Learning How To Swim

I learned to swim three times.

5 years old. In the neighborhood pool in Columbia, Missouri, my mom tried to teach me the gentle way. She used to take me to the pool daily and say, “look at everyone having fun, why don’t you go play.” Horrified, I preferred to glue myself to my mother’s side. One day, she walked me to the edge. Legend has it that she tried to throw me in, and instead I threw her in. My mom hit the water first, clothed fully in a jilbab and shoes. Hanging on to her for dear life, I fell next, and that made two non-aquatic beings splashing in the middle of the pool.

7 years old. On a beach in Florida, my father carried me on his back and swam just past the shore to the point where the choppy waves become smooth ripples. Then he lifted me off, dropped me, and rapidly swam away, commanding “Swim to me!”  I could sink or swim.

21 years old. As a senior at Bryn Mawr College, I had one requirement left to graduate: the swimming test. The test involved 10 minutes of continuous swimming demonstrating two distinct strokes, treading water for 1 minute, and floating motionless for 1 minute. I could swim for survival, but two strokes? I did not know a single stroke. While I waited my turn, I tried to explain this to the instructor: “I can swim, but I don’t know any strokes.” Accustomed to nervous test-takers, she assured me that I could use any methods I want. I’m not sure what I did; for the first method, I think I rotated my arms like wheels and kicked my feet up and down, and for the second, I tried to emulate a frog.  When the test ended, I reached for the ledge gasping for air.

Five years later, I’m learning to swim again. I have not been running for the past four weeks to let my foot heal, and the pool at my gym just instituted women’s hours, so I have an ideal opportunity to learn! This time, I want to learn proper strokes.


I asked the lifeguard how to make my stroke more efficient and she recommended kicking from the hips instead of knees. I didn’t even know that I had been kicking from my knees (how silly!).  When I took the tip, I got to the other side faster.  Then I forgot what to do with my arms.

It is frustrating that swimming is not second nature like running; however, I intend to keep on trying.

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, advised parents:

Teach your children: Javelin throwing, Swimming, and Horseback Riding.”

I never learned javelin throwing/archery or horseback riding; but I did learn to swim three times and counting.

Disclaimer: After my parents’ tough teaching experiences, I loved “swimming.” A little too much. I would stay outside until my fingers became the texture of raisins and skin the color of tomatoes.