Fast approaching: My first swim meet in nearly two decades.

I’m swimming in a swim meet this Sunday. It’ll be my first in 17 years.

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See? It’s for real. I’m swimming the 100 IM in a swim meet for grown ups. I repeat the 100. Not the 200 IM, not the 400 IM. The 100. And a bunch of 50s. Cha cha cha.

Mysteriously, I ended up in a pool back in October. I suppose I wanted to take an interest in myself again, I wanted to give my body the gift of movement, to tell my arms and legs and everything in between, “Hey, I see you. You made a couple babies and you want to be strong again. I get it. And you deserve that. I appreciate all you do. Let’s spend some time together.” And swimming is what I knew, so I went for it.

I stumbled upon a soul sister of a masters coach and small crew of laid-back, smart-assed, superfun swimfriends. We don’t do crazy yardage; we just get exercise. We gab during sets. We take long rest intervals. We do social kick. We laugh. We goof around. We enjoy being in the water. It’s nothing like the intensity that permeated my olden days. Let it be known I was never a swimming phenom, but it was my entire life at one time. I may not have been bound for the Olympics, but I trained like I was. (Possibly because one of my teammates actually was training for the Olympics and ultimately won gold in 1996. I just kinda ate her wake.) I always adored my BFF teammates and did enjoy a good race back then but, compared to high school, my swimming do-over is a chilled-out dream.

And so here I am approaching Sunday, when I’ll swim four races, three of which I haven’t swum since I was approximately 10 years of age because only summer leaguers and Masters swimmers rock 50 flys and 100 IMs. That said, I did decide to try the 100 breaststroke, which I last swam the spring of 1997, at the Kansas high school state meet.

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State championships, circa 1997. What’s up, Manhattan, Kan.? I think this was snapped just before my last race. Also known as my forever farewell to 12.5 percent body fat.

Missing the mark

Long story short, this race was my thing. I was never the very bestest at it, not even regionally, but the 100-yd breast was my race. So when I missed my junior national time by two one hundredths of a second (the difference between a so-so college scholarship and a bigger scholarship at a slightly better swimming school) and ultimately never got back down to the time I needed, it devastated me.

Looking back, it’s clear I had more than college riding on that time (1:07.49, btw). Because, see, for a lot of years of my life, I thought swimming was all I could do, all I had to offer. I had school and I had swimming and I was fairly good at both. I wasn’t very pretty, I’d never have a fantastic body and I didn’t think I had a great many other gifts, but people told me that I was an elite athlete and that I was smart. Somewhere along the way, I decided my value in the world rested solely on two pillars: Emily Hughey is athletic and smart. Stop.

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I loved a pool from the beginning. Betcha I didn’t give a flip about what I was and wasn’t back then. What’s athletic? What’s smart? What’s pretty? I’d yet to identify with any of these things as constructs for self worth. Also, how cute is my mom?

Thanks to the encouragement of an outrageously cool boyfriend who saw me for way more than I saw myself (three cheers for Sam, y’all), I made the decision to see what else I could be, foregoing the chance to swim in college and quitting the sport after State, at which point I enrolled in the University of Kansas, joined a sorority and the newspaper and decided that Emily Hughey would be fun and smart. Stop.

Fast forward 17 years, a couple careers, an expat stint in Mexico, typhoid fever, eight years of meditation, an intricate soul mate relationship-turned-marriage, two children, one Enoughness Project and worlds of change later. I’m 34 years old and in the pool again—the same chlorine, the same black line and the same stroke count in from the flags to the wall—but this time around:

  1. I’m not all that smart, thank goodness. It’s such a relief not having to know everything.
  2. “Athletic,” “smart,” and “fun” aren’t even in the top five of things I have to offer these days. Oh, unless we’re out drinking, in which case “Fun Emily” reigns.
  3. While it’s just as unnerving to be in a swimsuit in front of boys as it once was, I’ve miraculously grown to (mostly) appreciate my body aesthetic for the first time ever.

Then what the deuce is up with the stuff that’s coming up right now?

