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My Journey to Overcome Trauma from Drowning

Updated: Jan 15

When I was a child, we lived by the lake. We used to go there with my family in the summer quite often. I was not swimming, only playing on a shore with a ring around me to help me float. I wasn’t afraid of the water until the moment when I was without an inflatable ring and was suddenly out of control. I don’t know how it happened, but I started to drown. I remember that day; the water was everywhere, and I swallowed much of it. Luckily, my dad saw me drowning; he ran from the beach and pulled me out of the water. After this experience, I started to hate water. But later in life, I had another trauma from drowning.

At 22, I went to the seaside with my friends. As usual, I was not going to the water; I was the only one from our group who watched the sea from the beach. One late evening, we were having fun on the shore, and I entered the water just a few metres from the shore because I didn’t want to miss the fun with my friends. But it was windy, and there were big waves that evening. I was with friends having fun and didn’t notice we were slowly moving away from the shore. It didn’t look like we were carried away as it was dark, but suddenly, a few waves came and pulled me to much deeper waters, and I could no longer stand on my feet. And I started to drown again. I couldn’t see anything in the dark. Luckily, one of my friends swam up to me and tried to pull me out of the water, but I panicked and began to drown him. After several attempts, he brought me closer to shore, and I could stand and run away from the water. It was another horrible experience for me, and since then, I didn’t really go to the water.

I developed so much fear that I had nightmares about drowning in the sea or floating, but unable to breathe. I was afraid even to wash my face with water. I used to wash my hair the way so that I didn’t get any drops on my face, so as you can imagine, it was a complicated process every time.

In the summer of 2022, before a trip to Greece, I knew that I would be on the seaside, but I also knew I couldn’t swim. And I didn’t want to have another time just sitting on the shore and watching. I felt so sad that I couldn’t enjoy the vacation fully. I decided that the time had come; I needed to change this and be able to swim. And soon I signed up for swimming lessons. I was 31 and had to do something about my fear and overcome trauma from drowning.

girl in the pool
One of the first lessons at Podolí

I went to pool water in the first lesson, which seemed very cold. I got uncomfortable and afraid right away; I couldn’t stand the feeling of water over my head. I would panic once I got water in my mouth, nose, or ears. I tried blowing bubbles through my nose and trying to float while holding the pool edge; those were the first small steps.

After several minutes of trying the exercises, It was such a happy moment for me when I was standing on the bottom of a pool holding stairs, with my eyes in a goggles. I couldn’t believe I made it. The fact that I have water above my head and am calm shocked me. I started to cry and laugh at once when I put my head above the water. This was a crucial moment; I felt freed from something. It was a significant relief that I felt I could make it and overcome my fears.

Every time I approached a pool, I felt fear; I was thinking about how it would be scary in the water and what new things we would do. Around my first 10 classes, I was checking the time and wishing the class would finish soon because I quickly got tired and felt very cold. But I refused to give up my practice. I knew I had a lot of trauma to overcome, and I convinced myself I could do it. After around 8 months of swimming practice, I went to a pool with thoughts that I would really enjoy swimming. It would be fun; finally, I had no idea how scary it would be.

I started first with a breaststroke. As Lukas suggested, it’s better in the case of a big fear of water as it is more stable and easier to start with. I did exercises with a belt and noodles. After some time, we removed all the help aid. It was so scary to be without the floating swim belt and swim alone. When I overcame my fear of swimming, I realised many things In the water. For example, the perception of water depends on whether I come tense from work, slept well enough, or have soreness in my body from exercise. I would most likely fight with the water sink under the surface if I had anything like this. But if I came fresh to a pool, without tension in my body, I felt the water so well, it becomes easier to move. I come to a collection in a bad mood or with a headache, but after swimming, I am so refreshed, full of energy, with a smile. After my first struggles, I started to enjoy swimming. The water stopped being cold to me; every time I swim, I feel that the water is warm.

I feel many emotions while swimming: curiosity, happiness, drive, and sometimes healthy anger. Also, there are a lot of beautiful fish around me. Every class is different; I am so satisfied and proud of myself. At that hour, I felt that I couldn’t manage the things I already practised before, and I would put myself down because I didn’t meet my expectations. Now, I know it is wrong to come to the pool with some expectations; it just puts me under pressure, and I feel sad if I don’t swim as I imagined. What works for me is when I tell myself I will try my best and enjoy swimming.

