Seeing past personality types, learning styles, body types and beliefs … to see and swim a new way.

We are complex creatures and not one of us is the same as another. Even identical twins have differences although not necessarily obvious to the eye.

Knowing this fact, accepting this reality, can be the compelling reason for us to consider, and put into practice, the fresh perspective that will serve us all well to see past personality types, learning styles, body types and our unique blend of beliefs is to operate on one universal principle.

Of course, the ideal is love … unconditional love, but as evidenced by our past and present, just the idea of valuing … respecting each unique person is a tall order in our global culture of Disrespect. The taller order is actually learning how to respect … to value all life in our words and actions … every day … in all our relationships, connections and interactions.

A simple example of how we struggle with this idea and simply resort to our conditioned response of prejudice is what I have experienced with a personal goal: the process of changing my swimming style.

Water has pulled me into its depths all my life. As a child, I spent hours on the river’s edge and within no time at all, following my Dad’s example, my child’s body was slicing through the green water to cross to the other side of the river. Though I have been told I did not take well to the public swimming pool and provided lessons, my swimming skills demonstrate I nonetheless did learn different swim strokes as well as the basics of diving, but it was only recently I discovered my swimming style was called the Tarzan stroke.

For known and unknown reasons, my swimming style meant I kept my head lifted out and above the water. One of the known reasons, though not entirely understood why, was to stop water from going up my nose. Yet diving is one of my favorite aspects of swimming.

In fact, one year, after a tumultuous period of my life, I even taught myself how to swan dive. Till then, I had never learned successfully how to use a spring diving board, so learning how to swan dive meant observing all users of spring boards and of course, especially the children, with their lack of fear and their bold fun who taught me to just let go and get comfortable with falling in the water in all kinds of ways; which also meant letting to of what people thought of a grown woman flopping into a pool as I grew accustomed to being out of control, so I could gain more trust in the process to achieve my goal.

In one winter season, my unconventional learning style did result in my ability to spring my body high into the air with arms spread wide and legs pulled together in proper form before my arms returned to their entry position as my body curved and sliced the pool’s surface. Sometimes on my entries my body was more rolled than straight and into an underwater somersault my body would roll. Sometimes my body was so straight and pointed, down to the bottom my arrowed body would rush. And sometimes, my body would have just enough of a curve to take me down so far but then gracefully sweep me back up to the surface. Even without a camera, I knew I was successful in completing my goal because of the response from observers, including the lifeguards.

A few years ago when I moved back to the home of my late teens and twenties where one of the greatest bodies of water, Lake Huron, once challenged and strengthened my swimming abilities, I soon realized how much I had let my swimming strength diminish. Upon my return, I also discovered one of the newer challenges I wanted to experience, surfing, is becoming a growing popular sport at the town’s main beach because of the dynamics of the breakwall, piers and currents.

A significant water level drop since I owned property south of the town’s border and even south of the area known as Boiler Beach has resulted in significant lake changes, including rip currents that develop in between sandbars and beside piers; rip currents that can thrust even an accomplished swimmer across the surface of the water in seconds, leaving them disoriented and if not wise in the ways of these sometimes volatile waters, stranded in deep water, exhausted from fighting the water’s stronger force. Safe swimming, as well as surfing and any other water activity, is now best-managed by learning how rip currents work, how to get out of their often frightening grasp, more safety strategies and tools, plus stronger swimming skills for this great lake.

For me, stronger swimming skills translates into face-in-the water comfort by learning to swim the crawl as opposed to wasting energy trying to keep myself alive by keeping my head above water at all times by swimming the energy-zapping Tarzan stroke. Changing a fifty-year style of swimming has not been easy or as quick as some would hope … especially people with different personality types, learning styles, body types and beliefs.

