“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 
― Maya Angelou

Image source: http://resources2.news.com.au/images/2010/03/18/1225842/211098-swimming-cat.jpg
Image source: http://resources2.news.com.au/images/2010/03/18/1225842/211098-swimming-cat.jpg

Well, y’all – I did it!!! I swam in my first synchronized swimming competition in over 32 years. Yahoo! And I didn’t drown, or have a seizure, or any such thing! Hip-hip-hoorah!

Did I swim well? That depends on your perspective. From MY perspective as a near 50-ish woman with MS, a history of seizures, and thick cog-fog as a result of a very inconveniently-timed MS flare-up…well, I figure I rocked it! (Add the fact that I am swimming with mostly 20-somethings, and I feel even better about my performance. Ya – I am taking any kudo I can get! LOL!)

Our recent competition (the weekend of March 1st) was our synchronized swim team’s first competition of the year – a small preparatory one, to be sure…but a competition none-the-less. I must say that I have not been as nervous as I was for this competition in a long time. Heck – I regularly facilitate day-long workshops and speak to high rollers all the time, with few nerves…but for a 3-minute synchronized swim performance I felt very nervous! (Hmm – could the tight swimsuit attire have anything to contribute to that state of nerves, d’ya think? Erg!)

I have been training very hard all year with my team, and challenging myself to push beyond any fears I may have due to my MS and its accompanying symptoms and flare-ups. It has been very challenging  – with cognitive fog (cog fog) affecting my memory and and counting abilities in variable ways throughout our training time.

My sheer stubborn-ness  and determination to persevere in reaching my goal of competing in synchronized swimming despite my MS has been key. Key aspects of being on a team such as this and doing synchronized routines is the ability to recognize patterns, counts, and memorize sequences and “moves” (figures) associated with those counts. I gotta say that when my pain and fatigue kicked in (especially true after a long work day) my ability to perform well was definitely compromised! But, being the stubborn person that I am – I persevered anyway, and kept at it – fatigue or memory issues or whatever. I see the opportunity to improve my abilities and ways to cope with the MS to achieve my goal of swimming as an effective member of the team. Never give up!

So as I began my day of competition, I had the following things on my mind:

  • How will I navigate my current MS flare-up and weakness exacerbation? It is a really inconvenient time to happen, eh?
  • IS my brain “on” today? What can I do to mitigate my cog fog issues?
  • How will I deal with the heat of the pool area while awaiting our performance spots? Will it weaken me and affect my abilities?
  • How will I manage the spread of the day and the ebb and flow of my fatigue levels, while still doing everything I need to as a member of a team doing its necessary pre-performance prep?

Competing NOW, as a person with MS, is so much different than when I competed as a teeanager!! Even so – I was excited and thrilled to have gotten here. Once I Knoxed my hair – the experience bagan to feel real and my excitement grew. (FYI: Knox keeps the hair in place in the water for the routines…and feels like a helmet!)

Knox-ing of the hair!
Knox-ing of the hair!
Knox Head and the Cat
Knox Head and the Cat

While at the pool for the competition, the heat and humidity of the pool did begin to affect me, making me feel weaker by the minute. So – I took advantage of our cold winter air and stepped out to cool off (yes – in my bathing suit). I also found a spot near a pool-side outer door to lie on the cold tiles and try to rest pre-swim so that I could perform at my best. While I didn’t worry a snippet about what others in the pool thought of someone lying on the floor like I did, I am sure I made an odd site at times indeed!

The other thing I found challenging to manage was how to warm-up for our swim events without allowing the MS fatigue caused by the warm-up to overwhelm me before the actual event itself. Synchronizing your movements with a team of seven women means  you have to move too! And usually to conserve energy before any physical event, I would rest. So that was an interesting challenge – and I still haven’t quite figured out how to best handle it. (But I am sure I will come the next even in April!)

I have included a clip from our freestyle routine to give an idea of what I’ve been up to with this team at:

Cadence Clip from Free Routine . Check it out!!

Being stubborn seems to be working for me, eh? I feel stronger and fitter than I have in years – and the synchronized swimming ability gives me a confidence and self-awareness that bouys me throughout each day, allowing me to manage and cope with my MS  much better each and every day. Even though there are days that the combination of work and training exhausts me physically and mentally, ironically it energizes me emotionally and mentally. I have taken back the water environment as my safe haven – and that is precious to me as I manage my MS.

I will keep y’all posted about my progress and how I navigate the challenges presented by my MS as I continue my adventures in synchronized swimming. Next competition: April 2014!

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” 
― Confucius