Prior to my stroke, I was an enthusiastic swimmer. I found swimming both invigorating and relaxing: a great form of exercise and a useful way to wind down when I was busy and stressed out at work. My body and balance changed radically following my stroke, but I’ve attempted (and enjoyed) the occasional swim, mostly while on holiday. It has often been in the back of my mind that swimming should be one of the things I should try to “get back to.” But I admit I’ve found it very hard to do so. Initially, the biggest impediment was my fluctuating energy levels – it is difficult to prioritise a swim when you know that it might be all you manage to do all day. But I’ve seen real improvements in my energy over the past couple of years, and now suffer far fewer bouts of debilitating fatigue. With careful pacing of sleep and other activities, swimming three or four times a week is something I can manage. But the other serious impediment for me to go for a swim has been the act of actually getting in the water. This may sound rather trivial, but, post-stroke I’m far more wonky and unbalanced bare-foot and poolside than I am on a hill in a pair of walking boots. I’ve found the not-unlikely prospect of slipping and falling as I limp unsteadily from changing room to water pretty terrifying. So terrifying, in fact, that I admit that this is primarily what has put me off giving it a go.

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But six weeks ago I bit the bullet, found a pool I liked and started swimming again. It was difficult at first – both the actual swimming, and the transition from changing room to pool – but I have not fallen over yet, and my technique is improving all the time. I am by no means as strong a swimmer as I was – I will never be as I was – but the benefits of swimming are, if anything, much greater than they ever were before my stroke. Out of the water my body feels wonky and uncomfortable, but in it, it feels unusually smooth and graceful. Over just six weeks, I’ve found my core strength and balance has improved dramatically, and the muscles in my weak left arm and shoulder are far stronger than they were. I’ve enjoyed that interesting zen-like feeling one gets when swimming laps – regulating the breath, carefully timing each stroke, each kick, each pull. A few good ideas have sparked in my head (as they often used to while I swam). Then, a few days ago, I got out of the water after a good long swim, and felt that familiar pleasant sensation of basic physical wellness that one experiences after vigorous exercise – a sensation which, I can honestly say, I have not experienced for over six years. It felt so ordinary and so normal and just so bloody amazing that I confess I had a wee cry in the car on the way home. So right now I am feeling very grateful for being able to swim, for having an accessible pool nearby that I can use, and a little annoyed at myself for not having returned to the water earlier.
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Here’s an essay I wrote about women’s swimming and swimwear a few years ago. I think its an interesting time to revisit it, particularly given the way that the issue of what women choose to wear when swimming or bathing in public, has once again, become matter for weirdly heated debate. (My own firm view is that women should be able to choose to wear whatever fabrics and garments in which their bodies are comfortable, without fear of such choices being policed)

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Before the Eighteenth Century, few women swam or bathed in open water. While Benjamin Franklin was an enthusiastic advocate of the benefits of swimming, ploughing up and down the Thames to much acclaim, his wife, Deborah, was so afraid of water that she wouldn’t dip her toe in. Like Deborah Read-Franklin, many early-modern women were not only unable to swim, but so terrified of water that they refused to travel anywhere by boat.

By the time of the Regency, sea-bathing was beginning to be regarded as a healthy pursuit, and fashionable resort towns sprang up all along the English coastline. From Scarborough down to Margate, no seaside town was complete without its horse-drawn bathing machines. Like a beach hut on wheels, these elaborate changing rooms were pulled out to sea, where a set of steps enabled the appropriately-clad bather to descend from the ‘machine’ straight into the chilly English waters.

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But what was the appropriate attire for nineteenth-century bathers? While men routinely swam naked, leaving their clothes waiting for them in the bathing machine, women wore an elaborate get-up that was designed to cover every inch of hair and flesh. In William Heath’s satiric print of 1829, the “Brighton Mermaids” bob about uneasily in sodden smocks and caps. Women bathers soldiered on in cumbersome, ankle-length swimming “flannels” until the 1860s, when a pantaloon-suit “with body and trousers cut in one” appeared. Known as the “Zoave Marine Swimming Costume” this get up apparently secured “perfectly liberty of action and does not expose the figure.” (The “Zoave” were a French Light-Infantry regiment with a distinctive bloomered uniform). Fashioned from “stout brown holland or dark blue serge with scarlet braid trimming” the “Zoave” costume may well have been appropriate for a tour of military duty, but did not make swimming any easier for Victorian women.

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By the 1890s, bathing costume design took a ‘radical’ turn by shortening or eliminating the sleeves of women’s costumes. Yet female bathers were still encumbered by the “princess suit”: loose pantaloons worn to knee or below-knee length; one or two pairs of stockings; and a skirt, either detatchable or built-in. While men frolicked on the beaches in body-freeing combinations, women were covered up from head to toe, and restricted in the water by the yards of fabric required to maintain respectability. Given the constant effort needed to even float in such an outfit, it is no wonder that, as the twentieth-century turned, very few women were able to swim at all.

