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.

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