I’m happy to be a stop on the blog tour for Swimming Out of Water by Catherine Garceau. Thank you to Babs from Babs Book Bistro for hosting the tour!
I truly enjoyed this memoir by synchronized swimming Olympic medalist Catherine Garceau. She struggled with eating disorders, crises of faith, and countless disappointments to represent Team Canada at the 2000 Sydney Games. Although I was a speed swimmer and utterly graceless in the water, I have done psychotherapy with athletes with eating disorders, so this memoir intrigued me.
It’s an interesting format for a memoir, flashing back to the past from a perilous present. Catherine decides to take one last hike before leaving Las Vegas, where she’s been working in a Cirque du Soleil type of water show after retiring from swimming. Unfortunately, she hops down a mountain ledge only to find she’s stuck there, with no one to help and no water or food. Perched on the ledge, she scribbles in her journal, and these memories and bits of wisdom form the bulk of her story.
As a seven year old, French-Canadian Catherine started competitive swimming, and soon after began synchronized swimming (two vastly different sports–speed swimming is like track whereas synchronized swimming is like gymnastics underwater). At age eleven she had to choose to “synch or swim” and she chose synchronized swimming. Later she questions that choice:
Throughout my years in competition, especially when I cried more than I laughed in the sport I had chosen as my vocation, I imagined what my life would have been like if I had remained a speed swimmer and continued accumulating accolades in backstroke.
I admit I wondered what that would be like for Catherine as well. As a judged sport, synchronized swimming is brutal in its politics. Speed swimming is simply about who gets her hand on the wall first. But Catherine obviously made the best of her choice, winning an Olympic medal and more importantly discovering some important life lessons like:
Today, when I catch myself feeling down, discouraged with my progress, or judgmental of others, I bring compassion to the situation and choose to move forward with love. I’ve come to accept that if I do lose myself in negativity for a while, it’s probably Life asking me to walk through another tunnel in order to see the Light. This involves choosing to feel and release the arising emotions instead of avoiding them with exercise or food. And in the event that I succumb to old habits of eating instead of feeling, I remind myself that the journey towards emotional freedom and the acceptance of imperfections is always unfolding.
Compassion for self and others is key. I also agree that eating disorders and other addictive behaviors develop when we don’t cope with our feelings effectively.
When Catherine sees a sport psychologist, she works hard to manage feelings better:
Learning how to deal with my struggles was a journey of balancing outside support with my own work of getting to know myself — and getting to know how I was wired to think. I read inspiring books, I wrote in a journal, I reflected on my feelings, and I learned to recognize my negative tendencies. The process took much dedication and sometimes made me feel hopeless.
Sounds quite realistic as a therapy experience. At one point Catherine goes swimming with dolphins — this is definitely on my bucket list! I wasn’t aware that dolphins have unique healing abilities.
Catherine claims that chlorine can be damaging to those who are most sensitive to its effects. I’ve been around chlorine all my life and haven’t had negative physical consequences other than bouts of bronchitis each swim season, so at first I was a bit skeptical. But she argues that some are more susceptible than others, and I can buy that. Catherine does share interesting findings about the “brain” in our gut, and how food can have a strong impact on mood and physiology.
Like many athletes, Catherine struggles when she retires from synchronized swimming. There’s no structure, no urgency, no beta-endorphin high. Athletes suffering from eating disorders have it doubly hard upon retirement due to the fear of weight gain. She talks about the personalities that take over during binge eating episodes — Miss Sweet Eater, Mr. Car Eater, Forget-All-Rules Eater…reminding me of the fantastic book Life Without Ed. Luckily Catherine also gets to know Ms. Nurture-U as she learns to eat more wholesome and organic foods.
At first the writing style seemed stilted, but when I learned that English is Catherine’s second language, it all made sense. I loved all the quotes and references she includes.
My favorite part of Catherine’s story is how she uses heartache and struggle to teach her optimism and strength.
Clearly, moments of despair are catalysts for profound change and action.
I’ll leave you with a video of Team Canada’s medal performance at the 2000 Olympics, honoring different Olympic sports. Check out their awesome representation of rowing and cycling!