Becoming A GUE Diver: Ch 2- Just Keep Swimming

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Tina swimming

Tina swimming

It was around the beginning of  March before I think Tina actually realized the magnitude of the swim test for GUE.  She had read the requirements way ahead of time but it wasn’t until she attempted to swim laps non stop that it became apparent how difficult it would be for her.  However I started to see big improvements in her technique after only a few sessions in the pool. The breast stroke became her go-to style and she started to feel comfortable swimming. In the  beginning of  February Tina, couldn’t swim 25 yards without stopping.  Then after a few weeks  she was able to complete one full lap and this pattern grew exponentially with each week bringing more and more distance. After mid April Tina was able to do more then the GUE required swim distance of 300 yards in 14 minutes. I was extremely impressed because I saw a completely different person in the water.

However the underwater swim was still a huge challenge for her.  She wasn’t quite efficient with the breast stroke yet and she would spend a lot of energy swimming just a few yards. 50ft seemed like a huge distance underwater for her.  We worked together on the underwater swim at the YMCA and sometime at the end of April she did her first 50ft underwater.  The YMCA had lines on the bottom and I told her that swimming to the “Blue Line” was about 50ft.  In reality it was just shy of 50ft but it was still a good distance to aim for.  We spent a few days a week going to the YMCA and she would swim her laps then try the underwater swim. She would get the underwater swim about every third try.  Of course I was extremely proud to see her progress in just a few months.

We continued our swimming and Tina was feeling pretty confident. It was about the middle or end of May and we were still sketchy on the dry suits and decided to have a phone conference with Mer. We were hoping she could  figure out what our problem was via a phone/skype conversation.  We were struggling with ascents and I needed some coaching.  Mer was awesome and we skyped for an hour or two.  During this conversation, Tina was excited to share her progress with Mer on the swimming.  Mer may or may not have been aware of the challenges but Tina overcame them and she really felt ready.  No the underwater swim wasn’t quite there but she felt like it would come any day.  Suddenly Mer then threw a wrench in the mix.  We both assumed that we would be swimming in a pool at some dive shop, but Mer told us that we would be doing our swim test at Ginnie Springs. The water is clear and cold.  After the conference call Tina was pretty upset because she had not practiced swimming out side at all. We had been diving the blue lagoon for quite a few months but it never occurred to us to do some swimming while we were there.  I told Tina that she won’t be diving in a pool so she shouldn’t do the swim test in one either.   A few things about Ginnie scared her. First the cold since she doesn’t handle cold water very well and was the main reason for dry suits.  Second she hadn’t ever really swam in open water before without scuba gear.

The next weekend we decided to do one dive at Blue Lagoon and then work on swimming.  She had the distance swim down pretty well and we swam from our shelter area to one of the buoys marking the platform. But the underwater swim was a disaster.  She had learned to swim along the bottom at the YMCA in only about 4 feet of water, so the visual reference was easy.  But now she had to learn to gauge her depth without seeing the bottom. This was hard for me as well.  The anxiety level was much higher now,  knowing that she had to swim in water that was fairly deep. Fortunately the water at Ginnie is crystal clear but the cold and the depth was a big worry.  Furthermore Tina was still pretty inefficient in the underwater swim.

We swam at the Blue Lagoon for the next few weekends. Each swim was adding more anxiety because she couldn’t do more then 10 feet underwater without popping up. She would swim way too deep and get frightened. I started to notice that she was taking a lot of strokes to go anywhere so I decided to do an experiment with her.  I said: “Ok I want you to float face down in the water without moving for as long as you can”  and she tried that. She was able to float for a while just holding her breath. Next Asked her to just do one kick and one pull of the breast stroke then glide as far as she could while face down in the water. She tried that as well and was able to glide about 5 or so feet.  I realized that she never really had the glide part down.  So in order to get the efficiency of her swimming up we practiced one stroke then a glide until she stopped.  This was the eureka moment for her.  That day she was able to swim on the surface face down much much further then 50ft and she would only do maybe 1 stroke every 10 ft once she got moving.  All the pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together but we were running out of time and Tina still hadn’t done an underwater swim in open water for a full 50ft.