without getting my face wet had become familiar. It was time to make new movements familiar and get past my fears of cramping up, drowning or just not finishing. Patience.

At one point, while I was practicing in the pool, a well-known triathlete witnessed my struggle and came to my rescue. At the end of every lap, I’d rest, catch my breath and summon the courage to do another. Stop, start, stop, start—it was a technique that would never work in a real event on open water. He offered some simple advice that I never would have come to on my own. He told me to swim four laps instead of one, take a 30-second break and then swim again. I resisted. He actually said “I’m not leaving until you do it,” so I did it. Ever since then, I’ve been able to swim a lot less like a dog and more like a fish! (A slow fish but, nonetheless, a fish.) I had to get over the fear of “not being able to do it.” Since then, I’ve been able to swim nonstop for 800 yards. I’m slow but I can do it!

And this summer’s triathlon? No problem. I completed it without struggling. I’m confident in the running and biking events and I’d describe myself as comfortable in the swimming event. Confidence is coming. This triathlon was so much better than the one I did four years ago. I was way more relaxed and NOT exhausted when I was done. I was still slow, but I was mentally ready for the bike and run because I no longer feared I’d die from the swim! I enjoyed the whole thing.

The best part is that I’m a swimmer now. This summer, we’ve been swimming at several small local ponds. It’s actually kind of scary because the water is dark and there are turtles and weeds—not the clear water and blue bottom of my lane at the Y. I swim with a wetsuit on, though, so I feel like there is a barrier between me and the “gross stuff.” I also swim with other people, and that makes it even more fun and not a “job.”

I can almost be in a meditative state while I’m swimming. My body also likes the non-impact activity, that feeling of gliding.

When I look back to all those years as a non-swimmer, I feel kind of sad about what I missed. I wish I’d known how relaxing it would be. I can almost be in a meditative state while I’m swimming. My body also likes the non-impact activity, that feeling of gliding. After a hard workout or run, it always feels good to get in the water and just swim. I’m stretching my limbs and breathing rhythmically. It’s quite nice…unless I see a snapping turtle.

Coming into a new sport a little later in life has taught me so much. I am always open to trying a new skill, and clearly finding my inner athlete has been really good for me. Learning to swim has helped me realize that nothing is really unattainable; I just have to keep trying and practice patience with myself.

What’s ahead? I like to think anything I’d like to try is mine to try. I would definitely love to try mountain biking or ice climbing. Of course, I’d have to do it without my family and coworkers finding out. They might just put me in a body cast before I even started!

~ Melissa John-Pendleton, Office Manager


3 thoughts on “Old Dog, New Tricks: When Dog Paddling Doesn’t Work In the Triathlon

  • September 6, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    I love this blog Melissa! Both because it makes me smile that you had the grit to follow through and learn something so unfamiliar AND the fact that you love the glide in swimming. It is such a smooth and powerful feeling. Your voice is strong. Thanks for sharing this.

  • September 7, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    Good story, Melissa, and one that I identify with! Swimming is not my sport-feels hard and Not relaxing. Maybe I should give it more of a chance…….only in the ocean though (so much easier to float there!)

  • September 7, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    Wow, Melissa! This is awesome!


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