Book Club · fitness

FIFI Book Club: Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui

Hi readers– we’re reading a new book for this installment of the FIFI book club. It’s called Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui. Some of the bloggers are long-time and even year-round swimmers, inside and outside. Others of us have dipped a toe in from time to time, but are newly intrigued by wild swimming, lake swimming, open-water swimming. We’ve written about it recently.

We’ll be reading and commenting on the various sections of the book over the next five Fridays. We’d love to have you join us and add your comments to the mix.

To start, we’d like to introduce ourselves in terms of our past, present and aspirational relationships with moving around in water.

First up, Bettina:

I’ve been a swimmer for most of my life. My mum signed me up for a course when I was five and for the local swim club when I was in primary school. Later, I became a lifeguard. When I was 17, I moved to Wales and qualified as a beach lifeguard too. That was the only time in my life I’ve been anywhere close to an open or cold water swimmer though. Back then, we were in the ocean even in the winter, admittedly with very thick wetsuits.

Unfortunately nowadays, I don’t live close enough to a body of water large enough not to give me the heebie-jeebies. Small, murky lakes and rivers creep me out for some reason. I prefer the pool. I love the flow I can get into while doing laps. Swimming is my favourite way to get away from things and clear my head. Nothing quite compares!

Here’s Diane:

I’m a water baby. My earliest memories involve playing in the water at a lake. My hair would turn greenish in the summer from spending so many hours in the chlorinated public pools. I was even a lifeguard and swim instructor for a while. Masters club swimming, and the friends I have made there, have been central to my life for the past 15 years. I love the drills focusing on making every stroke streamlined and efficient. I swim outdoors with friends year-round. My goal is to do a 10 km swim this summer.

Next up, Sam:

Try as I might, I am not a fitness swimmer. I wish I were a fitness swimmer. I try and I try but it never seems to take the way that running did and cycling has. I know it’s great exercise and it’s easier on my joints than other forms of exercise, but still. My last attempt was just a couple of years ago, when my knee was really bothering me, and I paid for small group swim coaching/stroke improvement at the university pool. It worked for a few months but then didn’t.

The only time I’ve been successful as an indoor pool swimmer was when training for triathlon on campus with the university triathlon club. I was the anchor person for the slow lane. People came, got faster, and moved on. But I stayed. I really liked the team drills and having a coach suggest what I should try next. Apart from the team environment I’ve never been able to make it work on my own.

My struggle with indoor swimming is in contrast to my love of the water outside. I grew up on the east coast of Canada, in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and lots of my childhood summer memories are of days at the beach playing in very cold waves. Now living in Ontario I love swimming in the great lakes. What do I love about it? It makes me feel like a kid again. I feel very relaxed and comfortable in the water. I never feel like I’m at risk for drowning. It’s fun and playful. I’m drawn to the water. And I still hold out hope that eventually I’ll be a lane swimmer. Someday!

Here’s Kim:

I love swimming and miss it so much right now. I’m a lengths in the pool kind of woman; I really enjoy the smell of chlorine, the light through the windows on the water in the winter, the clear view to the bottom of the pool and the lines marking the lanes. I love indoor and outdoor pools, and I really really love cooling off in outdoor pools, stretching after other kinds of fitness activities (for example: long summer cycle tours).

I lived in the UK for several years and became quite attached to winter swimming in the outdoor lidos – generally the heated ones, as I do not own a wetsuit. That said, I am now very cold-water, wild-swimming curious: I have a chronic inflammatory condition and have heard cold water immersion is a source of terrific therapy. I’ve started standing in my shower under a flood of cold water once a day to begin getting used to the concept. I cannot wait for my local pool – Victoria Park Outdoor Pool!! – to reopen in July, and I’m very keen to read Why We Swim and share my thoughts with my fellow flutterers.

And now, me, Catherine:

I’ve always loved swimming for fun. I learned at age 4 in this creek near my grandparent’s house:


Black Creek, near Darlington, South Carolina.

I spent summers at the local pool and loved playing games with other kids, practicing dives, and swimming underwater when I wanted some solitude. In high school we lived in Myrtle Beach, SC, and I went to the beach and swam often. The beach and the warm waters of the Atlantic are my happy place. My sister and her kids and I go as often as possible.

Like Sam, I’ve never been a fitness swimmer. I’ve tried, but going to the pool and doing laps has never become a habit. Honestly, I don’t like it a lot. I always feel slow and my stroke techniques feel awkward. It’s recently occurred to me to get some swim instruction, which I think I’ll do.

But, the main thing I love about swimming is the ability to go outside my lane– to paddle around to the middle of a lake, float on my back and look at the sky, to use my own body to power through and on top of water to get places. In the ocean, to jump up or dive through waves, to swim out past the breakers, tread water and look at the scene– I love it all.

Then there’s the experience of being in water: the weightlessness, the hydrodynamics of movement, the quiet world of underwater swimming (I’ve scuba dived a bit and loved it). I’ve not pursued swimming for pure pleasure since adulthood. I think it’s high time now.

Well, readers, that’s us. What about you? What’s your currently relationship with swimming? Do you want to change it? Are you looking for inspiration, community, warmer weather, a cute swim cap? Let us know, and join us next week as we talk about section one of the book: survival.

Susie the Swimmer says, we can swim!

9 thoughts on “FIFI Book Club: Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui

  1. Pool swimmer here! I’ve been swimming since the age of 5 in various incarnations: lessons, instructor, pool manager, lifeguard, Masters swimmer. My favourite pool is the Thames Park pool in London ON, a glorious 50 m outdoor pool. I’m not much into “wild” swimming, but having grown up on the North shore of Lake Erie, I love to jump in to Ontario lakes and rivers in the summer. Unpopular opinion: ocean swimming is gross. Icky sticky salt water. I’m a bit more than halfway through Why We Swim and there are a few chapters that really resonated with me. Looking forward to the discussions!

    Liked by 1 person

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