As a result of a lot of personal work, I know me very well these days and that includes the recognition none of the above … personality types, learning style, body types and even beliefs are the same as the majority. First, many people like constant attention while learning. In contrast, I excel when I gather new information and then go off on my own to practice and experiment because someone constantly talking at me is a distraction to me, but welcomed by other personality types. When I need more information, I come back for more, taking all the pieces and working on them individually before I start integrating them. For example, two of the biggest challenges I faced was getting used to putting my face horizontal in the water and learning how to breathe as I lifted my face partially out of the water, first to the right and eventually also to the left. Changing my kick from a thrust to a constant flutter meant developing the muscles in my hips and legs in new ways. Then there were the goggles, the bathing cap, getting the arm strokes coordinated with the breathing and the face in the water plus the new style of kick, etc.

Knowing what I know about my personality type, learning style and even body type, I should have known better than to take lessons in a big class with so many swimmers who, as it turns out, already swim the way I was there to learn how to do.

So, after two classes, I took the information provided, did some research of my own and started swimming on my own, breaking down old habits and instilling new ones, which, of course is taking time, though in truth it has only been a few months. Still, I find several people are quick to share their opinions about what I am doing wrong even though they know nothing about me other than what they see in their mind snapshots of my swimming endeavors.

Yet I know, if observers do not have the same personality type as I they will not understand how I work well on my own, breaking down big pictures into the details in order to construct a new big picture. They will not know that my body type is first a sprinter, excelling in activities that require quick and short bursts of great speed and that in order for me to become an endurance performer, I first have to train my body and mind with how it works best … using my natural speed with an element at a time until I can bring all the elements together quickly … in a flash, so I can experience what the new way of swimming I am striving for feels like … so I can build that feeling into my endurance training and goals.

“You swim too fast, your head is not deep enough in the water, you need a camera with video to watch your form,” are just some of the comments and suggestions I have heard, albeit, no doubt with good intentions, but yet at the same time this experience greatly demonstrates how we like, prefer even, everyone to be like us … to do as we do, to act as we act, to think as we think, to learn as we learn … and yet, no matter how much we may try, we are not like anyone else … and never will be without losing our own identity. We, each of us, are unique combinations of a number of factors, none of which is duplicated in anyone else.

Learning to appreciate we are not like everyone else and to understand that our differences from others does not make us or anyone else wrong, but just different is a very important step in making our world a safer and more peaceful place to live.

Valuing … respecting our differences, as well as our similarity in being unique creatures, is a huge step in making our world the safer and the most peaceful place we all want to live.

Hmmm, on that note, it is off to the pool I go in a few hours to recapture the new feeling I experienced during my last swim session when everything finally came together … speed, stroke, right and left breathing. Now I can begin to refine my form and build up my endurance so I will be ready this summer to be the swimmer and surfer I envision myself to be.

March 17, 2014

Kaitlin A. Trepanier

All Rights Reserved by DARK HORSES PRODUCTIONS/KAITLIN A. TREPANIER … CREATIVE WRITER, ADVOCATE, and PROJECT SPECIALIST responsible for the creation of the global initiative Connecting the Dots … with The RESPECT PRINCIPLE … because every child … every person … should know, by their own experience, they are valued … RESPECTED.


Calculated Risk … A True “Rip Current” Experience

All of a sudden, my lungs tightened from lack of oxygen. I was in trouble. Not even pass one third of the pier’s length, my capacity to breathe deep was stifled as the rolling swells and frothy tips of Lake Huron bounced me like a rubber ball on the surface of the water. What had initially looked feasible, while I stood solidly on top of the southern pier, now felt impossible with each shallower breath I took.

Earlier in the day, while standing on the south pier, silently surveying the pummeling waves and row of black neoprene-covered bodies sitting and occasionally standing upright upon bright-colored surf boards, I watched as one of the bolder surfers strode by me on the pier with surfboard in hand. “You look solid standing there,” he commented as he passed by before walking another seventy-five feet to the end of the pier where he launched, first his board, and then his body into the churning waters. In the water, he was then positioned well ahead of the pier’s point and the row of surfers who were lined up half way down the pier’s length in the water, awaiting the right wave to ride. StationBeach14

Twenty five years ago when I lived here, surfing was something we watched people do on ocean waves in our televisions, but upon my return to Kincardine a few years ago, I discovered surfing as a local water sport has been growing steadily along with other water sports such as stand-up boarding, sailboarding, kite boarding, surf kayaking and of course jet skiing.