If I’m supposedly so different from teenage Emily, so evolved beyond my adolescence, why are some of the familiar not-good-enough beliefs about myself cropping up as I get close to this meet? For example…

  • If I don’t swim less than 10 seconds over my best time from when I was 15 years old, am I not good enough?
  • If I don’t win all my races, am I not good enough?
  • If I lose, am I not good enough?
  • When there are other swimmer moms with way hotter bodies on that pool deck, am I not good enough?
  • If I take my race too seriously, am I not good enough?
  • If I’m not light-hearted enough about it all, am I not good enough?
  • If I don’t have an appropriate amount of fun…
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Is this fun enough!? Can I be laid back about swimming in a meet? Can I have fun racing again? We’ll see…

When I bore my friends, compassionate pals that they are (d’ya hear me, Sister, Brian, Jeff, cin and Kellie?) with this rant, they say, “Just have fun. Who cares? This is about fun. Your time doesn’t matter.” But, fact is, I’m not practiced at having fun swimming. Swimming was always a loaded thing for me. Swim fast; get props. Don’t; don’t. So if you want to feel good, you better do well.

It’s taken me a full four months just to get used to enjoying workouts—and I finally do. victory!—but this have-fun-and-be-chill-about-racing-don’t-link-performance-with-self-worth thing is new territory. How will it unfold?

I don’t know how it’s going to go, but the good news is I get to face it head-on at 8 a.m. Sunday, when the first gun goes off and my little guys, who’ve never even seen me in goggles, are cheering for me in the stands.

Wish me luck?

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I left this note, along with three lonely mozzarella sticks, for Brian and the boys before I left the house one recent Sunday afternoon. The swimmer Emily of old never would’ve had this on her training table–candy corns in abundance, yes, but never something loaded with so much fat. I invite that Emily to sit down. This time around is about fun.

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Enoughness Project #14: Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle

ENOUGHNESS PROJECT. This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I  abstained from frivolous material purchases, focused on accepting all blessings that came my way and practiced gratitude for all that I have. It was liberating. And in so doing, I uncovered a quest for enoughness that went much deeper than buying stuff. So the project continues in a more freeform format. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives and drives; grow my understanding of when/why I do things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

Like Kip, who's pretending to be a mean porcupine here, swimming used to hold a certain level of intensity for me.

Like Kip, who’s pretending to be a mean porcupine here, swimming used to hold a distinct level of intensity for me.

Remind me again, God, of when I’m going to rise above sense attachments and body consciousness? Just when I think I’m making all this progress in my Enoughness, I hit a speed bump. Make that a lane rope.

The background is that I’m swimming again after nearly two decades off. In short, I wasn’t ever a swimming superstar but, along with plenty of others, I trained like one. Thing is, I hated those long, grueling swim practices. Racing = fun. Workouts = miserable. I banged it out for six hours a day at a point during high school. By the time I hit age 18, I also hit an existential crisis: I can’t do this anymore. I am more than just a swimmer. I am more than my 100 breaststroke time. I am more than my body weight. So I quit the sport and began exploring other stuff.

By “other stuff,” I generally mean parties, sorority life, guys, freedom, study abroad-ness and journalism, the importance of which is reflected here in this devastatingly hot pic of my fellow campus newspaper pals on our last night of production, circa 2000-ish. If you were in college around this time, I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize the Charlie’s Angels pose. We were cool.

Fast-forward 16 years.

I inexplicably find myself in a YMCA pool talking hip rotation and intervals with a charming coach and masters team mate. It’s all going well, I’m having fun, feeling good, my shoulders aren’t revolting, I’m laughing a lot during the practices and I’m enjoying exercise for the first time in eons.

And then, one night, out of nowhere, it occurs to me that my flesh operates like Jello when I push of the wall. Subsequently, because of the way we push off the wall at the start of each set, others can see this gratuitous view. So I switch lanes in an attempt to hide. (It would take too long to explain why this made sense at the time, but just know that my crazy reared its head.)

This type of crazy is not who I am right now, today, at age 34, mom of two, wife to Brian. But pull on a swimsuit, stare at that black line, move through water and, on some level, I’m bound to be transported to another time, another unrelenting version of a younger, supremely unsure Emily.

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Just a little stroll down my swimming memory lane… (photos found in a duffle bag in my parents’ house.)

Clearly, as I immerse myself in swimming again, my old body stuff is surfacing. What’s next? Replacing food with Diet Coke? Not eating for two days before I plan to weigh myself? Throwing up when I feel like I’ve eaten more than I “should”? Well, no, of course not. Unequivocally, none of that is next for me. But the old themes are coming up, so I figure they’re asking to be looked at.

Observing my crazy

It’s interesting to observe how my beliefs about myself shift as soon as I end up half naked in a pool wearing a swim cap and goggles, the uniform of my past. While this new swimming-again thing is insanely fun on the whole, and I love how I feel as a result of my new exercise regimen, I’m noticing a familiar mean voice that comes up when I’m doing something really nice for myself and for my physical body.