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In the early years of the Twentieth Century, women’s swimming became a topic of hot debate, following the horrible disaster that befell the New York steamer “General Slocum”. Packed with churchgoers on a Sunday outing, the excursion boat boat caught fire, and almost a thousand women and girls were drowned in the East River, a mere 50 yards from shore. For these women, the difference between life and death for was marked by their inability to swim. On both sides of the Atlantic women’s amateur swimming and life-saving associations steadily gained in popularity. Organisations like the National Women’s Life Saving League in the US began to speak out about the impracticality of skirted bathing costumes, and the need for close-fitting, stretchy swimming combinations. But perhaps no Edwardian woman did more to revolutionise the swimsuit than Annette Kellerman.

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Born in the Sydney suburbs in 1887, Annette Kellerman began swimming therapeutically at the age of six. By the early 1900s, she was swimming competitively, and supporting her family with her prize money. In the fresh-water rivers of Australia, Kellerman set records for100 yards and the mile, before traveling to Britain, where she drew massive crowds during a grueling seventeen-mile swim along the river Thames. Kellerman tried and failed to swim the the English channel, but later won spectacular races in the Seine and Danube.

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Kellerman’s considerable fame was only increased by the radical “unitard” that she wore for her demonstration swims. This costume, reputedly of her own devising, combined a pair of woollen stockings with a boy’s jersey bathing suit. Worn with negative ease, her black unitard clung to the contours of her body, and caused an instant sensation. Kellerman was completely nonplussed by the attention drawn by her swimsuit, famously remarking that “I can’t swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a clothesline.” She refused to wear skirted bathing costumes, dismissing them as a hazard that had “caused more deaths than drowning by cramps.”

As the “Australian Mermaid,” Kellerman rapidly became a vaudeville attraction, and took her act to America. In 1908, after attempting to go for a swim in her woollen unitard on a beach in Massachusetts, she was arrested for indecency. In court, Kellerman stated that the skirted bathing outfits that women were supposed to wear were only appropriate for beachside paddling. Such costumes effectively prevented women from swimming at all and attempting any sort of watery activity while wearing one was, she said, like “swimming in a ball gown.” The judge agreed, and dismissed the case against her. Like everything Kellerman did, her court case attracted massive publicity. Headlines and feature articles followed her story: if women were to be encouraged to swim, then surely they needed outfits that enabled rather than restricted movement?

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But despite the publicity that Kellerman drew, things were relatively slow to change. The idea of women swimming at all was still anathema to many, and female swimmers who sought to practice competitively were routinely faced with hostility and prejudice from the athletic establishment. Though, in the 1904 Olympic games, women had participated in golf and tennis events, the IOC were not keen to take women’s competitive sport any further. The president, Pierre de Coubertin wrote:

“This feminine semi-olympiad is impractical, uninteresting, ungainly, and, I do not hesitate to add, improper. It is not in keeping with my concept of the Olympic Games . . . the solemn exaltation of male athleticism, based on internationalism, by means of fairness, in an artistic setting, with the applause of women as a reward.”

Coubertin thought that women should appreciate the endeavours of men without ever competing themselves. But happily, he had his opponents: the 1912 Olympic Games was being held in Stockholm. Much to Coubertin’s chagrin, the liberal Swedes were keen to extend many events to female athletes, including swimming. The American AAU refused to recognise the legitmacy of women’s competitive sport, and did not send any female athletes to participate in the games.

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But women swimmers hit the Olympic headlines, when the British women’s team won the 4 x100m relay in their modern, purpose-designed, lightweight silk-jersey suits. This photograph caused something of a stir.

As was often the case with transformations in women’s clothing, the reform of female swimwear was closely linked to other kinds of political reform. In 1915, under the leadership of Charlotte Epstein, the American National Women’s Life Saving League began to officially support the suffrage movement, and staged a “Suffrage Rescue Race” at Manhattan Beach. The participants wore Kellerman-style swimsuits and Votes for Women sashes. Through Epstein’s efforts, in 1917, the AAU was forced to formally recognise swimming as a women’s sport, but did so with many limitations:

All women contestants in swimming events must wear bathing suits of a black texture that covers their bodies from shoulder to toe. . . in every event, the women swimmers must wear bath robes that cover them entirely until just before they dive off.

