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Swimming takes me to a happy, meditative place

Gina Kelly of New Hyde Park does laps

Gina Kelly of New Hyde Park does laps at her town pool at Clinton G. Martin Park in July 2013. There's something freeing and meditative about gliding through the water, she says. Credit: Tracy Dobkin

I grew up in Queens, and I never really learned how to swim. Weekend trips with the family to Long Beach meant frolicking in the waves and never daring to go far out into the ocean. The one time I tried that at Jones Beach, well, let's just say it didn't go well.

If one was lucky enough to find a friend with a backyard pool, it usually meant dunking -- and probably being thrown in by someone.

Fast-forward to adulthood; I marry and move to Long Island. I discover there is a Town of North Hempstead pool at Clinton G. Martin Park that we have access to, just because we live in the hamlet of New Hyde Park.

By now, I have kids, and having a place where I can take them every day in the summer is like discovering gold -- and they will learn to swim for sure.

Bringing them to the kiddie pool when they were toddlers and then working up to the big pool, where they could frolic with their friends, was a summer treat I had never known.

I "played" lifeguard, watching their every move while chatting with my other mom friends. I enjoyed the sun and though it wasn't always relaxing to act as lifeguard, I knew the kids were having a blast. I rarely ventured into the water -- only a bit, to cool off.

It got easier as the kids got older, and I didn't have to supervise as much. I went in the water a little more, but suntanning was really the agenda.

Fast-forward, again. The kids are now grown, but I still went to the pool to relax and enjoy the sun, venturing into the water occasionally. My other mom friends were no longer there, so it took on a new atmosphere.

It wasn't until after I broke my arm that I learned swimming might help it heal. So into the lap lane I went. The water was cold but felt good. Even though I couldn't swim well, I could tread water, and I started doing this regularly until my arm started feeling stronger.

However, in the process of doing this, I discovered something: I liked the feel of the water, and I liked "swimming."

I started counting laps and pushing myself to see how many I could work up to, and also paid close attention to people who could really swim to see if I could learn anything.

I found I felt so good after I swam that it became sort of a new obsession. I wanted to swim faster, better, and master my breathing technique. I was thrilled when I finally swam my first mile!

In between laps, I started chatting with others in the lap lanes, asking about their swim habits and if they could offer any tips to help me swim more efficiently. Sometimes it was just small talk about the weather.

What I discovered upon doing this, however, was that I became familiar with a group of "regulars" who were there, not only for their love of swimming, but for what it does for them physically and mentally.

I began to realize it wasn't just about getting a good workout while cooling off. It was a sense of escaping the everyday stresses of life and going to a "happy place" that took you away, even for a short while.

There was something freeing about gliding through the water, and the repetition of doing laps made it almost meditative. There seemed to be a camaraderie that formed while in the lanes, because everybody was there for the same reason, and everybody came out with the same happy, refreshed feeling -- a renewal of sorts.

If I missed a few days at the pool, I would be out of sorts, and it was nice to know everyone there felt the same way. We're addicted and we must swim!

I especially enjoyed the sunset swims, which were almost spiritual in nature and gave me an incredible sense of peace. I love having found a new passion later in life, and the bonus is I've made a lot of new friends in the process.

It doesn't have to be swimming. Find something you like to do that takes you away to a "happy place," even if it's just for a while.

Gina Kelly,
New Hyde Park

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