My inner mean girl goes for the throat.

Despite my best efforts at being conscious and loving, when the inner mean girl pipes up about my physique, I give into her. If she were ridiculing my spirit, or my mothering, or my whatever else, I’d tell her to sit the hell down. But because she’s talking about my body, I sit back and take it.

My inner mean girl isn’t allowed at yoga class, so I’m kicking her out of swim practice, too.

It’s interesting to note the mean voice was far out of earshot last Saturday when I inexplicably–and ecstatically–worked my way into wall-supported pincha mayurasana in Keely Jones‘ tantric vinyasa class at Yoga Tree Chicago. (Forearm stand is the one pose in all of yoga I’ve always felt was out of my reach.) I almost didn’t believe it when I felt my feet touch the wall behind me as I perched on my forearms. I’ve never felt so confident, free and grateful. I was fully grounded in my present-day self, and fully in contact with my own power. So how can I bring that sense of self, freedom and gratitude into the pool and all other areas of my life? For one, I can ban the inner mean girl from swim practice.

Clearly, like yoga, this sudden swimming-again thing is another opportunity for me to get in touch with my body in a healthy, loving, relaxed way. And so it is decided: Through my twice weekly adventures in the laid-back-est masters team you ever saw, I’m going to move beyond this rash of negative body consciousness even if it means putting my rotator cuffs to the test. Until I can love my body for all the many ways in which it’s awesome, and detach from equating my physical form with my general enoughness, I hereby vow to let my curves jiggle off as many flip turns as it takes.

Paddling off into the sunset–without my inner mean girl.

SIDEBAR: Five ways I could’ve differently handled the impulse to hide my pool-cruising body, had I not instead jumped back into adolescent paranoia.

1.) I could’ve found it within to appreciate the fact that my body isn’t the same as it was when I was 16 and aiming for a Division I scholarship. For example, after bearing two kids, I could choose to be ok with the softness that comes with motherhood for some of us. What’s to hate about softness?

2.) I could’ve acknowledged my discomfort with public swimsuit-ness, put it temporarily on hold and decided to dive into that uneasiness with a nice, long meditation after practice.

3) I could’ve remembered that Marky Mark did not ignore me when I walked past him this summer. (Why did I not think of that? Admittedly, my mental picture of his gaze is not as elevated a tool as examining the true source of my discomfort within. But it’s certainly more fun.)

4) I could have remembered how much my husband loves the very flesh in question and taken refuge in that sweet sense of appreciation rather than fixating on imperfection.

5) I could have just enjoyed the fact that I’m having fun getting exercise in a pool and decided not to care that my un-Olympic curves were on parade.

Enoughness Project Series #13: On fashion shows and swimming again

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If we speak no more of my enoughness after today, let it be remembered that I wore pleather leggings and partied on stage–ON STAGE–at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park with models, fashion designers, fancy Chicagoans and the awesomely luminous Emilee Bond. Through it all, fantastic Emilee at my side, I never once felt like shrinking into the corner for not belonging. That said, I still have some work to do in making this feeling a habit. (right. who am I kidding? of course you’re going to hear more about my enoughness…)

If you’ve been following my Enoughness Project, you know I took three months off from material spending in order to uncover on my own innate enoughness. (see the end of this post for my boilerplate about this.) Rather than buying shiny new things to make me feel like I’m enough—i.e., cool enough for a girls’ night with the momshells, smart enough for a business meeting, tasteful enough for a wedding, yogi enough for a yoga class, organized enough for a playdate, effortless enough for dinner guests, hip enough for x, sexy enough for y, vibrant enough for z—I opted to believe that I was innately enough for all of these things and that I did not need to buy something new in order to make me feel like it.

Mission accomplished. It was a bumpy ride, but since I began the project in April, I definitely do shop and spend less; am more aware of my inner drives where appearances are concerned; buy material items only when they’re premeditated and of great quality (because everyone’s grandma taught them that quality lasts); and am in a reasonably stable habit of stopping myself as soon as the inner mean girl speaks up, replacing her screeching with kinder, truer self-talk. Stuff like, “Emily, remember how awesome you are? The Universe doesn’t care about this other stuff. Just be you. You are enough! Remember?”

All that said, while I’m buying material items again (please note the pleather-accented leggings in the above photo) my journey to a sense of complete enoughness is far from over.

I’m finding new facets to the journey and new ways to push myself beyond my old patterns at every stop on this ride. Let’s talk about two recent trials, which I’ll go ahead and count as Enoughness victories.