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(Boyle and Bleibtrey with two friends)

This was not enough for Epstein and her followers, who now advocated the use of shorter, one piece woollen jersey swimsuits for training. In 1919, two prize-winning American swimmers, Charlotte Boyle and Ethelda Bleibtrey, staged a public protest at Manhattan Beach. The two women removed their black stockings, and set off for the water dressed in one-piece woollen swimsuits, where they were promptly arrested for “naked swimming.” Much like Kellerman, their case drew massive publicity, and, under pressure, the New York authorities freed the women from jail. The strength of public support for Boyle and Bleibtrey meant that American women were finally free to swim bare-legged in public.

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Perhaps no manufacturer did more to popularise swimming for American women than Jantzen. Founded as a woollen mill for manufacture of socks and sweaters, the Portland Knitting Company was owned by three enthusiastic outdoorsmen, among whom was Carl Jantzen. In1913, one of Jantzen’s friends asked him if the mill might be able to produce a densely-knitted but lightweight woollen suit suitable for winter rowing. In response, Jantzen developed a worsted spun, rib-stitched jersey fabric that rapidly became the standard of modern masculine sportswear. By the early ‘20s, and renamed Jantzen Knitting Mills, the Portland company cashed in on the dramatic shift in fashion that was beginning to become apparent in women’s swimsuits.

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Jantzen developed a women’s swimsuit fashioned from the same tight-knit ribbed wool jersey that they had previously used for men’s sportswear. These swimsuits, with their in-built shorts, and comfortable, stretchy fabric, were carefully fitted to the wearer by their weight in pounds. The Jantzen knitted swimsuits were both eminently wearable and incredibly popular. It is no exaggeration to say that, in the early 1920s they helped an entire generation of American women to get into the water.

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(reproduced courtesy  of Vintage Traveller, with many thanks)

With the slogan “the suit that changed bathing to swimming” and a striking logo featuring a woman clad in a streamlined red suit, diving in an elegant, modernist curve, Jantzen achieved massive success. The company was a vocal advocate of public swimming pools, and the benefits of swimming for women, and often used the language of liberation in its marketing.

“In 1918, Jantzen saw a nation paddling around the edges. Baggy skirts impeded swimming. Fabrics stretched and sagged. Today, the newer freedom of the Jantzen is the choice of millions . . .”

If Jantzen was the suit, then wool jersey was the fabric that finally changed bathing to swimming. Many women today may have bad memories of wearing knitted swimsuits as a child, and many more might have doubts about the suitability of knitted wool jersey for swimwear at all. In the 1920s, though, the tightly ribbed wool swimsuits that were developed by Jantzen, and later, by Australian company, Speedo, really were truly revolutionary. For more than a century, women had been forced to splash about in heavy woven skirts and full-length stockings that rather hindered than helped their athletic abilities. But in the 1920s, they could finally, actually swim, thanks to the wool jersey suits that did not restrict physical movement, but enabled it.

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In 1926, American swimmer, Gertrude Ederle, became the first woman to swim the English channel. She swam in a two-piece wool-jersey suit, and reached shore in a record-breaking fourteen hours, thirty-one minutes — more than two hours faster than the previous record, which had been set by a man who had been swimming completely naked. Ederle’s groundbreaking swim in her daring jersey suit finally proved to many that women could be aquatic athletes on an equal scale with men. By the time she returned to New York, she had become a national celebrity and her ticker-tape parade was watched kerbside by more than two million people.


(Gertrude Ederle prior to her successful English Channel swim of 1926. She shakes the hand of Lillian Cannon, who had previously tried and failed to swim the channel)

Today, in a world in which swimwear manufacture is dominated by highly-developed technical fabrics, it is very easy to overlook the significance of the modern swimsuit revolution — the moment when “bathing” really did change to “swimming” for many women. But the simple lines and stretchy rib of the 1920s jersey swimsuit marked an important shift in feminist history, as well as the history of fashion.

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Motherwell ladies swimming team, 1920.

85 thoughts on “return to the water

  1. Great and informative post! As personal trainer it is so fantastic to see you stepping out of your comfort zone to do something you both love and that is a amazing for your health and recovery.

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  2. Congratulations that you are back in the water. Wonderful news.I like your essay. So interesting.Swimming and knitting are my favourites. It was so inspiring to read about women’s historical success to enjoy swimming.

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  3. That’s so wonderful you’ve found you can swim again, and I’m so happy for your moment of feeling well. I’ve tried swimming off and on since becoming disabled from chronic illness, but it’s continued to be a real struggle, both energy-wise, and for me it’s the getting out that is troublesome. I’ve been having orthostatic intolerance issues (very low blood pressure, especially when standing) and have had a few near passing-out moments where my vision goes black, ears ring, and I have to lay down immediately or collapsing unconscious, simply from going from warm environment to cold (like getting out of a shower…or pool). I broke down and got a rollator which morphs into a transport chair (new fangled mobility aid) earlier in the year – such a good decision for me, and have been contemplating bringing it into the pool area so I have something to steady myself on, and even sit on if needs be after getting out. Have never seen someone use a mobility aid at the pool, but why the heck not?!

