I was sitting on the side of the deep end of the pool looking at the bottom. The last time I attempted any sort of dive was at least 10 years and 2 surgeries ago. I knew it wasn’t impossible I just couldn’t picture it, but here I was about to attempt it.
“The worst that can happen is that you fall in the pool.”
That is the worst thing that could happen, God willing. I spent a few summers at camp practicing water safety so I know what to do to if I fall into a pool and do my best to protect myself from serious injury. Plus, I was sitting next to a woman who had worked at the same camp so although we don’t remember each other from back then we can find some common ground when needed.
We figured out the mechanics the best way we could without actually doing it. I made the remark that it’s been so long since I’ve done anything like this that I really wasn’t sure it could happen, physically. She agreed that I was different physically since so much time had passed, but said nothing about the tight muscles, metal plates, screws, etc.
“I have to worry about normal people stuff too!?!” came flying out of my mouth, and I meant every word. I joined this swim club to have more disability/ability focus so I wasn’t thinking normal body mechanics (thanks to puberty) would come into play.
One of the most common challenges for people with Cerebral Palsy is motor planning, something I’ve alluded to a few times already, so executing multiple moves in the span of a second, or in this case less, isn’t something that comes easily (and on the rare occasion when it does you hang onto “your way” as hard as you can).
There are a variety of ways one can execute a dive in the world of Para-swimming. The trick is finding what works for you.
I knew a standing dive was out of the question, between my spasticity and startle reflex there would be little chance for consistent conditions to get the most out of practice.
I knew what kind of dive I wanted to do. It seemed like the best of the possible “happy mediums” to be able to maintain correct posture and come off the wall as quickly as possible without expending a lot of energy, but that was out of the question too (thanks to high riding patellas).
That left me sitting on the side of the pool trying to find my “sweet spot” the place where I would have the best balance and having the longest dive possible. And if that meant falling into the pool a few times that’s what I would have to do.
It wasn’t the worst time of my life but I can’t say it was all that pleasant either. I was able to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what I need to fine tune.
A few days later I was at the gym and explaining the mechanics of diving to my PT, which basically comes down to three-ish parts.
“That’s a lot to do in a split second.”
Now I’m not saying learning something new isn’t impossible but it can be tricky when motor planning is pretty much the exact opposite of your forte. It’s important to practice, obviously. But it’s also helpful to practice with someone who knows what they’re doing better than you do, if possible, so they can provide the needed feedback, in my humble opinion.
I know how things are supposed to look but I don’t know how things are supposed to feel in order to achieve that look, my brain just can’t compute. In all honesty I can’t imagine how normal brains are capable of processing something like a dive with less difficulty, maybe some aren’t, I have no idea.
That’s where the need for practice comes into the picture.
I was once told, “Doing something once is easy, repeating it is the hard part.”
Once I’ve gained a skill, of any sort, I have to practice it in the most ideal conditions in order for it to stick. Then I need to practice it in slightly different conditions to plan for the unexpected, as much as possible.
I can’t speak for everyone but it’s mentally and physically tiring, and usually my mental stamina gives out first because it can be just so boring. I’m not even going to get into the frustration of seeing someone achieve the same goal and knowing you’re going to have to work at least twice as hard, but I will say that this is where having smaller goals towards bigger goals helps.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “practice makes perfect,” and it’s true. However, when you have Cerebral Palsy you might have to redefine what makes perfect “perfect.” People with CP are wired differently than our able-bodied counterparts, and I mean that pretty literally. The whole world is running on Wi-Fi and we’re still trying to function with dial up, and when that doesn’t work, fax machines.