Chattanooga Now How swimming helped me get back on my bike

Chattanooga Now How swimming helped me get back on my bike

June 1st, 2018 by Mark Pace in Get Out - Departments

"Ten laps," I told myself. "That's all you need to do today." (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Tanaonte)

Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto/Tanaonte

A trio of swimmers pass under the John Ross Bridge while swimming in the Tennessee River during the Icy Hot Ironman 70.3 World Championship on Sunday, Sept. 10, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Here I found myself again, standing at the edge of the Hamilton Family YMCA pool for the first time in months, toes over the edge, ready to dive headlong into 9 feet of water.

"Ten laps," I told myself. "That's all you need to do today."

t didn't seem like much. I had done this dozens of times in my days as a lifeguard.

But this was different, and becoming all too familiar.

Two years ago, just before Christmas, I had what doctors call a spontaneous pneumothorax. In plain terms, my lung collapsed — for the first time.

"That makes sense," I was told by nurses and doctors. "You fit the bill." It inexplicably happens to a small percentage of tall, skinny people.

By the time I stood peering into the pool, I had been hospitalized three times, growing more impatient with each recurrence. I had lost all my strength and was struggling. I wanted to start cycling again to regain strength. I had been a cyclist for much of my life, riding thousands of miles in high school — week-long adventures and a fair share of 100-plus-mile rides — and was a member of a Dayton, Ohio-based team sponsored by Fuji, Michelob Ultra and others. But I knew I was in no shape to hop on a bike and go. Swimming was my best option.

Swimming is an ideal tool for rehabilitation. It is a low-impact, non-weight-bearing exercise that contributes to active stretching, exercise and improved circulation, says Center for Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics physical therapist assistant Patty Galyon.

"It's not only for the debilitated, but athletes, too, who want to increase skill, balance, strength and endurance. It does all of those things," Galyon says. "It's really underrated for a lot of people."

Most importantly for me, it would help build strength and stamina, and rebuild a foundation I could utilize to return to the bike.

So there I stood, peering into the lukewarm water at the YMCA in East Brainerd, contemplating. If I was going to do this again, I needed it to be for something more this time. So I set a goal. I wanted to challenge myself and try something that didn't seem realistic at the time.

I wanted to attempt the 2019 Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga.

I had been fast on the bike, and had also spent about seven years in high school and college as a lifeguard and teaching swim lessons. An Ironman event is something I have been interested in since high school. I knew then that I eventually wanted to do one, so why not now? It seemed challenging, yet possible.

I leaped from the tile floor, pulling my legs together and throwing my hands above my head as I dove headfirst. I spent the rest of the winter swimming several times a week, first unable to swim more than a lap without stopping to rest. But with each stroke, I slowly regained some of what I had lost.

And then one day, after the weather had warmed, I knew I was ready.

I pulled my bike from a hook in the ceiling of my workshop, checked the tires, added lubricant, and hit the road; traveling to meet cyclists with the Chattanooga Bicycling Club and Velo View Bike Tours for my first ride toward the future.