During my first few years here in Kincardine as a teenager, a two level-diving board stood halfway down the north pier facing the north shoreline but I don’t remember having the guts to dive off the board. Ironically, a more gutsy and dangerous game I did join was the daring surf play risked when we jumped off channel side of the south pier into high rolling waves that would then lift us back up and drop us on the pier’s jetty.

But Lake Huron’s water level, I have been told since my return, was several feet higher then. Evidenced now by beaches now un-swimmable because of the water’s recession and revealed rock shoals, by the watermarks on the pier and especially by the pier ladders, whose first steps are out of reach above the waterline, that is, if the ladders are still attached to the pier, which they are on the channel side but not on the south side of the south pier. Instead, as I was shown by one of Kincardine Station Beach’s self-appointed stewards, one such south pier lakeside ladder now lies on the bottom of the lake, knocked off the pier by the power of the lake’s waves and winter ice.

Station Beach, back then and now, remains popular because this main beach is only one block west of the Kincardine’s main street and downtown core. In between the buildings and looking down the side streets, you can catch picturesque glimpses of the stunning western view that heralds some of the best sunset photography in the world. You can also see the small winding creek-like Penetangore River widening into a channel that slips between the two piers, carrying watercraft as small as jet-skis and small power cruisers to the tall mast sailboats and fishing tugs out to sea.

Water and water play has always been a big part of my life. Growing up on the shores on the Sydenham River in the southern Ontario town of Wallaceburg, the river was my backyard and my favorite playground from the time I was a child till I was twelve years old. Our family had a six passenger cedar-strip boat parked in our back yard. Amidst the smaller power boat and then the larger yacht traffic waves, Dad would drive my Mom, sister and I out to Mitchell’s Day for a picnic and a swim. Our uncle and aunt lived just outside of town past the cemetery along the river so they also had a dock and powerboat, though our favorite water toy at their home was the long braided, knotted rope we used when we launched ourselves off the wooden step built specifically for the take-off. Our own home was the second house from Fiddler’s Green; the boating club filled all summer with mostly American yachters that paid us nickels and dimes to tie up their boats on their arrival.

But just east of Fiddler’s Green, a steep incline of the boat launch ended with a small dock for tying up launched boats, but what we the neighborhood kids used as our playground. This was also the place where my real swimming lessons began; not in the chlorinated public pool where I refused to demonstrate in the swimming classes I was enrolled in that I could already swim.

My Dad was a powerful swimmer and all-around athlete and I have been blessed with the same athleticism. Trained in his childhood to be a fast runner by the circumstances of not having a bicycle to go swimming in the distant creek with his friends, he ran beside them on their bicycles, swam and played in the water and then ran beside his bicycling friends all the way home where he would resume his farm work. Dad’s exceptional hand and eye coordination repeatedly put him at the top of whatever sport he tackled. His most noted performance was as one of the star players for the Wallaceburg Red Devils, a lacrosse team that was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. His real desire, I later discovered, was to be a professional baseball player, for which undoubtedly he could have achieved had a poor farm boy, his family and community believed in and supported his dream.

With my Dad’s genes, I developed into a strong tomboy, towering over boys at age thirteen, with long, fast legs, seizing naturally whatever opportunity I could to use my physicality. By grade seven, my strengths became apparent to our coach as he encouraged me to develop my skills to become one of top three female athletes in my junior high years. When I graduated to grade nine, my junior high coach, met with me regularly on the high school track to keep training, especially with any sport associated with running, but as with my father, the pressure to give up such frivolousness was even stronger for a Catholic-raised girl, so I walked away from taking my athleticism seriously.