    I really appreciated hearing your honesty around your energy levels and pacing too – I often feel so jealous when I see your pics on instagram of you out romping around in the hills, and this was a good reminder that a person with limitations ALWAYS has to choose what they spend their precious energy on. Perhaps I can do a little better job of prioritizing exercise and getting outside on the days that I am feeling up for it!

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  4. I’ve always wanted to be a swimmer but I hate the way the water “envelopes me” (the best phrase I can think of …) when I get in, I find it very claustrophobic. I usually make myself go in for at least a little bit, like 10 seconds, but that’s all I can manage. Plus as soon as something touches me underwater, nope!

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  5. Thank you so much, Kate, for sharing your thoughts and emotions and this – as ever – well written essay about women swimming in former times. Being a swimmer since the age of five with some competetive years in my youth I still love to swim today in open water. My husband who had a stroke last year at the age of 54 (luckiliy it was not that hard) never was a good swimmer before the stroke. But last summer after the stroke we went for a bath in a little lake near our home. Just the fact that he managed to swim and felt comfortable in the water made him so proud that we both went swimming there at least every day – even in autumn when the water was cold. Swimming is great for rehabilitation, Kate. Congratulations to your return to the wet element.
    Best wishes to you and your beloved, Susanne

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  6. What a blast from the past. I worked at Jantzen in Seneca, South Carolina for about 12 years. We didn’t make the swimwear here but did make their clothing lines. This is not here anymore but the building is still being used by another company. I really enjoyed this article.

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  7. Thank you for another great read, Kate!
    I’m not much of a swimmer but I go to water zumba and/or water aerobics classes several times a week. My favorite water shoes are also my favorite walking sandals, Tirra by Teva. Three velcro tabs make them completely adjustable and easy to get in and out of, as well as providing stability and support. Live long and prosper!
    http://www.teva.com/women-sandals/tirra/4266.html?dwvar_4266_color=CBGD#q=Tirra+&start=1&cgid=

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  8. My grandmother was born in 1881, in Indianapolis, Indiana. She remembered going bathing as a girl and described her black woolen bathing costume with all its undergarments and overgarments. She said all she could manage to do was bob up and down. One year a young woman caused a huge scandal by going bathing in a WHITE bathing costume. All the parts, but white.

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  9. Another fascinating essay from you and terrific news about your swimming again. I agree that there is no greater feeling of well-being than at the moment one emerges from the water after a good swim. When I was a child in the 1940s and 50s, my parents’ generation entertained themselves with frequent costume (fancy dress) parties. They often resurrected old bathing suits from the 20s and earlier—wooly knits for the men and voluminous dresses and mob caps for the women— to wear to these. Everyone thought they were hilarious, of course, and impossible to swim in. Looking back, I see that this is one more example of how time has a way of expanding and contracting for different cultural changes. This was only 20 or 30 years after such swimming gear was in use, yet no one today would find a bathing suit from the 80s or 90s to be so ridiculous.

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  10. How nice that you can once again enjoy a favorite activity!

    I would like to request that if you use any of my photos in the future (the Jantzen diving girl in the green stripe is from my collection) that I be credited. I love to share photos of my collection, and a mention and a link back when they are used really makes my day.

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  11. I am and on and off swimmer but do love to swim laps when I am in a location with a pool or a lake. I think Kate, for you swimming is a great activity as it is using both sides of your body and mind. This has got to be thrilling for you! Think of all the progress you have made over these years . . . constant consistent hard work!

    I would suggest the toe water sport shoes as well—-

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  12. Thanks very much for your courage to share such a personal blog with us. I am so happy to hear that you are back in the pool. The history of womens’ bathing suits is FASCINATING! I enjoy everything that you write.

