I cannot run. I have tried for a number of years to run, twenty!, but when it comes down to it, I can’t.  I just don’t know how everyone else seems to be able to do it. I have heard it’s all about the breathing pattern, so I have tried a couple different breathing patterns yet I still end up huffing and puffing after only a couple meters. Then I heard it’s all about endurance.  Not for me. If I “run” 400 meters today, and each day for the rest of the week, I still find I am not able to get any farther or any faster the next week (and honestly, running 400 meters is still pushing it). I envy everyone who can run.  I want to be able to do triathlons, and half marathons, and marathons, and 5ks and 10ks.  Runners just looks so…..good…and healthy, and joyous. But, I. Cannot. Run. I’ll keep trying, of course, but I am pretty sure the next 20 years will be as futile as the first 20 years.

On the other hand, I can swim. In fact, I can swim like I can walk; forever and ever. When I first got my acceptance into this program, I mentioned to my mom that the University had a swim team. She got really excited and said I should join. My initial response? No way. My swim team days are over; way too much time, way too much commitment, and way too much work. No way.

But, I have never been able to stay away from the pool for too long. By the second semester at my home university, I was looking for a water polo team to join. There wasn’t one.  My home university doesn’t even have a regulation pool. So I went home and worked at a pool for the summer, when I went back to the university joined the masters lap swim program. Swimming has turned into an addiction. Almost a nasty  addiction- swimming ruins your hair, dries out your skin, and makes you really tired. But, in spite of all that, it feels really good to be a swimmer.

As I was walking from campus to my room in the International hostel, in the 97% humidity, and the sun blaring down on my shoulders, I saw a white sign with big bold letters:  Swim Team tryouts will be held this Friday. Everyone interested must be able to swim 50 meters of any stroke.  (Note the sign said ANY stroke, not ALL strokes).

Man, did that sign seem to sing to me. Honestly, I was so excited thinking about being part of a swim team again that I started getting a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. I never thought I would be a part of a swim team again, especially not a swim team at the University of Ghana, Accra!

When tryouts came, I self-consciously stood around for about 30 minutes before I was allowed to enter the water. I did not have a competitive swim suit at the time, so I was wearing my beach suit.  You should have seen the looks the other swimmers were giving me. Even though they said nothing to me out loud, I could hear them thinking, “Who is this white girl coming in the fancy suit thinking she can join the swim team?” and I knew they were adding on, ” Look at her! I will be able to beat her no problem.”

Then I started swimming. I was swimming at the same time as some other people, including one Ghanaian male swimmer. At the end of my first 50 meter freestyle, the coach looked at me and said “Can you swim all the strokes?” ….. “Ummmm yeah.”…… “Ok-let me see.”  Alright, I thought, no problem, backstroke here we go. By the end of the second lap, that Ghanaian male swimmer came up behind me, huffing and puffing, barely able to get any words out and said “Wow, you’re really fast.” Oh, what a good feeling! I was never fast when I was swimming at home, and I haven’t  done laps in months, but here I am, the white girl in the fancy swim suit, beating the totally ripped (and pretty cute) Ghanaian male swimmer!  Fantastic, I like this team already.  After breaststroke and butterfly, all the coaches had come over to watch me. They started asking if I had ever swam on a team before, and letting me know that I have a really nice stroke. My tryout was over, and they told me I was qualified for the swim team. Thank goodness!

On the first day of practice, I showed up in the same fancy swim suit, and again, no one took me seriously. The coach put me going 4th.  In the first 50 meters of warm up, I had already passed everyone in my lane. The odd part was, when I asked if I could go ahead of everyone, they all said “No, you’re supposed to be 4th.”  What a pain.  But, by the second week of practice, the coach said I could go first.

Despite the fact that swimming is so new in Ghana, and that the Ghanaians who joined the swim team probably just learned to swim in the last year or two, the practices are incredibly difficult. Our coach throws  out 100 meter butterflies like they are  nothing. At one point he said, “We are now going to swim an easy 100 butterfly.” I responded by saying “I don’t think I can do a 100 butterfly again, right now.” The coach explained to me that this was supposed to be an easy 100 butterfly, not fast, he said I could do it “No problem.”  “Ummm” I wanted to say to him, “Have YOU ever swam an easy 100 butterfly?”  The answer is no! There is no such thing! Whether you are doing it first or last, and whether you are doing one or twelve, the 100 butterfly can never be easy. I tried explaining this to the coach, but he didn’t get it. So I swam the 100 meters my way, half butterfly and half freestyle! Practice got much better after that. I am finally going first in my lane, and the coach seems to be OK that I don’t do exactly what he says all the time.

Well, he was OK with it  until I opted to skip dry land practice on Tuesday mornings (which by the way, takes place at 5:30 AM) because, as I  told you, I. Can’t. Run. It’s almost…no it is…really embarrassing. I am the first one to finish my laps in swimming.  Most people do a 200 meter warm down, I have to do a 400 meter warm down becasue I finish too fast, but when it comes to running, I am always the last to finish…and not by a little…by a lot. When I walked in to swim pratice on Wednesday, my coach told me to go run 15 laps. I have never run more than 1 lap in my entire life. So, in the dark, I, and all the others who had opted to skip dry land practice on Tuesday, started to run about 4 miles.  I. Can’t.  Run.  Even after the 15 laps.  I was no better than I have ever been. After we finished the four miles, our coach explained that we held up the entire team by skipping dry land, and we were not allowed to swim that day-as punishment- and if we skipped the next week’s dry land practice, we would be kicked off the team. Fabulous.  Now I have to run every week. Hmmm….maybe I will be able to run by the time I get home?  Nope.  I have had illusions about being able to run before.  I have tried before. I am not going to be able to run.  Even if I have to run to swim.

Only now, after a couple weeks of swim practices, are we are starting to talk about swim meets. Apparently, we will be having a meet at the end of this month, and we will be swimming only against ourselves. Ummm, OK.  We will be split up into teams, each representing a traditional Hall on campus. When we went over the events that we would be swimming, they declared I would be doing the 200IM…..because I am the only one that can do all the strokes. Love it. I will also be doing the 400 meter freestyle…because I am the only one that can swim distance. I love that too. I am stoked to be a part of a swim meet once again, and I almost can’t wait for the end of the month.

Swimming really has become a lifelong sport for me. I am excited that one day I will be able to say “Yeah, I swam in college” even if it was just for a semester, but it was for a semester in Africa!  Pictures will be coming soon!