People often ask me if it hurts to walk. The answer is ‘sometimes’. Funnily enough, since I had my hip replacement, the one part of my body I rarely feel pain is in that left hip. It’s everywhere else that’s working so hard to compensate that causes me discomfort. Usually for me it’s pain in my neck and shoulders and my right knee. The knee because I take so much weight through that leg and the right hip itself doesn’t rotate normally so I hitch and throw my leg out. And my shoulders and neck because they’re working overtime to stabilise me, to keep my balance.
Sports have always been a bit of a challenge. I’ve talked about my early, wobbly attempts at the egg and spoon race. At junior school I could do two things. I have very long arms (no really, like they almost hang to my knees) and so I was good at badminton for a while. I could reach the shuttlecock from anywhere without moving! But as the other kids got older and stronger I had to start chasing the damn thing around the court, and it was clear this wouldn’t be my sport after all.
The other thing I could do, and to this day I love to do, is swim.
In the water something extraordinary happens for me and it occurred to me the other day that what I love about it is I feel no tension, discomfort or pain. It’s what I imagine some people feel when they walk – it’s automatic and they don’t have to think about it. Once I get into a rhythm swimming, that’s what I feel. I’ve done five laps and I don’t notice – I’m just in flow. Walking has never been like that. I don’t consciously mark every step but I do always have to focus on where my feet are placed and what I’m doing. I’m hyper-vigilant about what’s around me in a crowd (yet still end up in that confused ‘dance’ with a facing stranger who can’t figure out which way I’m trying to go past them). It’s also easier for me to walk with others if they’re on my right-hand side as I’m less likely to bump into them. So thinking about those things is a conscious thing I have learned to do. Steps Charity say “not everyone can take walking for granted” and yet despite all this, I still do. It’s just a slightly different walk. I’ll be back walking the South Downs in the Spring when there’s no chance of slippery frost. Until then you can find me in the swimming pool.
I don’t know how long I’ve loved the water but I remember swimming lessons with joy. It just worked. I could actually do it better than some people and that was a rare feeling for me when it came to sports. The picture you see on this post made me smile. It’s of me and my dad at the seaside (Mablethorpe’s golden sands) where he’s giving me the chance to paddle with my hands because I’m in a chest-to-ankle plaster-cast called a hip spica. It was a way of holding my hips in the sockets after surgery. It didn’t make a very good swimming costume though. Maybe my love of swimming comes from this picture? I found something I could do and so I focused on that.
I still love the sea, and swimming. And it occurs to me looking at this picture, that swimming is still simply paddling with my hands.