For weeks before I came to this mountain town I awoke in the middle of the night with worry about my swimming in Lake Tahoe. How cold would the water be? Will the sleeveless wet suit I borrowed be warm enough or would my teeth be chattering uncontrollably? Am I strong enough to do an open water swim?
My friend here in Tahoe, known as The Medicine Woman in my memoir, has ventured out with me every day to do my workouts. I can tell she sets a different agenda of sorts for us as we head to swim in the most beautiful waters I have ever laid my eyes on. Turquoise and blue like that of a deep, deep seascape. As you lift your eyes up from the waters a range of grey mountains spotted by patches of trees cup you in their magnificence. Every morning we have walked to her shore in awe. Her beauty something I have never taken for granted even when I lived here almost twenty years ago. It feels impossible to tire of the beauty. “Is there anything as beautiful as this?” I say out loud unable to remove my eyes from the view in front of me. My dear friend who splits her year between here and the big island of Hawai’i always concurs with me, “It is very special.” Without her at my side each day, as I explore the snowmelt waters, I am encouraged by her observations of my progress. “You delved in faster today.”
“You have already done 400 meters,” when we did a swim of bits and spurts from one post to the other. (We calculated the area between them to be just over a quarter a mile, which is just over 400 meters – the swim length in the race.)
“You went out into the deep without even my prompting,” she told me at the end of yesterday’s session.
Yesterday she labeled our session as a play day for swimming. We plunged into the waters after a 12-mile bike ride, up a substantial grade & back, and a 3-mile run all at about 6,200 feet. My lungs felt every foot of it from my usual flat, sea level route back in Florida. It was later in the day so the waves had picked up to the point of forming little white caps. Since it was a play day I seemed to relax as we bobbed about, even among the waves brought on by wind and the numerous boats in the water. She noted I actually had a smile on my face as I let my body roll out into the deeper, darker waters. I wasn’t afraid. It was weird because I couldn’t touch the bottom but I didn’t care. My goal now is to have that same ease as I am actually swimming, working my breath.
The way I undo my mind’s head games is by remembering how I got to these shores today. Just four years ago I took adult swim lessons with the desire to start conquering my fear of water. Every week I went to the shallow end of the pool to meet my instructor and other students. We spent a bit of time just trying to put our face in the water. The whole experience took a lot of courage for me. As our lessons progressed those of us who could put our whole bodies in the water then attempted different swim strokes. I was so grateful to work through this first level of fear. By the last lesson I was hanging onto the side of the pool at the deep end. I always kept an eye out for something to come up and grab my legs, one of my unrational fears about water. From the pool’s deep edge I dove down to get items the instructor would throw for us to retrieve at the bottom of the pool.
After my last class I proudly displayed my swim certificate on the fridge. I smiled wide and proudly when a friend said I had acquired “Guppy Status.” Then I left Texas and moved to a place where my easy access to a pool was no longer. I didn’t go in the water for four years to “swim.” I did a couple snorkels while visiting the Hawaiian Islands twice, but nothing else. Then I decided to do the upcoming triathlon – now 13 days away.
So when I landed in my new Floridian home I knew I needed to get swimmin’ pronto! I sought out a pool and purchased a pass, a 30-minute drive from my house. Twice a week I stood at the end of the 50-meter lane reacquainting myself with the water in front of me. The first few times it was a silent struggle to go to the deep end without freaking out. It took all I had to get my body to propel through the water. My doing the front crawl half way down the lane (25 meters) without stopping was all I could do for almost the first month, most of July. Then one day I made a 50-meter lap. A couple weeks before I left on my book tour this August I did my first 100 meters (up & back) without stopping. It was a big head game for me, still is. I had to calm my mind when I was halfway then three-quarters and then all the way down the lane. One day I felt my groove in the water. I felt my body glide through the water – my breath effortless. Before I knew it I was doing lap after lap. The air came and flowed through my lungs. I was silently stunned by the ease. It was magic and I relished in my accomplishment. I found that ease only one more time in the pool.
Every other time I’ve same and had some sort of an accomplishment my head threw in that is great AND you still have to get in the open water. That was great and you won’t be able to pause even slightly on the side of the pool. That was great and…. UGH!
It is a head game at this point for me. I know my body can do this as long as I can keep my mind calm directing my breath to be loose. I need to make a mantra in my head: one of fluidity and freedom to breathe, of strength and power in my body of complete capability in my brain. I need to believe in myself.