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Zen in the water: Rediscovering an old love
March 2nd, 2012
09:47 AM ET

Zen in the water: Rediscovering an old love

Editor's Note: Nancy Klinger is one of seven CNN viewers selected for The CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge, where they will train for and compete in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon this September.

Last summer into fall I was starting to feel sorry for myself. It wasn't healthy. For the first time in my life, I was feeling old (mentally and physically).

I needed a jump start, some motivation. Then one day I happened to come across a CNN special titled "Diana Nyad: Xtreme Dream."

I remembered how Diana Nyad had inspired me years ago with her phenomenal distance swimming. The special tracked Diana’s planned 100-mile swim from Cuba to Florida. It was awe-inspiring. I was 54 and I think that Diana was about six or seven years older than me but in the physical shape of someone half her age.

As the days went by, I kept thinking about this. Then one day in November, I read that applications were open for the CNN FitNation Triathlon Challenge. My motivation to send in a submission came from Diana Nyad. If she could swim 100 miles in the ocean, I could certainly muster up the energy to participate in a triathlon.

Secretly, the thing that excited me the most was the swimming.

Although I never swam competitively, I always loved it. From a very young age I was comfortable and happy in the water. The highlight of my high school summers was being a life guard. If I ever vacationed near an ocean, I was the first to jump in.

As the years went on, I swam less and less. Although I went to college at Pepperdine University overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean, I rarely went swimming. Looking back on that now, I missed a wonderful opportunity for a daily swim.

Now, having been lucky enough to be selected to participate in the triathlon, things have been going swimmingly (no pun intended). I have rediscovered my love of swimming. Recently, I had my first real swim workout assigned by my trainer. I swam 100 yard distances at a quick pace with 10 to 15 seconds rest between each one. I did this for an hour.

Last weekend, I went for a long swim (over 2,000 yards) and it felt great. While I am swimming a feeling of peace comes over me, a feeling that is hard to find anywhere else.

Although I work with wonderful people, my days are filled with a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I work so hard but somehow never feel that I am working hard enough. The most common words heard are "timelines" and "deadlines." There is a lot of blame and a lot of finger pointing; there is a lot of criticism and not a lot of respect.

No matter how hard I try to make positive changes to the work environment, it is usually to no avail. By the end of the day I am emotionally exhausted.

Exercise helps with this, but there are some different stressors here. At fitness classes or on equipment at the club, I tend to feel that I am being watched and judged. It is busy and loud and not conducive to relaxation. Everything is timed.

Even yoga classes are over-crowded and seem somewhat forced. Biking and running are great but they do not allow me to fully relax. With biking I can’t really let my mind wander because I need to stay alert on the road. With running, I tend to focus my attention on my bad knees.

Swimming is different.

I am able to forget about of the stress in my life and just focus on moving through the water. It is pure relaxation, pure joy. I feel that I could go on and on. No side aches, no being out of breath, and most importantly, no sore joints.

I allow the water to cradle me and to warm me. I stay focused on the motion of my strokes and rhythmic breathing. I am in my own lane, my own space and I swim at my own pace.

Once I enter the water, I am somewhat invisible. The moment belongs to me. Some say that Zen is the art of doing and not doing. If this is true, I feel that swimming allows me to reach the state of Zen. I am not doing swimming, swimming is doing me.

Although most of my swims are comfortable and relaxing, I have realized that as part of my triathlon training, my swimming skills need some work. I’m like an old car with only one speed (low gear). If I want to go faster, it is time for me to listen to the tips from the trainers.

I have never been given so many swim tips in my life. My head is too high in the water, my butt is too low, my kick needs work, I need to roll more from side to side, and I need to breathe on both sides. Yikes! In addition, I am now the proud owner of a pull buoy and swim paddles.

Although I won’t be swimming over 100 miles from Cuba to the U.S., I am so looking forward to heading back to Malibu where I went to college, running into the Pacific, hitting the waves, and swimming the best half mile of my life to start the triathlon.

That will be incredible, but even better will be the journey of getting to that point - one stroke, one pedal and one stride at a time.


soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. EvloveNow

    Congratulations to you, for finding you Zen and having it one where you can be so active. I find the same relaxation in painting the outside of my house, but can only really rejoyce in the task once evey 5-7 years...I need to find more houses in need of painting. Maybe I should volunteer in a poor neighborhood!

    March 2, 2012 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Patti Goetzke

    I am a personal friend of Nancy's and am brought to tears by reading her posting. There is no one on this planet that is as kind, loving and caring as Nancy. I worked with Nancy in that "environment" and know exactly what she is experiencing. She is a motivator to me and those that read her story and follow her progress. I am very proud to call Nancy my friend and she is truly an inspiration.

    March 2, 2012 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. William Wilkins

    Yes Nancy that's the way it all will come....you go beyond the discomforts, anxiety, pain, fears and find that you ...and only you ...are alone and there doing what needs to be done. It's called Peace!! Everyone of us will experience the bad ones...even the Pro's...but going over those bad ones...will conquer all and then we enjoy the ride over the top much better. Good Job!!

