Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Learning to swim - for the second time in my life

I was born in a small seaside town in England. We could smell the sea air from our house. My Mother used to take my sister and I to the beach everyday as toddlers. So from an early age I loved playing in water.

From paddling in the sea, I taught myself to swim at age 7. From then on you couldn't keep me away from water. Every chance that came to me, I jumped in to swim. Even the cold, icy sea water of Ireland didn't put me off. On a vacation to Rome, all I wanted to do was jump in the hotel pool. The tourist sites were of no interest to me!

Then we moved away from the sea. But that was not a deterrent for my father. He just dug up our whole back yard and put a swimming pool in its place. For a suburb of London that was rather strange behavior. Our Greek neighbors just thought we were eccentric Jews....

So for the next 20 years of my life if I ever wanted to swim, I could just jump out of my bedroom window. That's a bit of an exaggeration as my bedroom was on the first floor. You also have to take into account that London's weather is mostly cold and rainy. Anyway I did swim a lot, either at home or in an exclusive pool in a trendy gym.

Then I got married and moved to Israel. After 3 kids, and a few brief dips in the Mediterranean, I decided to take up my swimming career again. Our neighbourhood has a big pool with women-only hours. So every Friday morning I rushed to drop off my kids in school, and did 20 laps in the pool. It was fun, except for my collisions with big fat Russian ladies swimming backwards and Israelis that came in the water just to chat.

Suddenly with very little warning after child number 5, my swimming career came to an abrupt end.

I was hospitalized for 4 months with Severe Ataxic Sensory Neuropathy. In lay terms this means I was disabled as a quadraplegic, with all my senses of balance damaged. To give me encouragement, a top Neurologist in Jerusalem bluntly said to me that there was little chance of recovery.

But I didn't cry much. I still had my arms and legs; and could talk, see and eat normally. Believe me, I saw much worse in the hospital.

When I returned home in a wheelchair it took me time to adjust to being a wheelchair-mum. After a year or so, my family convinced me to try swimming again. So a few times I tried swimming with my husband in a regular pool. But for me it was a failure. I had to be held like a baby and I just flapped my hands. The water took away all my sense of balance and I was completely disoriented.

I saw people around me swimming normally, and then I really cried.

I don't know why not being able to swim upset me so much. It hurt more than not being able to walk on my own (I walk with leg casts, a walker and someone behind me). In the end I came to terms with it, and decided to accept it as part of my "new" life.

Then 3 years later, a clever doctor suggested hydrotherapy. But it was winter, I had no careworker, and a dozen other excuses not to go swimming again.

This week the weather suddenly got very hot. So I thought let's go for it, and give swimming a final try. So I took the plunge and went into the water with a professional teacher in a special pool. After slowly easing me to put my head in the water, the teacher gave me a rubber "snake" and told me to swim the stroke I wanted. I chose front crawl, my fave Olympic style of swimming.

Knowing I was in safe hands I gave it my best effort. In less than one minute I swam to the end of the pool. "How was it", she asked in Hebrew. I just burst into tears - tears of joy as it was so wonderful that I could swim again. "Another few sessions in the pool", she said, "and you'll be able to swim on your own".

You can't imagine how happy I felt - and still feel about it. What is the importance of being able to swim? Many people live a very fulfilled life without ever going swimming.

I can't answer this question. All I know now, is that it is a very important part of being "me". So I see that I should never give up trying to be "me", but be the best "me" that I can.

So I truly thank G-d for all he has given me, and hope this inspires others to keep trying to do what they really want to in life.


mother in israel said...

What an inspiring story. Do you read RivkA's blog ( She has cancer writes a lot about swimming.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shoshanna

Keep up the swimming. It gives you a wonderful sense of freedom.

Make sure you go on a regular basis and I'm sure it will give you a lot of happiness.

I love swimming too. And I'm afraid I take it for granted.

Jenny x

murrayhj said...

Hi Shoshana,
Loved your blog - and do keep up with your swimming!
If you enjoy it, then do it!
PS: I'm mad about swimming, but you know that anyway

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

wow, that was really touching and inspiring. That's great that you got to swim again and didn't give up!

I myself never trusted the water to learn how to swim though.

Jeremy Stern said...

Sue / Shoshana, Jeremy from London here. So glad that you overcome your experiences a couple of years ago with Swimming to try the Hydrotherapy pool. It sounds as if you gained a sense of liberation, a freedom from the chair and a re connection with the free swimming you of the past.
Great news - for you and the family

GaryW said...

Hi Soshanna

Have fun being a water babe again

Kol tov


Lady-Light said...

Good for you! I will add your name to my Tehillim list (what is your full name & mother's name?).
Hope you have a wonderful Shabbat.

Penelope said...

You do inspire me! I am trying to overcome a disability and I really want to accomplish a couple of important (to me) goals. Fulfilling these goals will,I hope, enable me to inspire other Jews and non-Jews on a path of Torah and closeness to the Holy One. May Hashem be ever present in your consciousness, bringing you much love and laughter. Shavua tov!

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring! Just discovered your Twitter and blog - hang in there, I'm rooting for you!

We Never Lost Hope said...

So glad I found your blog. You are awesome!

Elianah-Sharon said...

You inspire me and my neshamale every second of every day Shoshana.