I have joint hypermobility, which means my body is very flexible. For this reason, it is hard to keep a firm body in water, especially in a straight position. Lukas always takes a video during class; on those videos, I can see that my body position is not linear as expected. Such videos of me swimming help me see the mistakes and understand where I can improve my movements, arms, head position and more. I started attending CrossFit classes to help myself be stronger and have more power when moving in water. I’ve been going to CrossFit for half a year now, and I see the results: I got stronger, my body has changed, my stamina has increased, and now, when I swim, I feel more power in my arms.

I love jumping into the pool; that’s how I always start the class now. Jumping was a vital part of getting rid of the fear. With every jump, I felt more confident; I knew that, eventually, I would swim up and be safe. I tried to free dive in a 5-meter-deep pool, holding a breath, sitting at the bottom, and then slowly getting up. I did high diving from 3 meters diving board. These experiences I never imagined that I would be able to perform. Five months after I started swimming, it was time to try to learn to crawl. I am still not fluent in it, but I keep practising.

I was swimming in winter in an outdoor pool, and I was swimming when the water temperature was only 8 degrees.

Girl posing in front of the pool
I was swimming in it!

Swimming in a pool is so different from swimming in an open water. I realised it when we had my first open water class on Motol koupaliste. First, the visibility is almost zero; there is no edge to grab, and there is grass in the water, making you feel uncomfortable. Before trying open water, Lukas made sure that I could do water treading in a pool and floating on a back.

Then, we had a class in Hostivarska Prehrada. I set the goal to swim it across. I wasn’t thinking whether I would be willing to grab the edge or couldn’t stand it whenever I wanted. I mostly thought about breathing correctly and saving energy because I can quickly tire. Once I have terrible breathing, I immediately have a headache, which can last several days after swimming. And if I get tired, I become tense, which creates pressure in my head and then leads to pain. I focused on keeping a rhythm at which I could swim long and was not tired quickly. The water visibility was poor; if I got water in my mouth, I tried not to panic but kept swimming, just like I would in a pool. All I need to do is focus on what I want to achieve, not what I don’t want to happen. It helped me swim across Hostivar water, and I was pleased. I swam 500 m, which is 250 meters one way, break and another 250 meters back. I was proud of myself.

Lukas told me about the Balaton Lake race in Hungary. The distance is 2.6 km and 5.2 km, according to your choice. The race had to happen on 22 July 2023. Unfortunately, I knew I couldn’t manage to go to this race. Still, I wanted to swim this distance, at least in Hostivar. We worked on the endurance. I tried to swim as many meters unbroken as I could with breaststroke. Occasionally, I would stop because of the headache, but I would push anyway. One day, my goal was to swim 1.5 km in Podoli continuously, but if I feel OK to continue, I can swim more.

That day, I swam 2.1 km; my knees were in enormous pain, and I also had ligaments in my legs so painful. But I knew I could swim longer.

Woman standing on the molo
When I first swam 2,6 km at Hostivař

And on July 2023, I was at Hostivar ready to swim 2.6 km. I had a floating swimming buoy, which I could grab while swimming if I wanted to rest. Lukas made a route plan with the spots where I could catch my breath and swim further. I felt very heavy for the first 250 meters, my muscles tight. I thought I would not manage 2.6 km. After another 250 meters, I felt better. I focused on the moves and breathing. A couple of times, I swallowed water. I thought about when I was drowning, but I continued anyway. Later, after I calmed down, I looked around me and saw the forest and nature. It was so beautiful; I was in the middle of Hostivar, with trees around and birds above my head. I thought about the fish in the water; this was a happy moment; I was swimming in nature. This scenery and imagination helped me to relax. I continued and finished 2.6 km in about 1h 45 minutes. I am glad I accomplished my milestone; next time, I want to swim 5.2 km with a Freestyle.

I’m focusing on Freestyle practice, and I want to swim faster to prepare for Balaton next year. I know I’m not the fastest or don’t have the best technique yet, but I do it because I can finally enjoy the activity, and I started to love swimming. I don’t expect to become a performance athlete. Still, I understand that a certain level of performance is very healthy, allowing me to do more activities in general. Now I also like to go swimming with my friends, sometimes we go to a group class together, or we recently went to aqua park. I’m so grateful I didn’t give up through the hard times and continued my practice, as now I can see results and feel much better about the water. I really love it.


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