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  13. Oh, Kate! You have no idea how my heart swelled with joy to learn that you have resumed swimming! I discovered you (and then your blog) last May via spying a version of your knitted hat, Dollheid, at The Tea Cozy yarn shop in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. I didn’t know about your stroke until a fairly recent post and was sad to read that you were no longer swimming, especially when seeing you photographed beside beautiful bodies of water into which I’d love to jump and swim! I am an addicted open water swimmer who also swims in pools. I have a hard time imagining life without swimming and without living near “big water”. As a teen I volunteered in a program helping people with disabilities experience water in an outdoor pool. One lady, Pat, with whom I worked, had had a stroke and wore a heavy full-leg metal brace (this was ~1978). Oh! The ecstacy she expressed each session re being in the water and feeling the floatation and lack of encumbrance of her brace! This was in the days before water shoes, so she wore white canvas Keds. I agree with all of your readers that have recommended you try water shoes.
    I am forwarding this blog post to my “Lake Washington Sunrise Mermaids” buddies. We are a trio who have been sunrise swimming together in Lake WA (& also Puget Sound) for 27 years and we are Annette Kellerman fans. I was familiar with some, but not all of the swimmers you mentioned in your article. Thank you for expanding my list of heroines!
    You have added many destinations to my bucket list of places to visit (& swim!) someday as well as many sumptuous things to knit! Ahh! Thank you for all the beauty you (and Tom) have brought to my life!
    As an occupational therapist I have wondered if and hoped that OT was valuable to you in your stroke recovery. I worked as an outpatient OT at The London Hospital, Whitechapel (now called The Royal London), during 1987/88 (during that time I swam in the Serpentine with the Serpentine Swim Club before work). It was not a hospital specializing in stroke rehab but I was told at the time that the NHS provided no more than 2 weeks of inpatient stroke rehab. I had gone to England naively and with rose colored glasses, believing that, with socialized medicine, everyone would get all the medical care they needed (in contrast to the US) and was sadly disappointed to learn otherwise.
    If you are not familiar with Jill Bolte Taylor, I recommend checking out this TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight?language=en

    “I must be a mermaid…I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” Anais Nin

    Wishing you MANY more swims, including open-water swims! ;-D

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  14. Kate! How fabulous you are back swimming. It is indeed a marvelous treat for the body and soul. I am an avid swimmer too and swimming has gotten me out of some deep funks and personal calamities.

    Thanks for alerting us all to the history of women’s swimming — I must confess, I think of all the suffragettes when I vote, and all the medical pioneers when I see my woman physician, and I am always happy to see women take their place in occupations previously only occupied by men, but swimming — well, I hadn’t given women and swimming and bathing suits much thought. What a rich history you have presented here. I gave silent praise to all the swimming pioneers when I did my laps today! Bless you and thanks for the fabulous blog and designs.

    Mary

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  15. I read your writing all the way through. I am mostly here at your blog because I, too had a stroke (at 43), and recovered, much of it with knitting. Now, a good friend (57) has had a stroke and I will show him your blog to say that improvements keep taking place many years afterward. A heart-felt Thanks for everything. (for me, biking was the hard one- but I now do it all the time. But i don’t enjoy high places – like cliffs anymore. Bad balance does odd things)
    Keep going!!!!

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  16. Thanks for the history of the bathing “costume.” I love open-water swimming and I prefer a sturdy one-piece suit. A two-piece suit doesn’t feel any more liberating to me, in fact I dislike swimming in them, though I like them just fine for dipping and splashing around. But of course what flesh we expose and what we conceal can never be just a personal choice– womens’ bodies are made the property and concern of every person at the beach other than herself!

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  17. Happy to hear that you are back in the water and finding post-stroke improvements even now. So encouraging.

    Must admit when I saw the first photo it reminded me of one I had seen of my mother, her sister and friends on an Isle of Wight holiday in the 1930s. Same bathing suits; same poses!

    Interesting history lesson to note how women’s fashions are still encumbered by politicized notions of what is okay and what is not–as often by other women, as it is by men.

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  18. Huzzah! I am so glad you got back in the water. I love swimming, it always brings me back to myself, and the post-swim zen feeling is wonderful.
    Fascinating article on swimwear too. It’s always good to remember the battles other women have made on our behalf and how far we have come.

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  19. What a fascinating post, I love the pictures. Are you familiar with The Story of Swimming by Susie Parr – a brilliant book and full of wonderful pictures. I am so happy that you are enjoying swimming again.

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  20. I have to admit that while I am happy my mother forced me to become a strong swimmer for safety reasons (our summer life involves a lot of camping and boating), it has never been a sport that I enjoy (too many memories of shivering at a chlorinated pool in wintertime). I am happy to hear that it gives you so much joy though. The Vintage Traveler blog has done some interesting pieces on the evolution of women’s sportswear, including swimwear.

    I was a competitive marathon runner. Especially in light of women’s opportunities in endurance swimming the struggle for acceptance of women in the marathon has always struck me as incredible (with 1984 having been the first opportunity for women to compete in the Olympics in this event). Even when I was running in the late 1980s and 90s there were far fewer women competing and the preception to some extent was still that it was a sport more for men. In fact, my training partners were almost exclusively male. Things have changed completely in the last fifteen years in particular, alough the marathon as an event has also morphed inot something more recreational and inclusive over the lat thirty years, too.

