Swimming never came naturally to me. Aside from summer camp and pool parties as a child, I spent very little time in the water and always preferred the comraderie and dynamics of playing team sports instead of jumping into a lane and competing individually. When I forced myself to start swimming in my late twenties in order to train for triathlons, it was a sad sight. Although my fitness in running and biking was strong, I could barely last a few minutes in the pool before I was gasping for air. The first few times I begrudgingly got into the olympic sized pool at my graduate school gym, I had to embarrassingly stop and rest after each 25 meter length. 

Almost a year after my injury, I got back into a swimming pool for the first time since those days of triathlon training and I immediately felt comfortable and happy. Although I was in a tiny therapy pool, about twice the size of a hot tub, heated to 93 degrees (most people with Spinal Cord Injuries cannot effectively regulate body temperature so a normal pool is usually too cold), and with two therapists in the water with me, I felt more free than I had at any moment since waking up in a hospital bed in the ICU. 

I didn’t just like the feeling of being weightless and uninhibited by gravity, I adored it. I craved it. And I wanted more. 

Soon after that, I decided that the water therapy with the PT’s was too restrictive and I didn’t want to be confined to a small pool and strict 50 minute time limits. I found a public pool near my house with a lift to get in and out of the water, and I was off. Brita, who had grown up swimming her whole life, was thrilled to be back in the water consistently and we were both overjoyed at the opportunity to share an activity together that could replace the hikes and bike rides we would inevitably be doing otherwise. 

In the beginning, I had to swim in place, on my back, with Brita holding my ankles. Five to ten minutes was more than enough. Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I bought a snorkel and tried to swim face down but I was too weak to even get my arms out of the water and take a stroke, yet I tried anyways. As I’ve explained here on my blog so many times before, physical progress with anything after a Spinal Cord Injury is painfully slow and so much more tedious and frustrating than able-bodied exercise or training, but I kept at it. Not only because I felt like it was an attainable goal to work towards, but because I was addicted to being in the water, of taking the pressure off my butt, of escaping the hideous reality of sitting in a chair so damn much. 

One day this past December, almost a year and a half after I first got into a pool, I threw off the snorkel and decided that come hell or highwater, I was going to force myself to get my head out of the water, breathe normally and swim freestyle. Serendipitously enough, only two days later, I stumbled upon an open water swim race in June and immediately knew my destiny. Without hesitation, I signed up for the longest option: 2.4 miles, the same distance of an Ironman triathlon. 

This past weekend, with a bit of apprehension but a full head of steam, I got in the lake and completed the swim in just under two hours, a full thirty minutes faster than I was expecting. 

While relearning how to walk remains my ultimate goal and primary focus in everything I do, completing this swim has taught me the importance of setting and reaching objectives of varying difficulty. I’ve learned that achieving this goal of swimming a distance that I never expected possible allows me to be even stronger and more determined as I remain focused on my longer, more difficult goal to get back on my feet.

Shortly after my swim, a friend who heard about it congratulated me and said, “hey you’re Aquaman!” I nodded in agreement, knowing that being Aquaman has renewed my faith that no matter how long it takes, I will soon be “Walking Man” again. 

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36 thoughts on “Aquaman

  1. You are one determined man, Arash! Swimming 2.4 miles is a feat for anyone. Thanks for continuing to share your experiences. It really is so inspiring.

  2. Your blog never stops being inspiring. Your determination and attitude always leave me looking at my own life. I too believe there will be a day when you are walking!

    1. Arash, Wow! Your blog and the message above have moved me to tears this morning. So well done! Being in the water is great. I can’t believe you swam 2.4 miles – that is awesome! An accomplishment for anyone! Many blessings to you, Melanie

    1. ok… your comment made me chuckle! i’ll second that, as my shoulders and feet are recovering from dengue and chikungunya! but wait. i would coach myself thru each kick and say, ‘if arash can do this, so can i…’

  3. Congratulations!
    What a magnificent feat.
    You’re going from strength to strength and while its taken a massive amount of mind power to achieve each goal, it becoming all the more clear that some people with a SPI have the potential to improve dramatically.
    I really do think people underestimate the power of the mind, not just in SPI situations.

    1. Yes that’s the moral of my whole story I think. With determination and will, there is a lot we can accomplish. -AB

  4. Amen to setting midway goals as *stepping-stones* to your ultimate objective, which can sometimes seem depressingly elusive. I didn’t realize how late in life you took up swimming – all-the-more nicely done!

  5. you are an inspiration to us all. I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time looking forward to each new post nd know thru Jere you r doing some speaking engagements. You might think about writing a book about your journey but also on whatever inspires you ( even fictional for example) as you r an accomplished writer. That really comes out in your postings.

  6. Inspiring words to many, especially those with the goal to walk again. Perfect example that there is no limit to what the human body is capable of when we have the right attitude and determination… Congratulations on a great race and achieved goal!
    Keep swimming Aquaman. Keep training, keep working, keep standing, and keep moving.πŸ‘

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