Fortunately the black and orange neoprene jacket over my black one-swimsuit was keeping me warm, but with each shallower breath, I felt encumbered by the sleeves and un-zippered front. Now I just wanted to get out of the water, but there was no ladder to climb for my escape. The only choice left was to swim to the pier and grab hold of one of the two pieces of rebar sticking out of the cement portion of the pier StationBeach13

Still, walking and cycling were second nature to me. Like my Dad, I thought nothing of walking for miles and miles and running and even when there was no need for the short quick bursts of sprinting, I would find a reason, including games of touch football with the neighbor boys that often turned into tackle football. By sixteen I was married and the lack of physicality from living added pounds to my lithe, lean and muscled body. But by eighteen, I followed my family to Kincardine and re-discovered the bliss of water play just outside my parents’ home just off of Aintree Road and later, for ten years, from my own home just south of Boiler Beach. No matter the time of year, Lake Huron mesmerized me, calling me constantly to walk its shoreline and whenever possible to swim its clean water. Then, every summer when my husband and I returned to his favorite Algonquin campground, I would swim, accompanied by him in the canoe, to the island and back. Teaching aerobics, working out in the gym, cycling and of course, even walking into town kept my lungs strong and clear even though I smoked during those early years.

When we moved to the city, being away from Lake Huron was one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. Not hearing the waves outside of my bedroom window, it took me months to adapt to the city’s night sounds. Along with participating in fund-raising walks and cycling, martial arts became the new channel for releasing the strong desire to be physical and safe in the unfamiliar, large and seemingly unwelcoming city: eventually though, the water called me back as it always does.

Lake Ontario beckoned me constantly but because of all the pollution, only with my eyes did I enjoy its breadth of blue, so I was forced by my water need, to slip into chlorinated pools. Once back in the water, I found I just wanted to play, not swim laps, so by watching the kids, with their lack of fear, jump and play off the diving board, I followed their lead, mostly looking quite idiotic as I learned to not fear the board and the water’s hard surface so I could one day spring off the board with an elegant swan dive, which I eventually achieved.

The only thing that brought relief during the spells between my water play was motorcycling. On a California driving tour, we entered a small town high in a mountain pass town where a motorcycle rally had taken over the town. Bikes and people of all shapes and sizes were lined up along the streets and to the shocked amazement of my husband, a teenage dream broke forth “I am going to get a motorcycle.” By the following March, my first motorcycle, a brand new 250 cc Yamaha Virago was parked in our garage and the beginner’s permit was parked in my wallet.

In the early 1990’s not many women were driving motorcycles, but my dream to drive one was inspired by a woman I met in 1972. Sam, a tall, vivacious and gregarious woman I met in Chatham where my first husband and I lived briefly, not only had her own motorcycle, she was a motorcycle mechanic, though not just any motorcycle mechanic: she was her fiancé’s motorcycle mechanic. As a racer, she was the only mechanic he let work on his racing machines.

I can only imagine how difficult it was for Sam to secure her license if she even needed to get a separate license in the 70’s because of what it took for me to get my M class license in the early 90’s. The driving test was comprised of two parts. Before we would even be tested on the streets, we first had to weave our way through a set of pylons, do a half circle and return, by weaving through the pylons … without putting a foot down on the ground.

We have all heard the saying if a woman wants to do something a man does she has to do it better in order to receive the stamp of approval. Well, the same standard applied for motorcycle testing, at least where I was tested. During my three tries on my long wheelbase Yamaha, I drove better than most of my male counterparts, who even brought in short wheelbase motorcycles for their test only, but it did not matter. One man wore laced runners and his lace got caught on the peg, but he passed. Another put his feet down, but he passed. Etc., etc., etc. But in the end, the stamp of approval was sweeter because I became a better rider than any boy or man who entered those pylons. My Dad would have been proud of my determination, strength, agility and perseverance.

Forced now to swim directly to the pier, the backlash from water smashing into the pier now smashed into me, along with the incoming surf, taking more of my breath from me. With my grasp now holding tightly to the three-foot long rebar, I tried to let my body rest by floating on the water’s surface, but in no time, I realized I was in more danger than expected.

