Several Summers ago, at the urging of a U.S. Masters Swimming teammate of mine, I entered my first Open Water (OW) competition. It was a one mile U.S. Masters sanctioned swim in a lake, called Centennial Lake. It is a very pretty lake, on the small side, but surrounded by woods with paths and picnic areas. It contains wildlife. I did not want to swim in any body of water containing wildlife. My friend was insistent that this was indeed something I would love to do and should be doing. It had my name on it, according to Maureen. Several other teammates of mine were also planning to compete in this local event. So, I signed up. I immediately felt a wave a nausea and fear ripple through me. I tried to counter the nausea and fear by reminding myself that I had been swimming with my Masters group for a long time and could easily swim a mile. Heck, I was swimming close to two miles at practice at least three days a week as it was. But, my nausea and fear were not rooted in concern about the distance. No, my nausea and fear were all about what was living or slithering over and through the lake in which I'd be swimming. I was, at this point in my swimming life, practically surrounded by triathletes and other swimmers who spent more time competing in strange bodies of water than in pools. I silently prided myself on being “a true (Masters) swimmer,” – the dying breed of pool-only swimmers, thank you very much. But, I was curious as to why Maureen thought I would love OW swimming. What did she know that I did not?
Fast forward to the morning of the event. I was sure I was going to be sick. I wasn't. I turned off my brain and willed myself through an out of body experience, in which I just followed my friends into the brownish-green water of Centennial Lake to warm up. It was my turn to swim and I got in and swam. My legs and feet cramped up as the adrenaline shot through me like a brush fire on a dry day. I kicked and squirmed and tried to relieve the charley horses that riddled my lower body. I fought to calm my breathing, but I had lost sight of Maureen and was struggling. I finally managed to collect myself. I strained to see big orange buoys at far away-seeming intervals. I swam yards off course by sighting what I thought was the correct next buoy, only to have to get myself back on track when I noticed the pack of yellow-capped heads moving in a mob off to my right. Not too far away, but far enough. I tried sprinting to catch up to them. It seemed to take forever to get to the buoy marking the return trip. I kept swimming, and soon I got to the final buoy. I was swimming in to the finish with another gal. I had her beat. I was going to beat someone no matter what else happened. I saw the edge and tried to stand up. But, I was not close enough and there was no bottom to stand on. I came to a full stop. I urgently began to swim again only to find my self getting to the actual edge seconds after the other gal. It was a rookie mistake. My first time in open water and I blew the finish. It was a painful lesson made more so when I placed second in my age group. I don't l know for sure that the gal who finished just before me was first, but it didn't matter. This experience left me with unfinished business. I had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams to just get in this lake and finish the race. In fact, I wasn't “racing.” I was “participating in an event.” That is, until I finished second. Maureen and I were planning another OW swim, but a hurricane left us fulfilling our charity swim in the famed 50 meter outdoor pool at the Meadowbrook Swim Club. I was very happy to swim there, but obviously unable to put into practice my lessons learned from my first OW experience.
Sometime leading up to this Summer, I decided that I wanted and needed to swim a 2 mile OW event. I had to do it. I'm not sure why, but I felt compelled. There were many things interfering with my short list of possible 2 mile swim opportunities. I began to feel discouraged and depressed that it might not happen after all. But, my husband offered to drive me to a charity race called Swim For Life being held on the Chester River, about an hour and a half away. So, I signed up. My goals were to put all of my lessons learned from my previous OW swim into action, and to swim the best race I could. And, yesterday I did just that. Armed with prescription goggles so I could see which buoys to swim to and all the other tidbits I learned from my first effort, I swam my best. I felt strong the whole time, despite swimming against a current the mile out and some choppiness in the water on the return leg. I paced out and from the final buoy tried to sprint to the finish. I was tired at the end of the race and felt I achieved my goals. Will I have another OW swim in me? It's possible. But, for now, I'm going to enjoy the post-race sense of accomplishment. Maureen has moved to Florida, but I know she would very happy for me and thrilled to know I'm still dabbling in open water swimming.
The 2 Mile Swim Wave