My Total Immersion Swim Story

I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. We always had swimming pools and spent large parts of the summer in the pool, so I always felt comfortable in the water, but I was never a natural swimmer. If I’d tried I could probably have just made the school breaststroke team, but I was never very comfortable or fast doing freestyle and I remember at age 13 watching the good swimmers and thinking that they moved through the water in a way I completely didn’t understand and couldn’t emulate.

There were periods when I enjoyed swimming very mediocre 1000m  sessions in my late teens, twenties and thirties. And did some scuba off and on too, which I loved, but I realised my body didn’t really respond in the way the tables or dive computer suggested it should. I also realised that cold-water diving around the UK is too deep and too technical for casual divers, and certainly wasn’t for me. I haven’t “Given Up” diving, but from now on it’s shallow warm water for me, where the pretty fishes and coral are.

So I have always loved being in the water but lacked the ability to be comfortable except at breaststroke (which I naturally swam in a not-too-dissimilar fashion to TI breaststroke). After years of tedium in the gym I started swimming every morning, and about 3 years ago a friend of mine, who is a very good swimmer, showed me some TI videos on youtube. He had done some 1-1 training sessions with Ian Jones. I was intrigued and bought the DVD. After a year of not doing too many drills, but instead trying to copy the whole-stroke end product I went on a weekend TI course with Ian. That was when I met Toby too. After that I did a few drills, but confess I didn’t really “grok” them. So what followed another two years of almost exclusively whole-stroke practice but with steady improvements, and I kept re-watching the video, and recently bought a few of the others too.  And I did realise that focusing on one thing at a time was important. In the last year I’ve also done a lot more open water swimming including three 3-4km races where I performed far better than I expected, coming top 25% in the first two and top 10% in the last one.

I was feeling that improvements would mostly come from increased fitness and that perhaps some slight stroke tweaking would help.

Then I saw Terry was coming to the UK to Windsor for a TI weekend and thought it was too good an opportunity to miss.

What an extraordinary experience it was. I guess I was suddenly ready to be receptive to the drills. When I was working through them with the coaches, especially Toby and Terry I realised that there were so many things I was doing wrong, not hugely or horribly, but subtley and I couldn’t actually do the drills perfectly. This was really important: I understood what I was supposed to be doing, but didn’t have the skill. How wonderful to realise there was so much left to learn.

The idea of a single focus point per drill and then practice started to make sense at a level I could feel as well as just understand at a theoretical remove. Now I feel like I have a lifetime of learning and improvements at the neurological level ahead of me. I want my stroke to get better not because it will make me faster in races, but because it will feel wonderful, it will feel like art, like meditation, like something I do for its own sake. I know if I swim better I will get faster, but that is not really my concern; I have neither the build nor the innate athleticism to do elite times, but my aim is not to complete 1,500m or 10,000m in a specific time, it is to swim so that people will see me and think “he swims beautifully”, that I can be there in the moment and feel what it is like to swim beautifully.


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