Fifth in a Series: Learning to Swim as an Adult
“Once the swimming improved, I took off a minute of my running. It changed things up, and using the swimming to improve the other areas, such as running and biking, has been nice.” – Norman Cheung
Norman originally wanted to learn how to scuba dive, “but I didn’t know how to swim,” he says. “So I started taking classes at Chicago Blue Dolphins.” Along the way, he was encouraged to give triathlons a shot. Since then, scuba diving has been put on the backburner.
But Norman wasn’t ready for triathlons at the beginning. He truly started from square one, and he likes the fact that survival and safety came first in his swim lessons. “The nice thing was they really didn’t teach you how to swim right away,” he says. “They really teach you how to survive in the beginning. That was good for me…[Learning how to swim] is different for each individual, and having smaller steps was beneficial for me.
“Even now, all the things I learned in the beginning are useful. It’s not so much how to swim faster, but knowing how to handle myself in the open water.”
Sinking To The Bottom
For Norman, the big challenge was learning to float. “Coach Fitz used me as an example of what happened when people sink to the bottom of the pool,” he says. “He had me jump in at the deep end, which is 12 feet. I went straight down and hit bottom, and it would take me a while to get back up. Then, he had someone else do the same thing, and she barely went halfway down.”
One of the most important things about learning to swim is knowing how to stay calm. So is learning to regulate your breathing. “Whether you’re swimming during practice or in the lake when it’s choppy, you just take your time with your breath,” Norman says. “When I did the tri in Philadelphia, just staying calm was big, because everyone was swimming over me. It was a 2×2 start, and I was in the middle. I’m not the fastest and there were a lot of turns, so people were swimming over me. It is important to stay calm.”
About a year and a half into learning to swim, Norman’s girlfriend, Eunice, suggested he try his first triathlon. He signed up for the Chicago Triathlon, but it was two weeks before the event and he couldn’t swim the length of the pool without getting winded.
What did he do? Went for a swim in the lake, of course! “I went to the lake one day, wearing a wet suit and just swam half a mile in the lake,” Norm recalls. “That was the first time I felt like I knew how to swim. It felt the way it should. The comforting thing was that I could see Coach Fitz standing on a wall at Ohio Street Beach walking along with me.”
Two weeks later, Norman did the Olypmic-distance Chicago Triathlon and finished it. That was 2 years ago. He has since done two more Olympic distance triathlons. “Now I can go into the ocean in San Diego and just swim,” said Norman. “Maybe one day I will do an IRONMAN, but that’s much further out I think.”
Swimming Helps Other Sports
“Once the swimming improved, I took off a minute of my running,” says Norman. “It changed things up, and using the swimming to improve the other areas such as running and biking has been nice.”
Support at Chicago Blue Dolphins
“The big thing about Chicago Blue Dolphins is the support from the family and coaches,” Norman says. “There are are so many of them, you get a lot of different perspectives, but having different viewpoints has been really nice. And with the lake swim, we’ve gone out just to support each other.”
“There’s a nice community at Chicago Blue Dolphins,” Norman says. “The group I was swimming with for a while was really encouraging. The first day of lap swimming, I was afraid to get in the pool. That first day was terrifying. I didn’t want to get in the water. I wasn’t comfortable swimming one length of the pool, and seeing everyone else swimming was a little intimidating. But they pushed me and encouraged me.
“Half the people were already doing IRONMAN competitions. But you don’t feel like there’s pressure to be at a certain level. There’s enough people there that are encouraging. A lot of people have been in that shoe where they didn’t knwo how to swim and they worked their way up.
“I’m really glad I found Chicago Blue Dolphins. I really enjoyed my time with them.”