Knowing one of Station Beach’s most familiar local faces, a self-appointed steward, Joe Kilian, was standing on the pier, I called out for help. Joe’s face, surrounded by his long white hair and beard, peeked over the edge of the pier before disappearing briefly. Being thrashed about was taking its toll, especially as the water’s force now tried to drag me into the eroded spaces underneath the pier. Fear of being trapped underneath the pier compelled me to swim to the second piece of rebar, which fortunately enabled me to rest my feet on a boulder while I clung tenaciously to the metal bar while waiting for help.

“Swim back,” Joe called out as I grabbed hold of the orange buoy ring he threw to me, but by then my body needed an escape and there were no ladders to climb to lift me out of the turbulence, except the one well behind me. As Joe walked east towards shore trying to pull me in, what I had not previously been aware of was the constant rip current running from the shore up along the pier’s side to the end of the pier, relentlessly trying to carry me out to deep water.

No matter how hard I kicked in the water and no matter how much Joe tugged the rope as he walked slowly to draw me closer to shore while gesturing for me to swim away from the pier, the ring and I were getting nowhere and I knew for the second time I was in deep trouble. StationBeach12

But I also knew when I decided to undertake the challenge my decision was based on a calculated risk and a heart prompting, which I have learned to trust and not just some foolish whim as many people have judged. For the past two years, I had been re-acclimatizing myself to the amazing power of Lake Huron, encouraged by surf guru Laird Hamilton’s advice to use both beach and water as my gym to rebuild the strength, stamina and swimming skills I would need to one day join the line of surfers I knew were stretched out across the waves that day. As Joe had helped, I expected a surfer would too. One did, but not in the way I expected.

Watching Joe’s wild gestures to swim away from the pier, I kept yelling back, “I can’t. I’m too tired now.” My eyes focused on the shore and the three neoprened bodies standing there. Finally, one of the surfers, the smallest of the three, ran and dove into the water, swimming steadily and quickly to me. “Do you need help?” the young woman asked quietly. Hesitating only briefly, I replied “Yes” upon realizing Joe and my efforts were not going to be enough. StationBeach5 StationBeach11 StationBeach10

Linking my arm into hers, we swam further south of the pier, further away by just ten feet. Suddenly we broke free of the rip current’s firm grasp and we swam steadily to shore. I could see the stern look of reprisal and fear on observers’ faces as I repeatedly said “I’m fine” assuring others and myself. Sincerely thanking Joe and the woman surfer, I grabbed my towel and headed for warmth.

Sleep evaded me the whole night as I continuously replayed, analyzed and evaluated the whole experience. Had I been foolish? What was I thinking? What was I trying to prove? And the answers came. Before hand, I had been thinking the experience would prove whether I was ready to be on a surfboard in the tumultuous water: the answer was not yet. Had I been foolish climbing down the ladder at the end of the pier to immerse myself in the churning waters? No, because there were several people around who could help if help was needed. And finally, like the female surfer who came to my aid, I took a calculated risk, whose results, if not successful, would be used to help keep other people safe by writing about my rip current experience to help encourage those responsible for keeping our water play as safe as possible by raised awareness, education and ensuring the proper safely and rescue notices and devices are in the right places, including the installation of emergency escape ladders on the south side of the eroding south pier where a rip current most notably resides in rough conditions.

Would I take such a calculated risk again? Yes, because sometimes we are called to step out of our comfort zones to make things safer and better for others … and for ourselves.

2800 words
All Rights Reserved
November 1, 2013

Kaitlin A. Trepanier

All Rights Reserved by DARK HORSES PRODUCTIONS/KAITLIN A. TREPANIER, Connecting the Dots … with The RESPECT PRINCIPLE Developer, Author, Speaker, Playwright, Altruistic Entrepreneur, and Human Rights Activist … because every child should know, by their own experience, they are valued … RESPECTED