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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Atheist Life Hacks: How To Evolve Back Into A Fish

When I was 3, I almost drowned. I was in my aunt’s pool in an inflatable ring and all the adults were turned at an angle facing the sun so they could perfect their tans. My aunt caught a glimpse of my empty ring out of the corner of her eye and flew into the pool, fully clothed. I spent the rest of my weekend there in the pool learning from her how to tread water. I loved it.

When I was 8, my parents took me around the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and French Polynesia. Our first stop outside of North America was Fiji. I spent the entire 2 weeks on Castaway Island in Fiji, in the water. By the time we left for New Zealand, I was diving, doing the front crawl and snorkelling.

We spent a full year on beaches and in pools. I swam in some of the most shark-infested waters in the world, completely fearless. I was in the water so often that my hair was probably wet more frequently than it was dry for that entire year.

When I was 13, my parents took me to Cancun for two weeks. We met a family from Baltimore, with a son around my age. It turned out, he was an Olympic hopeful in swimming. I challenged him in the pool and kicked his ass in a freestyle and breaststroke race.

When I was 15, my parents took us around the South Pacific, South East Asia and Australia again, and I learned to scuba dive just off Plantation Island in Fiji. I also learned to surf in Perth and free dove at the Great Barrier Reef, making quick movements so the giant clams, 40 inches across, would slam shut sending a cloud of sand and debris up into the water.

Sometime later, I went diving, snorkelling, kayaking and swimming in Thailand, post-tsunami. I came home waterlogged, crispy-skinned and depressed to be out of the water. I needed it as much as I needed oxygen. So, I coughed up the dough for a swim pass and swam every day. It kept me sane. It kept me happy. It made me whole.

I moved around a lot and everywhere we went, I found a place to swim every day. I couldn’t live without it. I turned into an entirely different person without it. It helped me sleep, it gave me energy, it kept my clothes from getting too tight.

Then I moved here. This small town with only one tiny pool. On any given day there are only 2 or 3 lanes open, and with this town being a popular retirement destination, the lanes are often filled with elderly men and women moving at a snail’s pace. Still, I kept my hopes up and headed in for a swim one day. I got in behind an old man and kept having to pass or slow down for him. I changed lanes. It was worse. Two old ladies ganging up on me with their doggy paddling. I was so frustrated. I got out and left.

I was so put off, I decided to swim in the lake all summer. It didn’t happen. The lake never really got warm enough for me to spend an hour a day in it.


Last Wednesday, I got back in the pool. When I stepped out onto the deck, water aerobics had just begun and some horrendous techno version of Come All Ye Faithful was blaring from a tinny little Sony stereo. I winced. I put on my swim cap and slipped into the silky blue, anyway. There was an empty lane. I popped my goggles on and sunk into the quiet. The only sound now was the liquid licking my arms as they lifted and lowered, lifted and lowered. It was perfect, liquid quiet. Peace washed over me as I glided from one end of the lane from the other. The lactic acid burning in my out-of-shape muscles slowly turned to numbness and I was on autopilot. The burning in my lungs melted away and I just went, in peace, in silence, in joy, I went. Finally. Finally.

An hour later, I hobbled out of the pool, with jello-y muscles and high on endorphins. In a state of euphoria, I swore I would never stop swimming again.

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