Exercise / Life of Johanna

My exercise life pt 1: Learning to crawl

The last few years have been quite eventful for me when it comes to athletic adventures. As I am currently nursing (yet another) injury I thought it would be fun to do a blog post series about all the stuff I’ve dipped my toe into during the last few years. This first post will be about how I trained freestyle swimming, suffered a panic attack in the water and learnt a few lessons along the way.

When I began roller derby I already had a backup plan if I would get injured. That backup plan was triathlon, so when I broke my wrist I quickly decided to shift my focus. The main stumble block was that I couldn’t do freestyle swimming, because in Sweden we are only taught the breast stroke. The reason for that is that the breast stroke is better suited for life saving, which also says a lot about the Swedish mentality me thinks, I honestly don’t think any other country is as obsessed about safety as we are. Heck we even use it in branding, such as the Volvo cars!

Okay so back to swimming. I enrolled in a freestyle course (which meant I had to get up at 4:45 AM on those days) and a shocking thing happened – I turned out to be naturally quite good at it. This was the first time ever this had happened to me, in the past I have always struggled with learning new skills, be it tennis, drawing or learning to roller skate – It was always harder for me than most other folks in my group.

So I went to class dutifully and started to practice on my own too. I felt confident and even began to make big plans, maybe I could even try long distance swimming? But alas during my first triathlon I quickly discovered that swimming in clear pool water with straight lanes is vastly different compared to the carnage that is a mass start in an open water swim. Just a few minutes in I got kicked in the face by a fellow swimmer, which set off a very scary panic attack, I began to hyperventilate, my heart was racing and the remaining swim was a nightmare. I ended up doing mostly back strokes to help me release some of the pressure on my chest and it wasn’t until I got on the bike that the anxiety began to disappear.

During my second triathlon I was mentally prepared for the chaotic start, but I wasn’t quite prepared for big ocean waves, so again some anxiety happened. It wasn’t until my third triathlon that I managed to have a pretty relaxed swim and the joy I felt coming up from the water that third time was amazing. I even remember shouting “no panic attack this time” to my family and friends who was standing by the lake watching.

So that was the story about my (somewhat scary) road to learning how to do freestyle swimming in open water. Next time I’ll talk more about my triathlon experiences. 


  • Uta
    September 20, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    That's fascinating, Johanna! I'm trying to teach myself a bit of freestyle swimming (it's same with breaststroke in Germany!) as breaststroke kicks are starting to hurt my knees. I'm finding freestyle very, very hard (exhausting), although that might be my lack of aerobic fitness talking… Good to see you blogging again, and I always like a bit of variety thrown in with the sewing 🙂 !

    • Johanna
      September 21, 2015 at 8:42 am

      Ah, interesting to hear that we are not the only country that has to rely on the breast stroke. As for the exhaustion I can relate even though I was quite fit when I started. I think it is linked to both the breathing and the lactic build up that comes when doing such an unusual movement. For me taking classes has been hugely helpful, I too tried to learn it myself first, but struggled. But with a good teacher it became so much easier.

  • Summer Flies
    September 20, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    This is so interesting. My preferred exercise is swimming and I do it year round in an outdoor pool… that's not so impressive when you understand the winter average temperatures are low of 9 deg (although it gets to a low of 4 at times and that's a big drop in one day) and high of 21 deg! I do breaststroke as I have one neck injury and two shoulder injuries and freestyle (or the Australian crawl as it is sometimes known) is much more taxing. I admire your bravery as I fear swimming in the ocean at such long distances and it is all waves here in our oceans. Are you still doing your triathlons?

    • Johanna
      September 21, 2015 at 8:48 am

      I find it very impressive to swim all year around like you do, and 9 deg is not warm. Hats off to you! I too have noticed that too much freestyle taxes my previously injured shoulders, so it is a balance act. As for triathlons not doing them at the moment, at first because of time issues and other fitness goals and now because I have this foot/calf injury that prevents me from both running and biking with clipless bike shoes 🙁

  • Summer Flies
    September 21, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    Oh did forget to mention that in winter the pool is heated to 26-28 degrees, so it's actually warmer in the pool than outside and it's nearly always sunny..

  • The Material Lady
    November 24, 2015 at 8:23 am

    I am so impressed with your fitness challenges. I have been having swimming lessons this year to improve my technique and plan to try open water swimming when it is warm enough next year. Not competitively though!


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