    March 2, 2012 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. johngeisler

    I swam as yuong asfive was always afish inthe water ,cancer hit me ,I had a total laryngectomeeat fifty thought I would never enjoy what i really loved as sport ,but with a brave heart in got in and can enjoy what i loved but with some ease ,it is still my zin and keeps me hole and fighting thanks to a little three year old boy named Darius!

    March 2, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. c s

    I swim without ease, How I wish that I could swim well. I have never had a lesson and learned by watching others and trying to imitate. I have been watching my granddaughters taking lesson and can imagine the joy that they will have for the rest of their lives by feeling at ease in the water. I wonder if it is possible to really learn to swim after all of these years.

    March 2, 2012 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chartreuxe

      It's always possible to improve your swimming technique and get more comfortable in the water, CS. Take some private lessons.
      I did the same as you, learned to swim from watching my cousins who had lessons. I've always loved the water and been at home in it, skin dived and SCUBA dived, but my swimming form is lousy. I took lessons as an adult and improved greatly. I may never be a beautifully athletic swimmer, but I waste less energy.

      March 2, 2012 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
    • Liz in Seattle

      Before I enrolled in actual lessons I also found some very helpful instructional videos on youtube about how to swim. You might spend awhile poking around on there if you really want to improve your form. Timothy Ferris also has a really, really helpful set of videos on his website. He's kind of a weirdo but he did teach himself to swim and he explains things very well.

      March 2, 2012 at 18:13 | Report abuse |
  6. Liz in Seattle

    I was never a swimmer as a kid - I was always a runner and I thought nothing else could ever take the place of how meditative I found running to be. But two years ago I got a knee injury and in an effort to stay fit I decided to take some swimming lessons and see what it was like. I was 35 years old and I took lessons from the same teenager who taught the kids at my gym's pool. But she was great and after a couple of months of lessons and practicing I really started to get the hang of it. Now I swim 2-3 times a week for a mile each time without stopping and I really, truly enjoy it. I may never be able to run regularly again, but swimming has really made that easier to accept because it is an activity with its own pleasant rewards. And besides– there's the hot tub afterwards . . .

    March 2, 2012 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. k

    Im writing a paper about this right now. I'd love to get author's info for citation, please!?

    March 2, 2012 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy Klinger

      If you are wondering who is the author of this blog, that would be me. I live in MInnesota. If you would like my e-mail address, please let me know.

      March 3, 2012 at 13:27 | Report abuse |
  8. k

    just kidding im guessing it was by Dr. Sanjay Gupta?

    March 2, 2012 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. k

    wow dumbest question ive ever asked in my life.

    March 2, 2012 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Baki

    im a swimmer but i always stop to cheer those who take up swim lessons at an older age w such determination & personal goal they had never let go throughout their lives. koodus to that mentality, bc that is all that can stop you, you yourself. but you must understand, like w anything in life & work, you have to give it all you have in the time in d water w out stress or distractions. koodus to you all.

    March 2, 2012 at 20:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Carol

    Ah, Nancy, only someone who truly loves swimming can convey so well the peace and satisfaction one gets from lap swimming. I can relate totally & applaud your efforts. Good luck in the triathlon!

    March 2, 2012 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lisa

    I too love to swim, it is a place in the world where I can lose all sense of the world except for the water that surrounds me. Absolute peace.

    March 3, 2012 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jim

    As a child I was rescued at a pool because I could not swim. I learned in the Allegheny River without a class. I did swim from time to time but have started again after joining the wellness center at UNC-Chapel Hill. Now, at age 68, and after 2 bypasses and 5 stents, I swim a half mile each day after my regular exercise routine. Swimming is the highlight of my workout and my day.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. EB

    Good story. I used to be a swimmer back in high school. Since then I havent been in the pool unless it was a summer BBQ. I have currently moved to a new city and work in a high stress environment. I can understand the peace and satisfaction one gets from lap swimming. Its kinda funny that this was posted because it was only until last week did I think to my self that I had started to feel like a fish out of water and needed to get back into the pool.

    March 3, 2012 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy Klinger

      I hope that you jump back in the water – you won't regret it.

      March 4, 2012 at 22:14 | Report abuse |
  15. Colin

    2 – 3 times a week for many years now, I swim 2000 yards (1.2 miles) in the ocean, 10-40 ft. depth close to the shore, over reef and beautiful white sand bottoms, here in Kona, Hawaii. After a bracing 68 degree entry amid fresh water springs pushing up through the sand bottom next to the beach, I, too enjoy the unbelievable bliss of total freedom in the open, nearshore waters with schooling fish of all kinds below me. It is my drug of choice; the feeling of freedom, especially in the summer when the seawater is even warmer (around 74 degrees or so), it's like a childhood fantasy of freedom and bliss. My sixty-something year old body feels 30-something for a full 10 hours afterward, as my mind smiles at the stairs back to my office and I jog right up them like I was 10 years old. And, there's no "downer" like with other drugs/ stimulants. I know it's the same for many distance athletes, but the writer is absolutely correct about the bliss of not having to "think" about cars, people, and social niceties for that matter, while you visit heaven for a while.

