January 26th, 2012
10:42 AM ET
Denise Castelli is one of seven people chosen to be a part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. As a recent amputee, Denise is searching for a way to reclaim the feeling of being a competitive athlete that she cherished before her accident.
Getting in the pool has forced me to face a number of fears. The first being the obvious fear - ditching the doggie paddle and actually learning how to swim. The other fear is not so obvious and much more personal.
The swim is the only leg of the race that I’ll be doing, well, legless. Prosthetics aren’t made to be submerged in water and I can imagine it would be quite difficult to swim with a heavy piece of carbon fiber attached to my body.
My prosthetic has been my safety net ever since I learned to walk again. It has essentially become my super hero cape. When I wear it, I know I can do anything. I have the world in the palm of my hand. Without it, am I handicapped?
This isn’t the bad dream where you’re in your high school in nothing but your underwear. There is no magical unicorn blood that I can drink to help regenerate my leg. This is real life. I am an amputee. And that is a lot harder to swallow than the occasional mouthful of pool water.
Facing this realization, I jumped in the pool for the first time and, much to my surprise, it was not as bad as I expected it to be. My coaches, Mickey Cassu and Kristin Cacicedo of Start-Tri.com, had me swim the length just to see where my knowledge base was. By the time I reached the end, I was panting. All I could think was, “How am I supposed to swim half of a mile... in the Pacific Ocean?!?!”
Then Mickey assured me that if he swam the way I did, he would be out of breath too. That’s when I learned how to work with the water instead of against it.
Since that first lesson, I’ve been swimming on my own at least three times a week. Along with these solo swim workouts, I’ve met with Mickey and Kristin two other times for some one-on-one training. I can already feel the improvements that I’ve made, which makes me hungry for more. Every time I’m at the pool I “swim stalk” other people and I’m mesmerized by their perfect form and ability to glide through the water. I want that.
Helping me get there is my new best friend – the pull buoy. It helps me keep my focus on my breathing and where my arm entry is.
“Head in the water, rotate every third stroke to breathe, repeat.” Trying to form muscle memory is a lot harder than I remember. It’s going to take a lot of repetition. It’s going to take a lot of repetition!
So, for now, I’m just going to keep baby steppin’ until it becomes second nature. I’m going to keep clicking my leg off and hopping to the edge of the water to dive in. Overcoming all of my fears, one stroke at a time.
From around the web
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.