I went to a Chicago Fashion Week event and didn’t once tell myself I didn’t belong there. Not even once! This is a major coup. Even bigger, I didn’t freak out about what to wear or compare my body to the models’ bodies. Other related victories: I managed not to text a photo of my outfit to my sister for approval before I left the house, mysteriously made myself at home walking around in four-inch heels, smiled like a loon from the second row throughout the entire show and only felt a little insecure when I shook hands with Lagi Nadeau, my favorite designer from the night. (I mean, who meets Parisian fashion designers? Not me!)

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Bob and Angel take in the Fashion Focus: Taking it to the Streets runway show as part of Chicago Fashion Week. Hot tip: Doc Martens are totally coming back. Along with Pearl Jam, flannel and black pants.

I struggled a bit when Bob tried to snap a couple close ups of me at the after party, which was on the stage at the Pritzker Pavilion. I got flustered with posing for the camera and ended up making really unattractive faces, which I hope were immediately deleted from his phone. “Hmm. You’re tough,” Bob said.

“I know. I just don’t know how to pose for a picture and still be myself. I get so nervous.”

“Be someone else,” he offered. Wait, I actually think I might be incapable of that. In any event, something to consider next time I’m being photographed.

Other than getting my picture taken, which does unnerve me, it was a true miracle that I could go to something like this–and I know how first-world crazy this sounds–feel no anxiety and no drive to be anything other than who I actually am. The only time me being me got awkward was when I struck up a conversation with the fancy-haired guy in the green suit as we walked to the after party. At worst, he was downright bitchy. At best, he was just not interested in making friends.

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Caption: My badass friend, Angel (the hot guy on the right with awesome white hair and cool glasses), invited me to join him and his equally badass partner, Bob (see the handsome strapping guy on the left? That’s Bob.), at a fashion show for Chicago Fashion Week. When you go somewhere with Angel, it’s literally like being the mayor’s arm candy. People wait in line to talk to him. They smile a lot. They touch his biceps like they’re his old friends. (and they probably are.) He introduces me and they don’t care who I am, but they smile warmly because they love him. He is the calmest person I’ve ever met. Never gets excited. Unless there’s amazing food being served. For an extrovert like me, it’s mad fun. I had enough excitement for all three of us. Apparently, I also had a wrinkly shirt. (I feel so grateful to these guys for plumping my social calendar from time to time. Each year I know them, they keep getting more intricate, more fascinating and more magnanimous about including me in their high-cool-factor lives.)

My other big triumph of enoughness? I got into a pool. Yep, I strapped on a suit, a cap and some goggles, and I followed the black line up and down several times like the olden days. Admittedly, it may have been a spectacle because my muscles froze at the 75-yard mark, but I was in that water giving it a go. Exercise is good for me, and running hurts my leggies, so in addition to the new tantric vinyasa class I am LOVING, I think swimming is my thing. But swimming carries some baggage for me. In my head, my swimming skillz used to define me. And it’s absolutely terrifying to be in a swimsuit in front of other swimmers. Particularly as I now rock the mom bod. Also, I’m self-conscious about my face sans makeup. Add raccoon eyes and I’m doubly concerned. Well, friends, I braved it all, and I have the under-eye goggle lines to prove it. What’s more, I had fun, I got to chat a lot with a fun fellow swimmer during practice (stuff I might’ve gotten screamed at for doing when I was 17) and my body completely released all the stress that’d been building. My body is thanking me, too. I think it might be saying, “See? You are enough to try swimming again. It doesn’t have to be scary and you don’t have to be diehard. You have nothing to prove anymore. It can feel good. It might even be fun.”

I’m definitely going to go with fun.

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In the spirit of not just sharing the pretty stuff, here she is, folks. Fresh from the pool. (you can’t expect me to snap a pic of myself in a swimsuit just yet. baby steps.) No makeup, red rings beneath my eyes and I daresay a bit of a glow from doing something good for my body (the glow might also be redness from pool chemicals.) The chlorine and the pool lighting can make a girl look awfully frightful. But I did it anyway. And, know what? That in itself felt pretty amazing.

ENOUGHNESS PROJECT. This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I am abstaining from frivolous material purchases, accepting all blessings that come my way and focusing on gratitude for all that I have. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives for material consumption; grow my understanding of when/why I buy things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

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I don’t always pose for pictures like I’m getting ready to meditate but when I do, I make a nice mudra with my left hand. Feeling grateful to live in such a vibrant city–and grateful I’m getting better at traversing it without fretting about my lack of enoughness.