    March 3, 2012 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy Klinger

      What a beautiful description of how you feel in the water. I have the incredible opportunity to travel to Kona this May. I can't wait to swim in the ocean. Keep on swimming!

      March 4, 2012 at 22:16 | Report abuse |
  16. Jeff

    I hated paddles; they made my shoulders hurt. It also hurt when you smacked someone else's hand. The pull bouy, on the other hand, was my friend. When I was training regularly, I was too thin to float (and I solved that problem years ago) and the buoy held my hips up.

    March 4, 2012 at 20:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jim Angel

    Thanks for the inspirational post Nancy. I'm six years out from back surgery to correct scoliosis at age 45. Recently I've wanted to get back into swimming as a great, low impact exercise. Like you, I enjoyed swimming as a kid but did less and less of it over the years. I'm not sure why. A new YMCA with a pool opened up in my neighborhood so you post is just what I needed to nudge me out the door. Thanks.

    March 4, 2012 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy Klinger

      Wow, Jim. This is great. I am confident you will get benefit, both physical and emotional, from swimming. Good luck.

      March 6, 2012 at 20:41 | Report abuse |
  18. Rick

    I have been working with a personal trainer for strength training for about 6 months. Interspersed between sessions I did my usual cardio – treadmill and eliptical. The thought of getting on another time bored me. So I jumped in the pool. My first time (after many years) I swam a mile. I have started a swimming program and can't wait everyday to do my laps. I swim a little less than an hour, mostly breastroke, for 100 laps and then I run in the pool for 10 laps. It equals about 1.25 miles per day. But I love it so much, I sometimes go twice a day. Not bad for a 63 year old! I love it and feel great.

    March 5, 2012 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy Klinger

      Hi, Rick. I am impressed that you were able to swim such a long distance after such a long time without swimming. I am a bit like you that I sometimes feel like I could go on and on. Much different than when I run – 3 slow miles today and my knees ached. Keep on swimming. 🙂

      March 6, 2012 at 20:43 | Report abuse |
  19. doc

    it is an adictive passion! Enjoy! I have been swimming 6 days a week (usually I have to force myself to take a day off...) for 40 years. I think the water sloshing against my head is therapeutic!

    March 5, 2012 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Jeri Gintert

    Loved your description of the feeling. I totally related to your love as a child of the water and missed opportunity during college. I began swimming after a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkins Lymphona at the age of 40. This year I celebrated 11 years with an 11 mile swim across Lake Tahoe. My daughter did a utube for the swim http://youtu.be/mFzQEqiRwYY

    I hope you are able to keep it up and enjoy the Zen! Best wishes.

    March 5, 2012 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy Klinger

      Hi, Jeri. I so love your post. What an inspirational story. I graduated from HIgh School in 1975 and that summer I lost a wonderful friend to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I am so happy for you and your family that you have been able to beat this disease. An 11-mile swim is so amazing. I was secretly thinking about signing up for a swim across a Minnesota Lake called White Bear Lake, it would be a 5-mile swim. After your post, I just may do it. Continued good luck to you.

      March 6, 2012 at 20:56 | Report abuse |
  21. Corinne

    Good for you, Nancy! Don't even know you, but I'm proud of you! And inspired by you. Gonna take this totally out-of-shape 68-yr old body and get back "in the swim." Grew up swimming on a freshwater pond, very little form, but lots of joy in the water. Gonna head to the pool at the Y & have some fun. Thank you!

    March 5, 2012 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nancy Klinger

      Good for you, Corinne. Swimming is such a wonderful lifetime exercise. It is so healthy, both from a physical perspective as well as a spiritual perspective. Thanks for your comments.

      March 6, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse |
    • Douglas

      I'm having a lot of prmlbeos getting to load your site. I read it many times before & never got anything like this, but now when I try 2 load the site it just idles 4 a minute or two and then just stops. I have tried both with www and without. Do you know what is the reason? Please ask your host support I hope to be able to come back soon.[]admin – Reply:June 28th, 2010 at 12:40 amThere's nothing problem about accessing my blog.All is just good Thanks.[]

      August 2, 2012 at 03:53 | Report abuse |
  22. mark

    I completely "get" this. I swim 3 times a week, 2400 yards at a whack, and love the ability to just "turn off" for a while. The only thing I think of is my lap count. Other than that, my mind just kind of free associates or wanders.

    March 5, 2012 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dean

    The only bad thing about swimming is that if you swim often for long enough the chlorine tends to get stuck in your hair, which leads to brittle hair. Apart from that, I love it!

    March 5, 2012 at 17:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Marilyn

    I am not a great lap swimmer but I have discovered deep water aerobics and have found it has improved my life in so many ways. I have had both knees and my right hip replaced (age; 63). I leave the pool in a great frame of mind and feel the glow for hours.

    March 5, 2012 at 20:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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    May 23, 2012 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply

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