Gretchen Bloom quit swimming a few years ago when a series of unfortunate family events sapped her motivation and took away her time to swim.
Still, her friend Michelle Cheon kept sending Bloom the schedule for the local Masters swimming program and urged her to get back in the pool. Cheon knew swimming was Bloom’s favorite sport—Bloom had swum for her high school team—and thought that Bloom would be happier if she started doing laps again.
But while Bloom was busy, Cheon became sick and passed away from pancreatic cancer in November. As Cheon’s health deteriorated and she lost her chance to do the active things she loved, Bloom felt an urge to get back in the water.
“I remembered how soothing an invigorating swimming laps can be,” Bloom says. “All these family matters can be overwhelming mentally. When you’re swimming, there’s this unique mental break, just a break from all technology and talking. You’re in the pool with yourself. You have time to think things through. It’s beautiful.”
Bloom joined the Mission Viejo Nadadores, and even though she swam in the slowest group at their workouts, her teammates made her feel welcomed and her coach encouraged her to do whatever she was capable of doing.
Bloom made it her goal to complete the SmartyPants Vitamins USMS Fall Fitness Challenge, a 1-mile swim done between Nov. 15-30. She wanted to be able to swim the whole thing without stopping, even though she still felt out of shape and unprepared, even though there were life challenges that were still getting in the way.
She didn’t want to let those stop her. She wanted to do it for herself and for Cheon.
The morning of her swim, it seemed like everything went wrong for Bloom. She’d been in the emergency room with her son the day before, and when she woke up, she couldn’t find her swim bag anywhere. All she had was her swimsuit and spare goggles.
It would’ve been easy to just throw in the towel, but she knew she had to swim.
Bloom dug through the lost and found at the pool to find a mismatched set of fins for her swim, and her coach gave her a Nadadores cap, which made her feel part of the group.
Then she swam. Bloom had to flip on her back to breathe at times because she was tired, but she finished. It was the first time she had swum a mile in her life.
“I was really pleased because my time was 36:04, which I think is great for me right where I’m at right now,” Bloom says. “I’m proud I did it. I’m proud I didn’t make excuses or quit. It made me feel very strong. It made me feel accomplished and fulfilled.”
She knows she’ll keep swimming now, like her friend kept urging her to do years ago, because of how it makes her feel and how it made her realize what she’s capable of.
“I want to lose weight and get in better shape,” Bloom says. “I feel like having a healthy body helps in every area of your life. It’ll help me in every area of my life if I can have something that regularly makes me feel strong and accomplished. Swimming’s doing that for me. Once you do one thing for yourself, you can do other things.”