Swimming and EDS

As I said in my last post May is EDS Awareness month.

Today I want to talk about swimming. As many of you know I used to be very sporty, running, swimming and cycling and when I was younger martial arts too.

Now my EDS is more of an issue I can’t do this so much any more, mainly because I do not have the energy to do so, but also as I struggle to walk running is out of the question. My rehab lady has advised me to get a turbo trainer for my bike, which I have done, as she doesn’t want me to risk going out on the roads at the moment. I have been trying to cycle and I had hoped that I would be cycling outside by the end of summer, but as even 10 minutes at a slow pace leaves me very fatigued and I don’t seem to be able to build on it, I don’t think that is going to happen.

But swimming? Ah, I love swimming. I am lucky that there is a pool 10 minutes up the road from me, which makes it easier. I have always swum, I did a lot as a kid and I have a swimmer’s body – quite broad, rather than a whippet of a runner’s body. I have been going to the pool, first in my wheelchair, but now I walk into the pool, reguarly since November. At first my aim was just to get in the pool and get wet, I had no other goals than that. Slowly and very carefully listening to my body I have been building up a little at a time.

There are several reasons why I love swimming as much as I do:

  • All the pain goes away, my body is supported by the water and that makes such a difference.
  • I am rather clumsy on land, bumping into things, my legs can give way, if I am really tired I walk like I am drunk. In the water I am graceful and strong, sometimes I think I am part seal – galumphing on land but sleek and powerful in the water.
  • My body actually does what it is supposed to in the water. Under the ASA para criteria Ehlos Danlos is specifically excluded as a disability for swimming and that is because the flexibility helps – the lack of stability in my ankle joints which is a problem on land becomes an extra flick in the water which drives power.
  • Swimming doesn’t fatigue me as much as other exercise does – probably because of the above reasons and being supported in the water.

All of those things give me a big mental boost – I love feeling strong and elegant. I am good at swimming. Someone came up to me in the pool the other day and said it was a joy to watch me swim. And someone else called me a professional. That really helps me when I am feeling really down about my life. I am slowly, ever so slowly, building up the amount I can swim. This is very difficult as I have to stop before I get tired, which makes it tricker to improve. Also if I don’t go at least every other day I can notice a downturn in how I swim and certainly my stamina. As I said in my last article EDS hypermobiliy type means that it takes us a lot longer to build up muscles and no time at all to lose it.

The other good benefit of swimming as my main focus is that it is harder for me to injure myself than cycling, running or pretty much anything else. I have the temprement and agression to play wheelchair rugby or basketball, but being prone to injury and slow healing do not make them good options. Have you seen them play – brutal! I got my swimming technique checked out a while ago so I know I am not repeatedly doing an action which will cause harm.

It is frustrating – I was training for a 5K swim last year and now that is out of the question, I am nowhere near doing that now, I was also doing outdoor swimming  which I loved, but here in the UK that is likely to give my body a horrible shock which will take quite a few days to recover from. Plus putting on a wetsuit is utterly exhausting.

I priortise swimming and yes it takes energy that could be spent elsewhere, but keeping my body in the best possible shape is the best thing I can do to prevent a downwards turn and maybe even help me get a bit better than I am. Getting dressed afterwards takes much more time than it use to and I have to sit down a lot. Walking out is difficult – more than walking in, so I use the disabled space next to the door. Even if I am having a bad day I try to go to the pool, then I try to listen to my body and I will often just do a few lengths, and do some physio exercises in the water, or even just enjoy being in there. I can walk in fine, but walking out is much more effort. But that moment when I push off from the wall, come up and go into my stroke – I feel strong, alive, healthy and I feel like my old self again. That is worth the sacrifice.



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