Nerveracking: My first open water swim – The Shrinking Jeans of Lisa

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August 2, 2010 By lisa

I learned to swim in 3rd grade.  I had the most awesome American Red Cross instructor.  My mom made me take lessons until the instructor felt I was proficient.  I protested at first, especially when I had trouble picking up the breast stroke.  Lap after lap after lap.  I finally got it, and the freestyle and the back crawl and the dead man’s float and everything in between.

That swim instructor went on to become my swim coach, for synchronized swimming.  We practiced twice a week and went to various competitions around town.  I loved swimming, I loved synchro, and I loved my coach.  I credit HER for giving me the confidence I needed to swim and swim and swim….and do it well! 

During college, I got certified to teach swim lessons.  I taught at Girl Scout camp to kids ages 5-16.  I taught all levels.  I LOVED IT.  I loved sharing what I loved to do and teaching it to others.  I especially loved it when a girl who was struggling with the freestyle or diving or even just feeling comfortable with being in the pool finally GOT.  IT.  I loved seeing the joy on their faces and knowing that I played a role in that.

So, I am comfortable in the water.  Very comfortable. 

However, the majority of my swimming has occurred in the pool.  Sure, I have been tubing down the river and waterskiing on the lake and body-surfing in the ocean, but I didn’t really SWIM laps in any of those bodies of water. 

Today, I did my first open water swim.  As in, I swam laps in a body of water other than a pool.

It was much more difficult than I thought it would be.

I stood in knee-deep water in the Frio River, eyeing the water that I knew would deepen to over my head.  I couldn’t tell exactly where it got deep, but I knew it would eventually.  I stood on the edge FOREVER, weighing my options.  Do it, don’t do it, do it, don’t do it.

Finally, I said “Screw it” and just dove in and started swimming.  The Frio River is pretty clear but there was still a little murk in the water.   Once I started swimming, I could see where the water deepened and I knew where I couldn’t touch the bottom any more. 

The interesting thing was this: I knew I couldn’t touch the bottom and that didn’t bother me.  I knew that I had enough technical know-how of swimming and endurance to go for a while.  Not being able to see lane markers and know where I was exactly at any given moment was a little unnerving.  And most unnerving was the stupid thoughts of a big giant fish or a murky swamp monster coming from the bottom of the murky bottom and swallowing me whole.  Stupid, bizarre, irrational.

It took me a good 8-10 minutes to calm my breathing and get into a good, slower-than-normal pattern.  It wasn’t until my last lap that I got up to my normal, strong pace. 

It was so much harder than I thought it would be.  I can only imagine how difficult it would be if I wasn’t comfortable with swimming, or if I was in the ocean with a strong current and sharks waves to deal with.

Interestingly enough, I just want to do it again. I want to challenge myself to get comfortable with open water swims because one day, oh yes one day, I will be doing a triathlon and I suspect, once I get over the nervous-ness of non-pool water, it will be my best leg of the event.