On Tuesday I swam a mile open water, as you may know if you also follow me on Facebook. As I swam a number of things went through my mind. The first was to quit complaining to myself because the water was tepid and pretty stirred up because I was only swimming a mile and not 103 miles like Diana Nyad had just completed. I always think about what seem to be some of Sam’s favorite sayings – “it’s only water” and “you can swim.” I thought about how far I have come from being terrified of the water to wanting to swim, some days more than anything else. And remembered that even earlier this summer I could not imagine getting to the half mile turn around, let alone the mile turn around. I also thought about three years – and only three years, since I really began learning to swim.
Growing up on the water
I grew up on the lake shore in Michigan so you would think that I would have learned to swim. But I didn’t. I know I have written about my mother’s fear of the water that made her keep us away from the water rather than make sure we all knew how to swim. I did go in the water, but never far. I had to take pool in school but it was abysmal. I spent most of the time clinging to the side of the pool or paddling near the wall. Even as an adult when I would try to go to the pool, I could only get a few feet up and down a lane right by the wall. I never imagined that I really would swim or think of myself as a swimmer.
Sam changed the way I look at water and think about it. He got me in the water to help my knees but he has continued to help me improve. This has been a wonderful gift. I have certainly had difficult times in open water, in particular, but I have truly progressed farther than I could have imagined three years ago. If Sam, or anyone, had told me in three years that I would be working on swimming 1.2 miles in the open water in a few weeks (and contemplating the next step of 2.4 miles), I would have just said “sure.” But here I am, slow but steady and working on improving my stroke and my speed.
Once again, I was the swimmer for the relay team that I have been part of for two years. That I volunteered to do the swim leg was a major step last year. Once again the water was wetsuit legal and I was there without a wetsuit. The water was not that cold, however, and I did not mind not having a wetsuit. This year I was more confident from the beginning. This was the first race since June but I had completed several open water swims over the summer. I knew where I would place myself in the wave – near the back, in my “lane” – and I felt pretty confident that I could swim faster than last year.
Once my wave started I still felt pretty good but many of the women in my group swam off ahead and were much faster. This is not unusual. The International Swim at Luray is shaped like a PacMan. On the first portion I had a brief moment of panic, right about the spot where I have panicked in other races. I stopped for a moment in the water and saw a paddle board and a canoe, told myself that I could swim, and continued. It did not last this time. I turned at the first buoy and the next wave was beginning to catch me. Once I was around the buoy, I slipped to the side to a kayak for another minute while some of them passed. Then I continued to swim buoy to buoy. I turned at the next big buoy and stopped again for a moment to try to see the next one. At that point a kayak with a Team Z member in it was beside me and offered to trail me. I told her that was fine with me and thanked her. This seems like the longest part of the course – because it is. I knew I was slower than I was hoping but I kept moving forward and spotted a person not too far ahead. Once we turned again, I began swimming harder and was able to pass the person ahead of me. Finally, I headed into shore where the wiggly man was still inflated. My time was 11-12 minutes faster than last year, not quite as fast as I had hoped but it good improvement.
I have wonderful, supportive friends who have encouraged me in this journey. The group I swim with in Tuscaloosa is fantastic. My She Does Tri team mates are an exceptional group of women. The group I have connected with for Augusta are fantastic and hilarious. We are going to have so much fun despite the pain. All of you inspire me as I watch you, whether it is in an afternoon swim or a race.
Augusta 70.3 is less than a month away. It will be my last triathlon for this year and my longest swim. I am sure that I will have a lot to post after the race.