My motto in life is making the impossible, possible. When I see something that I want to do if someone tells me that it’s impossible to do, I spend energy, time, effort and brain power trying to figure out a way to do it. That’s just how I’m wired. Seeing what others don’t, charting courses others can’t fathom, going places where most do not…that’s my MO. It is not anything special it’s just me.
But in the past my sense of adventure, my apostolic spirit as one Christian mentor called it, has pushed me from one goal to another. I rarely do anything twice unless it pays the bills or I’m repeatedly asked.
Not so with swimming. I have been swimming for 30 years and in that time I have had millions of victories. Swimming has always been one of those activities that I have never truly mastered or am satisfied with my progress. I have had dozens of swimming milestones…big swimming victories from swimming 25 yards without stopping to swimming 2 miles in the ocean with no wetsuit at the start of my Ironman Cozumel race. So I am not new or particularly unacquainted with this sport.
Yet each spring when I don the goggle to go out to open water I feel as if I’m starting over. The good news is that when I started swimming with the Point Swimmers here in Chicago I discovered that when it comes to this hesitancy about open water I am not alone. Seasoned swimmers who literally swim every day out in Lake Michigan every year must go through this ritual of being reacquainted with the water.
I tell my athletes that when you swim open water you’re entering an ecosystem that is offering you a tremendous opportunity to dance with magic. But like anything otherwordly there are rules.
She (water is always a she in my mind) controls the tempo of the dance. She controls the direction. She controls the rhythm. You can only control yourself and sometimes even that’s tough and you just got to roll with it.
I believe the struggle I have with open water isn’t about my swimming ability at all. It’s about my inability to relinquish control.
So each spring when I go to dance with magic I must get reacquainted with the water and myself. I must repeatedly do something new…give up my control and let the water do what it needs to while I chart a course that matches its rhythm so I can get what I need to get.
It is a partnership, not a dictatorship and I must remember that.
But for some reason I thought this year would be different. Hell, I had done an Ironman, there is nothing to fear in open water if you’re successfully able to swim 2.4 miles without stopping in a reasonable amount of time…less than 1 and some change. So when I walked to Promontory Point that first day and they told me it was a half a mile to the pier and a half mile back of course I thought, “Hell, I can swim that.” But then I didn’t.
When I first saw the Pier from the Point my voice said, “Oh, it’s not that far.” But my mind said, “Holy shnitz that’s far.” Even though I’ve swam twice the 1 mile distance to the point and back in my Ironman, and more in my practice the idea of swimming to the Pier seemed overwhelming.
I have a healthy respect for water but in the past that respect has turned to fear. But there is nothing to fear if you respect the water and your ability and if you’re trained. Training is everything. Not just the mechanics of the swim but really the mind. Swimming is a mind game and if you don’t plan, strategize and set a plan to get where you want to go you can end up in trouble super fast. I have quieted that Open Water fear over the years by becoming an adequate swimmer but more importantly a thinking swimmer. Each body of water I purview I decide my exit strategy right away. Today I needed those weapons.
I had no intention to swim to the Pier. I was tired. Bone tired. I had my first true build training weekend this weekend, long bikes and runs back to back and basically walking around Racine being an Iron Sherpa for the amazing Nikolett! Who rocked her 70.3.
But I was tired. I woke up at 5 a.m. and knew I wanted to swim at the Point. My plan was just to flop around for around and do something for fun. I lollygagged so I had to hop on my bike and I got there just past six. Most of the Point Swimmers were ready to get in the water. Pay attention folks because right here is an ingredient for success…not overanalyzing. Swimming to the pier was not even remotely in my mind when I showed up to the Point on Monday and yet by the end it became my only thought.
After I arrived, late, most of the swimmers were dressed and ready to get into the water, this couple, after a hard night of drinking and doing the stroll of shame I suspect, walked by us and asked what we were doing. The guy was clearly drunk the girl, who knows. Both were black.
A couple of the swimmers told him we were going to swim.
“Where?” he asked.
“To the pier.”
“What? That pier right there? Aww…helll naw…really?”
Then the girl looked at me.
“You swim too?”
“Yes. I said smiling.”
“You go girl.”
I chuckled. Then the guy.
“I want to take a picture of y’all. Will you take a picture with us?”
Some swimmers looked hesitant but I was like fine. The couple was clearly inebriated but they seemed enthralled. Then the guy said something sad.
“I love to swim but I’ve never swam in Lake Michigan.”
I thought all about that. Not only do I love to swim but I swim whenever I want. I can swim everyday if I want and that for me is freedom. To be able to do what you love each day whenever you want when others can’t it’s true independence. It’s freedom and that’s a freedom you need to honor and respect by repeating.
I can’t say if it was seeing that couple. But when I got into that water I decided I wasn’t going to stop until I touched that pier.
I swam, and I swam, what seemed like forever. I stopped. I made a complete 180 turning back toward shore and then turned around again. I began to feel imaginary leg cramps and I couldn’t breathe. Seeing how far I was away from shore got my heart racing. I had to calm down. I wasn’t physically tired but as the song says, “My mind was playing tricks on me.” So I had to calm down and I had to sing “Wade in the Water,” and my heart rate plummeted and I began to breathe normally.
I swam and swam and saw Susan and followed her to the pier. And then just before I got there I looked and my heart began beating faster “I’m here, I’m here.” Well not quite. It’s like they moved the pier or something. It kept getting farther and farther. But finally there it was and I was touching it. I kissed my hand and slapped it on the pier. Rested for about 30 seconds and celebrated with Susan and Theresa and then boom turnaround and came back.
Swimming back was much hard. The current was pushing me out toward open water away from the beach. I swam and looked up to see a buoy. What the hell am I doing over here? Swimming in Open Water a straight line is not always the best way to get from point A to point B. So I had to turn and swim across current to get back to shore. I didn’t panic but it was a bit crazy.
Finally I touched the ladder. I’m sure the couple was long gone but it didn’t matter. I had done what I came to do and all was good.