Triathlon – Fear of swimming – OMG I did it

DC Triathlon 2011 - Water course

Who would  have thought a triathlon would be a good way to get over one’s fear of swimming!? But, it worked. Actually, my journey began with taking swimming lessons to see if I could master it enough to enter a triathlon, but after 3 months of lessons, I was better but not good enough. So my girlfriend and I decided to stop.

Then her daughter pushed, prodded, intimidated, cajoled and we got back to training. I should say I got back to worrying and experiencing extreme angst and anxiety. In fact, I can’t remember when I have ever experienced so much anxiety with the associated knots in my stomach right up to the morning of the event.

Then a funny thing happened. After I jumped into the water, I swam 200 meters and barely remember any of it. I stopped at the 200 meter mark to catch my breath and literally could not remember how I got there (fugue state?). All I remember was starting with the freestyle, then flipping into a backstroke and I had completed the first 200 meters.

This was a major turning point (literallly), because the first 200 meters was along the shore, but then  the course turned left towards

That’s me exiting water in orange bathing cap.

 the center of the river. When swimming along the shore, one has this belief that “worst case scenario”, I can always swim to the shoreline and get out, but once you turn left and head away from shore, it’s like there’s no turning back. Somewhere in my psyche, I found the nerve to “go for it”. Said thanks to the kayaker who let me hang on while I caught my breath and took off to the center of the river.

All the lessons slowly and gradually came back to me during the swim. I moved my thumb up the outer edge of my body to ensure that my stroke was right (as Megan taught me). I slowed my stroke so I would not get too winded (as Marsha taught me). I found my own pace (as Dennis taught me).  I relaxed and for the first time in 4 months of training, I was actually enjoying swimming. While doing the backstroke, I was looking up at the sky and noticing the birds, and felt they were accompanying me on this journey. Occasionally, I was bumped by other swimmers, and got water up my nose or in my mouth, but I kept going. Doing the backstroke made it harder to get my bearings, because I had to stop, turn, and look, but that was okay.  I was swimming and relaxing and enjoying.

I exited the water with a smile on my face and an  “OMG I did it” in my heart. What a rush.

Triathlon Swimming: God sent her to me

Couldn’t rest before the race for worrying. Can’t rest after the race for remembering. From the time I entered the water to the time I crossed the race finish line was a blur… Like being on Valium. For the swim event, we were herded like cattle through corrals in groups of hundreds and then we jumped into the water eight at a time. Thank goodness the water event was a quick start or I might have chickened out. As we left our corrals and approached the dock, at least six people were on deck directing us to “move quickly ladies….move….. move…stand on the edge of the platform….jump.”

I placed my hand over my nose, jumped in and swam freestyle until I got tired then flipped over to a backstroke for 200 meters… just like I had been taught by Megan. At the 2oo meter mark, I grabbed onto a kayak and rested without even remembering the 200 meter swim to get there. The kayaker told me and three others that we could stay and catch our breath as long as we needed. His comments and demeanor were so gentle and reassuring and I was bolstered in knowing that I could complete the race. I thanked him and took off for the next 200 meters. I visited two more kayakers during my 800 meter swim, and each one was as wonderful as the first. Wish I could thank them again.

Megan showed up in my life about a week-and-a half prior to the triathlon when I was still wavering and afraid of swimming in open water. She is a young lady staying with my neighbor and in conversation I found she was also a swim coach and she immediately offered to help. In one session, she bolstered my confidence in my backstroke and taught me to swim for 200 meters and rest followed by another 200 meters and rest. She explained that the first 200 meters meant I had completed 1/4 of the race. The second 200 meter mark meant I had completed 1/2 of the race and so on. That is what got me through! They say there are no coincidences, and I am absolutely certain that she was put on my path at just the right time.

Stay tuned

I am an Athlete

I walked into the Washington DC Convention center to pickup my “packet” for my first triathlon and saw these signs for “Athlete” packet pickup and realized they were talking about me. I was an “athlete”! Wow!

I’ve always been active and was once a tennis rat, racketball rat, and biker rat, but never considered myself an athlete nor did anyone call me an athlete. That term has always been saved to indicate someone who is a professional, not us amateur wannabes. So I was impressed by the moniker and hoped no one discovered I was a fake.

I never really intended to do a triathlon (wim 8k; Bike 20k; Run 7.5k) . I only planned on learning how to swim, and in case I actually learned, then I would consider doing the TRI. In fact, three weeks ago, my girlfriend, Maureen, and I did a practice open water swim and jointly decided we were not ready and stopped training. I felt such relief at getting my life back and not having to spend all my spare time training so I put my swim bag into the closet. Then her daughter, Pam (Miss Ironman) talked her back into the TRI, and she inturn talked me back into it.

So suddenly the clock was reset and I was busy trying to figure out, or convince myself, that I could/should do it. She got me hooked when she said “if not now… never”. So, today I ran my first triathlon. Today I am an athlete.