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Heaven is in the long, slow swim

By Jeni Ann Flores

When I first attended an aqua fitness class last year, I was the ugly duckling among the swans. While others were keeping their heads and shoulders still above water, I was bobbing up and down, twisted like a pretzel, desperately trying to keep my balance. While they glided smoothly from one end of the pool to the other, I was a picture of kinetic energy, jerking around in place. The others were probably rolling their eyes thinking, “Why is that woman thrashing like that?!”

In the next class, I decided to stay near the stair steps and use the metal railing as the reference point for my spot in the pool. Everything was fine until I needed to push the flotation dumbbells to my sides underwater. I did not realize it then but I was groaning and grunting, gritting my teeth and grimacing. The others were probably rolling their eyes thinking, “Why is she making so much noise?”

While I was focusing on pushing down my dumbbells, my legs, which the instructor said should be on the floor, started lifting up. Maybe because my body mass and internal fluids were not evenly distributed, I started to slowly lean to one side, my hips going up on the other side until eventually - plop - I overturned. It was a sloooow motiooooonnn splaaaassshhh.

Determined not to overturn again, I tethered myself to the metal railing in the middle of the pool stairs. With my legs wrapped awkwardly but securely on that thin pole, I continued to push the dumbbells down. The same thing happened. But this time I knew what was about to happen. So I did not let my legs go off the pole. My body twisted while bobbing up and down, my legs still stubbornly holding on to the railing. More eye-rolling. “Why is she bobbing in the water like a human corkscrew?!”

Though the fitness pool is small, shallow, noisy and crowded, it is better than nothing. Still, it is a far cry from where I used to swim.

When I taught in Taiwan I had a choice of several different pools within walking or biking distance. I would not call myself a strong swimmer, but I love being in the water. It is other-worldly, like floating in deep space. The sound is alien. Unreal. A water park 20 minutes by bicycle from my apartment had four different pools. Only the serious lap swimmers went to the lap pool furthest in. Though a weak swimmer I liked to go to that lap pool. The water was colder but it was also quieter there.

I swam furiously at first to warm up my body. Angry at the assault, my body accepted its fate and got used to the cold water. I started to slow down. I was now coasting. My breaths were no longer rushed. They were controlled. Easy. Soft. I could tell the exact moment when it happened. I was slow, but I had joy.

I can swim slowly like this for an hour, commanding my breaths to a rhythm where it does not strive, where it actually rests, trusting the power of my legs to propel me forward, my lungs to expand and my heart to exchange carbon dioxide to oxygen just at the right moment and in right amounts.

My fears are washed away with each stroke. In freestyle swim, you turn your head to the side, one eye underwater and the other above. As the top of your head cuts through the water, you turn it to the side to find a pocket, a space where you can take a breath of air. I am swimming so slowly that I find that pocket easily.

Time stands still. The water owns me and I am lost in its loving embrace. When that happens it is nothing short of heavenly.

The Apostle Paul wrote: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. My life is on land, not in water. At times I thrash, I sink and splash face down. I am a whirligig and a corkscrew. I often fail others and drown as a human being. I am still a weak swimmer, and my world is small, shallow, noisy and crowded. I cannot see clearly ahead. But this will do for now. In my weakened state I hold on - albeit awkwardly - to God, the one solid and stable Person I know is near. Someday I will be in a proper pool. Someday I will be strong enough to be a slow swimmer again.

Someday I will be in the water. And I will be swimming.

Jeni Ann Flores is a GUMA Guam vendor, and owner of Hummingbird Enterprise, which provides drone, robotics and art camps. She keeps hoping for an Olympic-sized pool to open again where she lives. You may reach her at or read more of her writing at

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