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  21. I have to admit that while I am happy my mother forced me to become a strong swimmer for safety reasons (our summer life involves a lot of camping and boating), it has never been a sport that I enjoy (too many memories of shivering at a chlorinated pool in wintertime). I am happy to hear that it gives you so much joy though. The Vintage Traveler blog has done some interesting pieces on the evolution of women’s sportswear, including swimwear.

    I was a competitive marathon runner. Especially in light of women’s opportunities in endurance swimming the struggle for acceptance of women in the marathon has always struck me as incredible (with 1984 having been the first opportunity for women to compete in the Olympics in this event). Even when I was running in the late 1980s and 90s there were far fewer women competing. Things have changed completely in the last fifteen years in particular.

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  22. I’m so glad you’ve returned to the water and are experiencing the bliss of physical exertion. And, thank you for weighing in on the “issue” of women’s swimwear. I love the essay.

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  23. Fascinating article, especially love the postcards and pictures, they contribute beautifully to your descriptions. And thank you for sharing your life with such honesty – refreshing and motivating for all of us. Also wanted to share, your article on the WWll postcards with machined lace was equally fascinating – so much so that I picked some up at an antique book store shortly afterwards – I would have never known what they were – but now am on the lookout, wonderful to touch a piece of history.

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  24. Thanks for documenting your continuing improvements post stroke. Back in Occupational Therapy school in the late ’60s we learned that improvement would occur for 2 years. Obviously not true.

    Thanks for all your interesting historical blogs. Always interesting.

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  25. Feeling very moved by your post. thank you for such honesty and sharing your life’s important and inner moments. Yay for you, keep swimming!

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  26. I always wear water shoes in the pool, there are many different brands and they lend a lot of stability. I do water walking and exercises, so I leave them on the whole time. If you are swimming laps, you could wear them to get in and out of the pool, then slip them off and put them on the side of the pool until you are ready to get back out. I love them!

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  27. Congratulations on getting back in the pool and re-developing your swimming skills. For me, swimming always feels like just what my body needs. While swimming, I feel safe and swaddled and, as others have said, away from the ‘noises’ of life.
    I’m so happy for you.

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  28. Fascinating. When I was pregnant, I would swim very slow laps in an indoor pool. I wore a “skinsuit” (think a SCUBA wetsuit, but very thin material) because it kept me from catching a chill). I used a mask and snorkel so I didn’t have to lift my head to catch a breath. I would “zone out ” – it was soothing, relaxing and great for my core. (That was 23 years ago. Shame on me, our complex’s outdoor pool is open for another month and the YMCA is only a few miles away. I should get a skin suit (rather larger than what I used to wear), find my mask and snorkel and take swimming back up.

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  29. I remember that pst from first time round. Excellent. I jump about int the pool a couple of times a week although running is my exercise of choice. It s amazing how much problem-solving can be done when you get into the zone.
    Glad you are enjoying it and feeling the benefits.

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  30. Thank you for your essay – so interesting, and I learnt a little more Australian history! Well done on getting back into the pool. I have fits and starts in swimming, but when I’m in the water I wonder why I ever leave. I do hope your swimming continues to benefit you (and now that Spring is here I’m planning on hitting the water again too).

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  31. If it’s any comfort, you aren’t alone in the fear of slipping at the pool. I kind of creep out, or that’s what it feels like, anyway, and my health is perfectly fine! Honestly, Kate, you are a courageous woman and I admire you.

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  32. I do really enjoy your historical posts so much, congratulations on getting back in the water. As someone unable to conquer my fear of water, in spite of trying, I think you are very brave and so glad that your strength is building.

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  33. Hi Kate…kudos to you for being back in the pool…you always have such high expectations of yourself, hey this is just one more step on the road to wellness…just be glad to be there

    Amazing how your great article on woman’s swim ware has such great political relevance today, they still don’t get it , eh , do you think they would ask a man to take of some of his clothes..some times I really do believe the world ideas don’t really change, but we need to still speak up…enjoy your swims and feeling of returning to your normalcy …cheers pat j

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  34. Kate, thanks for sharing about your return! I’ve been swimming lately as recovery from PTSD and to work with some inner ear challenges from an old wound. I have all the gadgets to help me in the pool (snorkel!) but it’s a soothing place to work through difficult things. Plus I love to get in the hot tub!!

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  35. This is such great news and I’m so happy for you! Swimming is also by far my most favourite sport.
    And as you described so well, in my opinion there’s nothing better in getting into almost a different world by just concentrating on your movement, breathing (and maybe counting). After several rounds I often realise I’m having a rhythm / melody in my mind accompanying the whole procedure =)
    Being in the water also means to me that all other sounds are gone. Since I’m very sensitive to sounds (neighbours, e.g., …) this silence in the water also means peace to me.

