Re-writing my story

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We all have a story. We all have a voice inside our heads. Sometimes that voice is encouraging and other times, that voice can limit us. When I was in 7th grade, I had a cheerleading coach who helped me re-write my story that “I can’t”. Each time those words came out of my mouth, she stopped me and made me say, “I can”. After having her as my coach, I went on to cheer for all 4 years of high school, be a cheer captain, and a cheer coach. (Thank you Jen!)

There are other stories that have limited me, like “I can’t swim”. When I was a toddler there are pictures of me sitting on a chair, on the beach with my shoes on. It was the only way my parents could get me to the beach. They would carry me and then leave me on a chair that was on a blanket. Apparently, I hated the way the sand felt. Growing up, going underwater was not fun and I had to hold my nose if water was going over my head. The deep end was out of the question. The beach, well that was something I went in with a flotation device. When I was 9, I watched as my sister and cousin struggled to make it back to shore when they grew tired from swimming in a lake and I had to sprint for help. Water and I don’t exactly have a great relationship.

My journey to IronMan has been about re-writing that story. From private swim lessons to master swim classes, to panicking in the open water and finishing a 1.2-mile swim feeling thankful to have survived.

The weeks leading into my first 2.4 open water swim were filled with anxiety.   Yes, I survived a 1.2-mile swim twice, but 2.4 seemed like A LOT to swim. For my first I picked the Navesink River swim, which was 2 loops, each 1.2miles.

When we got to the swim start, we went in the water to feel the temperature. It was fine, but the feeling under my feet made me sick. It felt like mush and I could only imagine what I was stepping in. I blocked it out of my head and went for a practice swim. As soon as I started to swim, I felt the panic. So I stopped. I waited and then practiced again. This time, less panic.

The swim start was pretty mellow. One minute we were standing in the water and the next everyone started to swim. I am not sure I heard a gun or anything go off. I stayed to the back to avoid hitting anyone and luckily was able to sight off of the other women. Once I got in my groove, I was able to bi-lateral breath and get into a rhythm. I was pretty happy about that since every other open water I had to breathe to one side every stroke.

The first loop was actually fine. I was thrilled to come out of the water and know that I was half way done! Kathy called my name, she was just behind me and so I waited for her. She had a panic attack early on and luckily had some women to help her through it. We went into the water for the second loop together. As we rounded the first buoy, I lost her. Apparently I swam toward the middle of lake. A kayaker stopped me and sent me in the right direction. Kathy was long gone as were all the other swimmers. This is when I had to fight off the panic. I had a long way to go and the water was getting choppy. They moved up the start time because of low tide and I could feel the water changing. It felt like forever as I was constantly telling myself, “you are fine, you can do this, just keep swimming,” all while wondering, “where am I, am I on course, is this ever going to end???”

I finally made it around most of the course and was heading into shore. I was so excited; I started to pick up my pace. Unfortunately, I swam off course again, and was once again stopped by a kayaker. Feeling deflated I pointed my body in the right direction and paced steadily to the finish. I didn’t see anyone in the water from the time I lost Kathy until the last stretch of the swim. Then it seemed a few women appeared in the water around me. A woman next to me started to stand, so I did too. We both were just happy to be done and started talking about what had happened. It never occurred to me that I was in a race and needed to rush out of the water. I think I was in shock that I swam 2.4 miles.

When we finally walked over the timing pad and got our medals I wanted to cry. In that moment my story changed. I can swim. I can handle stepping on various surfaces on the bottom of the river. I can put my face in water that is brown and murky. I can keep going even if I get off course. I can finish what I set out to do even if it is difficult and scary and even if I end up alone. I can.

11 weeks to IronMan Mount Tremblant. I can.

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