MIT PE to the rescue! Yee-hah!
How a trip to Volcano Bay got me learning to swim and much more!
Standing in awe, I gazed at the most beautiful theme park I have ever seen in my life. My friend and I had just entered the Volcano Bay at Universal Studios in Orlando after a morning flight on December 21, 2019. Skipping straight to the thrill rides (more exciting and even scarier than the other rides), we almost ran towards the queue. One after another, feeling increasingly excited after each ride, we rode them all until only two remained – the Ohya and Ohno drop slides!
As we reached the entrance to the drop slides, the smiles on our faces slowly withered away. The notice at the entrance specifically mentioned that there would be a 6-foot drop into a 10-foot deep pool, which mandates strong swimming abilities. We stood there in silence for a minute and then looked at each other. I asked my friend if he knew how to swim. He said that he was comfortable swimming in a pool no deeper than 6 feet – because he was over 6 feet tall. I confessed to him that I did not know how to swim, irrespective of the depth of the pool!
I remember feeling very sad when I visited the beautiful shores of the Red Sea in Israel wanting to scuba-dive with the fish but my inability to swim held me back. The feelings of despair I had at the entrance of the drop slides were much more intense. So much that I even spent an hour at Volcano Bay trying to learn the basics of swimming from my friend, but at the end of the hour I was exactly where I’d started. After the Red Sea episode and now this, I was still berating myself with the same question: why haven’t I learned how to swim?
Back in Cambridge on New Year’s Eve, I started looking for places to learn swimming — not out of impulse or emotion but sheer necessity. Despite assuming that the swimming courses offered at MIT would be costly I discovered some free courses on the MIT Physical Education and Wellness website. One such course over the upcoming IAP had remaining vacancies, so I registered immediately.
The course ran for over four weeks, and I am proud to say that I successfully learned how to swim! The course started with learning how to float; despite my excitement, I was still unable to float after the first lesson. So I read about the theory of swimming, practiced the next day, and surprised the swimming instructor, Sarah, by floating successfully during the second lesson. You can imagine how much I struggled with more complex – sometimes scarier – swimming strokes such as butterfly, backstroke, and freestyle, but Sarah would correct my posture and offer advice, and she helped me understand that some people naturally learn swimming more slowly, so I should keep trying. The effort was totally worth it, and I continued swimming after the course ended just to get better. Even since, I have been looking forward to going to Volcano Bay to experience the thrill of the Ohya and Ohno drop slides!
However, my first course with MIT PE was not going to be my last. While my determination to learn swimming was highly motivated by my yearning for the Ohya and Ohno drop slides, I realized that taking time out for some physical exercise was actually very relaxing. I liked being able to get out of my lab, take an hour off of my work, go for a swim, and then come back to the lab feeling much more refreshed. That, in fact, helped me become more productive with my work since I would be looking at the same problem but with a fresh perspective. And of course, if not for the swimming course during IAP, I probably would not have taken time off for physical exercise!
I wanted to continue taking classes with MIT PE after IAP. In Quarter 3, I registered for “Self-Defense for Women” and loved partnering with another student and practicing the various techniques of self-defense. Right after I completed this class, the pandemic shut down all in-person PE classes until the Fall of 2020.
When I learned that in-person PE classes would be offered during Quarter 1, I tried to register for Archery, which I have always wanted to learn! However, grad students can only register for PE classes on the last day of the registration period. Archery is capped at eight students, and no spots remained by the time I could register. The same thing happened during Quarter 3. Nevertheless, I decided to show up on the first day of class in case someone who’d registered did not attend. By fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time, only eight students, including me, had arrived. The instructor then put the attendance sheet down and told me that I was officially in the class. I’d finally made it! Taking a class with only undergrads felt awkward at first, but I became more comfortable through teamwork. Lacking a natural flair for sports, I took more time and effort to learn the right posture and take good aim – surprisingly, reading Paulo Coelho’s book The Archer and re-watching Brave helped. By the end of the course, I was able to shoot several arrows right at the bullseye.
I went on to take other PE and wellness classes such as yoga, fitness, and resiliency. Many of the PE classes I’ve taken have helped me dedicate time for self-care. I now even find swimming to be very calming, especially when I close my eyes and float in the water. It is like meditation – I am aware of my surroundings, the pool, the splashing of water, but at the same time I am trying not to dwell on any of these thoughts. While I had practiced yoga and meditation previously, I think that the PE courses helped me practice more regularly, even after they ended. I hope to continue participating in more PE classes. After all, they help me relax and force me to get some physical exercise and stay healthy!
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