When Life Imitates Art: Learning to Swim Butterfly and Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Sometimes in life, you experience those odd little moments that seem to almost directly mirror something you’ve seen in fiction, like you can almost hear the soundtrack play out in your head. I had one of those moments last week whilst swimming.

For a little bit of context, I swim a lot. I’m also a big fan of Free!, which I’m sure many people know as the super gay swimming anime. In fact, watching Free! Iwatobi Swim Club was the thing that finally pushed me to get in the pool.

I like Free! for a lot of reasons (which I plan to go into at some point), but one of the biggest reasons is just how bloody good they made the water look. Watching Free! literally makes me want to jump into the nearest body of water.


Unlike Rei Ryugazaki who couldn’t swim at all at the beginning of the series, I was already a fairly competent swimmer before I started swimming regularly. By that I mean that I could stop myself from drowning and had a basic idea of how to swim freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke.


However, I couldn’t swim butterfly.

I wanted to swim butterfly.

I’ve been swimming regularly for about two years now, slowly getting better and slowly piecing together the strength and different skills needed to swim butterfly.

Every so often I’d try and it just wouldn’t click, I couldn’t do it. My legs wouldn’t sync with my arms and my arms just didn’t have the strength to propel my body out of the water. I’d never practice it for long, because I looked like an idiot.

One day, last week, I was coming to the end of my swim and thought,

You know what, this last 25m I’m just going to try and swim butterfly and I’ll awkwardly flail to the end if I have to”

So I did. I pushed off the wall, did a few dolphin kicks (as you do) and pulled my arms down and across my body, ready for the first stroke.

I was fully prepared to awkwardly take half a stroke and realise that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing; pack it in boys, we’re going home. But that wasn’t what happened.


It seemed like everything somehow fit together in that moment; I knew that for every one stroke I’d kick twice, I was strong enough to propel myself with my arms and I remembered that my head should enter the water before I finish my stroke (I remember that bit from a Michael Phelps video)

It probably wasn’t graceful and it sure as shit wasn’t fast, but it was butterfly.

This moment mirrors a scene that happens in the 4th episode of Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, when Haru, Makoto and Nagisa all return to their school pool to find that Rei has finally learned to swim by trying butterfly.


In that moment, when I reached the end of the pool, I felt just like Rei. I had hit a brick wall over and over again, only to finally break through. I’m not too sure I believed that I had actually just swam butterfly.

I was happy, excited for the future and just so proud that I had made tangible process.

It was a bizarre moment where it felt like a little light had been switched on in my head as I thought, ‘I get it now…’

In a way, my swimming journey has been the complete opposite of the character of Rei, as he started with butterfly and ended with the rest, but I feel like the same moment of clarity was shared.

The song that plays during this moment in Free!, ‘Great Nostalgia’, perfectly encapsulates this feeling of blissfully breaking down a wall that lies in front of you. It’s like a burden has finally been lifted and all you can see is the eternal stretch of possibilities that lies before you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a swim.