My Swimspiration

Fat Tomato Inspires Me

Every moment of every day, Fat Tomato and Striped Dawg Fish explore their 10 gallon tank as if they have never seen one cubic inch of it before. They have enthusiasm of puppies. What a way to live.

 Woah! Never been here before!

Woah! Never been here before!

Fat Tomato discovered a neat trick: He amuses himself by swimming into the jet of water returning from the filter. I like to think he is pretending he is a great marlin being chased by Ernest Hemingway off the Florida coast. It is truly inspiring. I have not been able to get footage of him doing it. Even if I promise him he will be Instafamous, even if I threaten to cook up some rice and make him into sushi, he still will not do it when I am ready to film. When I whip out my iPhone, he begs for food, even though I just fed him! Please just do it now, Fat Tomato!!! No, I’m just tooooooo hungry, he seems to say. So dramatic!

Fat Tomato even taught Striped Dawg Fish to swim into the water return. I think it is too much for tiny Striped Dawg Fish. Clearly, he does not enjoy it, and only does it after Fat Tomato takes a turn, and only briefly, just to please Fat Tomato, I suppose.

Fat Tomato’s exuberance for life got me thinking...

Why don’t I ocean swim this summer?
And... why is that even a big deal? 

My opinion is that water exercise is a not the best choice for the hypermobile set. It does not help with posture, proprioception, balance, or bone density. Instability and vibration challenges collagen, forcing it to get stronger. That does not happen in a pool. 

You can build cardio in the water and some muscle strength. All that flailing around can be straining for those of us with stretchy collagen. Years ago, I tried warm pool physical therapy. It was a complete nightmare. I would have unbearable pain blow ups about 36 hours later. When I was at Cedars Molecular Genetics getting officially diagnosed, they agreed, that warm water causes tissue relaxation and can trigger pain. It is tempting for us because that warmth and less gravity feels so good at first. Chiropractic adjustments can feel good at first, too, but that is a dangerous road to even more joint pain and instability.

On land in front of mirrors is where to learn to move yourself better, build muscle, encourage stable collagen and learn to never hyperextend your joints. Gravity and impact stimulate the remodeling of bones. You do not get that in water. Resistance training (that means weights) and exercises that involve hand grip make your brain smarter, which is important because EDS makes you brain fogged and stupid, no matter how high your IQ is.

Get some one pound or half pound weights and learn some simple moves. Do one rep per day, and add from there. Watch in the mirror and learn to keep your joints in place. Light weights are wonderful because they force small muscles groups to work, thereby increasing joint support. Yay! I still do one or two pound dumbbells, occasionally three pounds. Around town, I carry heavy leather handbags, with a firm handgrip or perhaps over my shoulder. My spine and arms can do it. Yay! I love to carry things.

Stroke swimming is even worse.

In stroke swimming, rotating the arm overhead over and over is a huge range of motion for the shoulders. Not good. Flutter kicking stresses the low back. Ouch. Maintaining stability throughout the L-spine in water without the force of gravity to help would take tremendous concentration and strength. Turning your head to breathe tweaks a delicate, too long neck. Double ouch. So much big, repetitive motion, swimming has a high injury rate. So do Pilates and yoga, other activities I avoid.  

So, why would I swim?

Because I love swimming in the ocean. I love it so much, that I decided I would like to die in the ocean if I could not get my miserable case of EDS to relent. But it did. It got much much better. Have you read my site?

Then my arthritis healed. Wait, what? How did that happen? Was that ever a surprise! So, I thought why not indulge myself? Why not ocean swim? Just this one summer, I will swim intensely. I think it will be okay.

I bought books on swimming. I went back to physical therapy to work on my shoulder stability.

 1 pound weights.

1 pound weights.

And also to work on spine stability.

 Strengthening my L-spine.

Strengthening my L-spine.

I spent a few months getting strong on land. Finally, I felt ready to get in the water. I joined a gym with a pool.

 I truly hate lap swimming in a pool.

I truly hate lap swimming in a pool.

I refuse to curl up into a ball to do flip turns, as I do not want to flex my spine repeatedly. It is flexible enough, thank you. 

I avoid stretching my joints. If I stretch, it is specific, to target my over-firing, tight muscles like hamstrings and calves. I do not stretch to amuse myself and never to impress others. I will not even pull a joint backwards for a doctor. I have been evaluated by the best, and it is all there in my records, so no circus tricks, sorry, doc. It just isn’t good for me. But you are welcome to touch my velvety-smoothy skin. Amazing, isn’t it.

