by Mamie Colburn

Stepping gingerly into the 3-foot section of the Lelia Patterson Center pool, I knew immediately that I had to go all the way under the water.  In order to get the swim cap on, the directions said “wet the cap and your hair.”

I held my breath, bent my knees and left the warm air behind as I dipped down under the brisk water. The instructions on the cap and what I had seen in movies were all I knew about lap swimming. I could swim, but I’d never gotten the hang of trying to breathe without totally lifting my head, never worn swim goggles to swim laps, and certainly wasn’t sure of myself.

Sitting in the shallow end, I was excited and ready to try something new.  Anything would be better than another cold rainy night of winter wondering when it was going to be summer again. An hour later, smiling and feeling accomplished, I knew swimming was even better than I’d hoped. New possibilities were opening up.

Ten years earlier as a camp counselor, the best way for me to escape the craziness of children’s all day happy screams was to dip my head under water, hold my breath, and try to touch the bottom of the camp pool.  Those moments of quiet gave me the peace to keep going into my 12-hour camp counselor sing-as-you-hike life. Two laps into the Winter Swim League I felt that same serenity and quiet that I sought when I tried to touch the bottom of the pool.

The rhythm of my strokes, focusing on when to breath, and my movements was like a meditation.

At first, our coach, Susan, watched me before giving specific instructions. She told me when to breathe, invited me to play with how many strokes I needed between breaths, and showed me how other people were breathing.  Swim cap on, googles only slightly leaking, I settled into a rhythm. Breathing on my left was harder, and despite trying not to, I swallowed a little water. Breathing on the right felt natural and I didn’t have to lift my head as much.  Susan had given us a routine and fun exercises to follow. My lane had swimmers on my ability level and we talked about our challenges as we went.

When I first arrived at the pool earlier that night, I met a woman who told me she was learning to lap swim for her 60th birthday.  After multiple injuries in other sports, her doctors gently directed her towards something that is lower impact. In the pool, she was kind and graceful. She was focusing on learning to strengthen her kick, and using the kickboards on multiple laps.

After 40 minutes of laps, she complimented me on my improvements and I felt thankful to be in such a forgiving and helpful environment. Next time I want to try to swim laps, I will have a lot more confidence and understanding of how to navigate this new watery world.

Mamie Colburn is the Community Outreach Coordinator for iDaph Events and Timing. She is a 20 year Asheville resident and UNCA alumni with a background in event coordination, non-profit organizations, and volunteer management. Contact mamie at