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  36. I’m so happy to read that you are back in the water :) I have been following your blog since early 2012, back when it was called Needled, and I have been deeply moved in many ways by your story, your stroke and then post stroke recovery… So today I feel very happy for you, as I know it’s been a long uphill for you, since that stroke… :) I have meant to ask you a question for a while, sorry it may sound a bit random, but why do you never mention Jesus in your posts??? For other readers, I may specify: I mean your cat :D

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Oh, Kate, this is marvelous news! Don’t berate yourself for not doing it earlier, you did it when you were ready, and that is more important for follow-through! Water shoes. You should get water shoes, you can take them off pool side. You don’t have to leave them on. Baby steps and any adaptive device that you need to increase your comfort level. You may not need them long. You are just going to get stronger and stronger. Great news!

    Liked by 1 person

  38. It was hilarious to read Pierre de Coubertin’s quote about the Olympic Games operating “by means of fairness…” and needing “the applause of women as a reward.” At the same time he ridicules women’s participation (in the Olympics) as “impractical, uninteresting, ungainly, and I do not hesitate to add, improper.”

    There’s nothing to love about “fairness” in his thinking and prejudice, is there.

    Kudos to you, Kate, on getting back into the pool!
    So glad you don’t have to wear a long dress to go for a swim!

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  39. I’m so glad that you’ve rediscovered water exercise. It is truly magic and can enable feats we could never attempt on land. As an H2O instructor, I would recommend that you add vertical water exercise to your horizontal swimming. Water aerobics, as it is usually known, is not just for little old ladies, but for anyone who wants to exercise in a very forgiving environment. It is very good for balance training–there’s no “falling down” if you start to topple. And the resistance of the water strengthens muscles in every direction of movement as well as helping expand joint range of motion. And it’s fun! Splash on, Kate!

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Glad you are back in the water in a costume that suits your needs! 😉 My grandmother, born in 1909 lived to be 103, and was active and strong for the first 100 years. She credited that health and strength to swimming, which she adored and did from an early age. Her grandfather was afraid of the water but tied a rope around her and walked along the beach while she swam. She finally had to stop swimming in salt water in her late 90s because she was unsteady on the sand, but she swam in pools for a few more years. So keep swimming! It’s good for you in so many ways!

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  41. What a fascinating history! I am very happy for you that you are experiencing the benefits of swimming again. It sounds almost like a magical transformation!

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  42. Oh, even I had a wee cry reading this.
    Having followed you for years before the stroke, this filled my heart with joy, bravo Kate, bravo!

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  43. Thank you for this wonderful article and congrats on returning to the water. I have been swimming for exercise since my 20’s, but in the last 3 years have had 2 surgeries due to a fall that has restricted my swimming. Each time it has been really hard to get back to my previous abilities, and I’m still working on full recovery but I love being in the water. This is the only ‘sport’ I’ve ever kept up with, even if I’m the slowest turtle in the pond.

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  44. Congratulations! I am so happy to hear that you are taking to the water again. What a victory! I was very interested to read the history of women’s swimming and knitwear too. Funny thing is, I have beencovering up more in the pools this summer. I toss a shirt on over a bikini just to avoid all that tedious sunscreen application.

    You might also be interested to kniw that my mom, when she was a girl, was a champion swimmer in Taiwan. She grew up on the southernmost tip of the island, so she swam in the Pacific Ocean growing up. She learned somehow and suoervised her younger sisters and brothers. She started going to competitions and retired at about 12 or 14. One of her records was broken only 30 years after she set it. She attributes her success to the fact that not many people would let their daughters swim in a proper bathing suit in public, but her father was different. So the competition was not very stiff.

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    1. Oh! Your mother must have lived in O-lan bi (I’m sure I’m not spelling it right). I went there once on holiday with my parents (we were Americans living in Taipei in the 1950s), swam in the sea, and had my first driving lesson (in an ancient jeep). It was such a beautiful remote place then. I was so excited to read your post and have these memories come back.

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  45. So happy to hear that you have “taken the plunge” and are swimming again. Thank you for sharing the essay also. Your blog is such a treasure trove of wonderful historical facts that we would never have known but for you. You must have been a wonderful teacher because your make learning new things so enjoyable.

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  46. Congratulations on your return to the water Kate! Keep up the good work. I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than swimming. I feel very grateful to live in a time we can choose swimwear that doesn’t make it impossible to swim. Thank you for the history lesson also. I’ve lived some of that history.

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  47. Wonderful, just wonderful! Loved the essay!! I just wanted to say I am getting a new hip soon, but in the meantime, walking from the locker room to the pool is very difficult for me, too, as my legs are now such different lengths, due to my degenerated hip joint. I use a cane and leave it right next to the pool as I swim. Might work for you, if that uncomfortable, wonky feeling comes back!
    Thank you for your inspiring story.