I still completely flunk the Beighton, by the way. I have global hypermobility which means every joint goes backwards. Avoiding stretching is how I teach my body not to let joints go into an unhealthy range. Mr. Pennington even tells me when I am doing something strange with a joint, so I can stop immediately. Let’s break those bad habits and protect our joints always.

What causes osteoarthritis? Acute injury or chronic irritation. Let’s avoid both. Click on my category for exercise, and you will see I do impact, weights and vibration with the best posture I can figure out. My joints are in excellent shape and much of my arthritis has healed. The rest improved.

It took four swims in the pool at the gym for my spine to figure out how to cope with the forces of stroking. It stopped destabilizing and stressing my nervous system with what feels like a horrible bout of PMS. It was a painful, rough ride. I have a very flexible spine. I could have been a back bender contortionist in the circus. Ouch.

A few more swims after that, I stopped having odd, random painful spasming the day after swimming that felt a bit like getting punched. Strengthening any area for delicate me is a bit of a journey. But at least I get there.

The difference between my life now on injectable Vitamin C and my old life with only oral C, is that now my body does respond. It does build muscle, strengthen connective tissue, and my nervous system figures out that I have not fallen down the stairs. I just went for a little swim and no need to get so dramatic over a moving myself a little. Phew. I can do this.

More prepartion was needed.

To get acclimated to the cold Pacific, I soaked my feet in ice water, which I do anyway because It stimulates the nervous system and helps my injured foot. You get a nice endorphin rush, too. 

 Highly stimulating. 

Highly stimulating. 

One day after Japanese class, I found a book at Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore in Little Tokyo. They have an interesting selection.

 I love McDonald's.

I love McDonald's.

I read this book carefully and made changes to my stroke.

I read about how to avoid shoulder injury while powering my arms through the water like Michael Phelps, who I have a lot in common with: pectus excavatum, marfan hands and toes, global hypermoblity, strange jaw and winning smile.

I started to swim with real power. This was fun. I felt like a bear climbing through the water.

I bought prescription goggles from SwimOutlet.com so I could watch out for sharks. Just kidding, it is too murky out there. Visibility is low in the ocean off Los Angeles. I would never see a shark coming. Better that way, no?

I got the cutest wetsuit I could find, in honor of Fat Tomato, a fish with great style. Then I charged into the ocean off Manhattan Beach.

 I love a preppy outfit from Lands’ End.

I love a preppy outfit from Lands’ End.

Being out in the ocean again, swimming for real, not bobbing around like I usually do, was scary, but heaven. It took a few swims in the ocean for me to find my confidence. The Pacific tends to be rough and choppy. Your head is down, in the water. You cannot see anything until you turn you head to breathe. I found my rhythm and my feel for the ocean. I could relax and swim like I was on a brisk walk, like I could go on forever.

This resulted in muscles in my arms like I have never had before. Before injecting loads and loads of Vitamin C, I could not build muscle. This happened because Dr. Plance tried to help me heal a little better, and injecting ascorbic acid did wonders. Who knew.

 Hugging my Favorite Person, Dr. Plance.

Hugging my Favorite Person, Dr. Plance.

Mr. Pennington likes to come along on my ocean swims. We are extremely co-dependent and do everything together even though we have nothing in common. He is from Alaska so he is not a great swimmer. He stays on the beach to take pics. He loves to take pics and has a wicked good Instagram. He is very proud of me. We never thought I would be swimming like this. I was so disabled for so many years, with no hope of getting better. We always marvel now, at what I can do. Happy tears.

That is me with the silver cap and blue arm.

 A bit cold at first.

A bit cold at first.

On a peaceful Sunday morning.

 Nice stroke, if I do say so meself.

Nice stroke, if I do say so meself.

That really is me out there.

 Me in the circle. See the blue arm?

Me in the circle. See the blue arm?

Then we have buckwheat crêpes as good as any I had in Paris.

 Very dramatic cappuccino.

Very dramatic cappuccino.

On a recent stay in Chicago, I swam a mile in Lake Michigan. It was warmer than the ocean at home, but still rather cold.

 Pretending I am Fat Tomato, swimming into the filter return.

Pretending I am Fat Tomato, swimming into the filter return.

My swim in Lake Michicgan was really fun, but I grew up swimming in the ocean. Freshwater feels so strange. I do not like it. How do you cope with it, Fat Tomato? 

 Mr. Pennington did the background painting.

Mr. Pennington did the background painting.

Fat Tomato tells me his secrets. And begs for food.

Still, I prefer my open water, margaritas, and everything I eat with salt. Lots of salt.

 After a great show at Second City. Tired from my swim.

After a great show at Second City. Tired from my swim.

Chicago is fabulous.