Swimming in the Kromme Rijn

I have never actually swam in a river before. I did train to swim in my early teens though. For about three years, I was coached once a week by a professional swimming coach and learned many different styles. We also had to learn survival swimming, which was meant to mimic an emergency situation and you had to use what you were wearing to make a floatation device. I loved the water. I looked forward to the day of the week when I could train. After two hours of often rigorous training, we could laze around in the water. I would swim lazy laps and at the deepest point in the middle of the pool, I would dive down to the bottom. I would then look up through the water. It was otherworldly. I loved the sound of the pressure and the way everything looked so far away. People would swim over me like fish.

When friends called me for swimming and lazing around at the Kromme Rijn, I was apprehensive. I did not have a swimsuit. And do you swim differently in a river? But it had been particularly hot that day and just before leaving the house I decided that being in the water would be a welcome relief. I borrowed a pair of swim shorts from a friend and joined the gang to cycle to the river. We took a path through the park and it was beautiful. The many bends and curves of the river with quaint small bridges to cross over. I was already a bit tired by the time we got to the spot my friends had in their minds. Many a time, they had to slow down because I could not keep up. What can I say? I do have short legs!

The spot was right at the end of one of the bends in the river. I took some time to change into my bathing suit. I was not very used to changing out in the open. After being in the sun and catching up for a while, we decided to get in the water. The plan was to walk against the current, get into the water at the beginning of the bend, and come out at the spot we had picked. The water was cool and delicious against my skin and the current was barely there. I stood for a minute before swimming to my friends who were waiting for me at the centre. But, when I got to the centre I realised something was not right. I had not yet put my head under the water but I could not breathe. And then my legs felt uncoordinated. In a second I was struggling to stay afloat. It was like I could not remember what to do. I floated on my back and tried to regain some calm. But every time I moved upright the same thing happened. Or actually it was worse. It got worse each time I tried to move ahead in the water. I moved back to the shallow part near the bank and my friends came to check on me. When I could stand out of the water, I gasped and breathed like I had not breathed in a long time. I tried to go back in after I calmed down but there was some kind of dread.

I came out of the water and sat in the sun thinking about what had happened. Did I just have a panic attack? Was I scared because I couldn’t see how deep the water was? Or was I just not good at swimming with my head above water? Had I just not swum in really long that I had forgotten how to?