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  48. wonderful news about your swimming.
    I used to swim a bit, but something happened that took my confidence away and I haven’t been in a pool for years. The doctor always suggests swimming for my arthritis. Today (before reading this) I said to my OH, as we drove past the VIctoria Centre, “i should sign up for swimming lessons”.

    And this cements it!

    Liked by 2 people

  49. Thank you, Kate for sharing your thoughts. You are an inspiration. The article was fascinating.
    Hoping for your continuing recovery.Seems like your stick to it spirit will get you there.

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  50. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I am a water fanatic, and have little access to the shore or to swimming pools due to geographical location of our home and limited time to get in the pool. However, I swam on a team as a child and received blue ribbons for both backstroke and freestyle. Thank you for this interesting article. I only wonder where you came upon the historical photos? Cheers!

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  51. ” The cure for anything, is salt water; tears,
    sweat or the sea” Isak Dinesen
    This is worth a second or 3rd read. So much
    information packed into your post.

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  52. Thank you for this interesting article, I quite agree that women should be able to wear whatever costume they feel comfortable into swim – I get very annoyed with people telling groups of women for whatever reason what they should and should not do in this regard, the most important thing is getting out, taking some exercise, building confidence and meeting people. I’m glad to hear you’re swimming again, it’s a wonderful confidence builder and I would be lost without my weekly swim.

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  53. How easily we forget the struggles women have had to gain the freedoms we now enjoy! Those who ignore history are damned to repeat it! I do so look forward to your posts as much as your knitting patterns and “oo”!

    Liked by 1 person

  54. Kate, wonderful news about your swimming. I think we sometimes forget that, while not stressing our joints, swimming is a great overall workout. Perhaps you can try some water shoes for the slippery walk from the locker room. They may slow down your swimming bit, but not fearing a fall will certainly be a wonderful result. Just a thought. Keep up the good work; I love your essays and your bravery. Godspeed.
    Linda D.

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  55. Congratulations on getting back into swimming, and I’m very glad it’s proving so beneficial. I have a pair of ‘Crocs’ flip flops that are shaped to the feet, and give a better grip than bare-feet poolside walking. I leave them on in the shower as well. It is still possible to slip without care, but so far I have not.
    What a fabulous article. Thank you so much for once again giving us something very special; you are brilliant! Good luck.

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  56. Thank you Kate for this post. I had an accident myself a year ago and am still working hard to recover from it. I’ve always been a swimmer prior to the accident but haven’t been to the pool since because of the same reasons you give: shifting energylevels and a loss of balance. However, your description of the zen like feeling and the feeling of physical wellbeing is something I have missed and want back in my life. So, I am off to the pool! Thank you for the push I needed!

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  57. Kate, incredible news that you’ve returned to swimming, and that it’s helping you develop strength and that fantastic sense of well-being. Moving in the water is truly a joy… and there’s nothing like that feeling after a good vigorous swim!

    And, thank you so very much for sharing your essay– these women are fascinating, and inspiring. I’m a swimmer from a family of woman swimmers who teach children to swim– and I’ve sent it along to all of my cousins.

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  58. Wonderful reading. Swimming, strictly amateur, has seen me through many life challenges…yes, that steady down and back, breathe in breathe out…meditative and calming as well as physically rewarding. Thank you Kate for the great trip through time. As a kid Jantzen was all the rage.
    Photos are fabulous!

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  59. Many thanks dear Kate for this wise ans informative essay about how women have the right to enjoy swimming. As french woman I am afraid about the men’s voices laying down what is right and what is not for women on the beach! Liberté, egalité, fraternité, freedom, equality, fraternity always, for everery body!
    Brigitte Allain Dupré -France

    Liked by 4 people

  60. Man, I really need to get back in the pool. I’m no speed swimmer, in fact, a soviet era rubber hat would suit my style but I love that meditative feeling. Preferably when the pool is empty.

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  61. Yes, I had one of those itchy navy blue woolen swimsuits myself. My earliest memories of attempts to swim are as much of wet wool as fun in the water. Still not a great swimmer, but I do recall one or two bathing suits I liked in subsequent years. Fascinating article, Kate!

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  62. Thank you so much, dear Kate for this wonderfully informative essay! I am glad to hear that you have your swimming ‘mojo’ back … you’re quite the inspiration!

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  63. The woman who taught me to swim had my class jump into the water fully clothed for one lesson, just so we could see how much our clothes (shorts & t-shirt) weighed us down. She had us shuck our clothes in the water, just so we could see how that would feel. (It was incredibly hard to do.) I remember being relieved to get down to my underlying bathing suit. From my experience, swimming 50 yards in full dress and petticoats- even if you DID know how to swim – would be incredibly difficult.

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