Monday, March 9, 2015

My Embroiled Swimming Past

As you know, last week I participated in the Tri U Mah indoor triathlon at the University of Minnesota Aquatic center.  What you may not know is how terrified I was to do the swim.  Yes, I may have joked about it in my blog about the race, but as I sat on the edge of that pool and contemplated life pre race, I was truly terrified. 

That fear came from back when I was a kid...


Imagine you're 8-9 years old.  You're in a scout group and you're taking a field trip of sorts to the local community center.  Plus, the community center has a pool.  Awesome!

On the day of the field trip, you are excited beyond max.  You rush out of the car when you get to the community center.  But, being the slowest and chubbiest kid of the group, unfortunately you're the last one out of the locker room once you change into your suit. 

Your peers are already all in the pool, splashing around and having a great time.  They yell to you to hurry up and jump in.  So, in a rush and also wanting to impress them, you take a running leap from the side of the pool, pushing off and landing a good 2-3 feet from the edge.

What you weren't expecting in all of this is that your friends were actually treading water.  The pool is deep where you just landed.  The water is over your head, your toes don't hit the bottom, and you're not prepared to swim.  You panic and start to flap your arms wildly, pushing yourself down below the water line rather than forwards towards the wall.  Your friends all scatter, scared by your wild thrashing.

You start taking in water and choking. 

It becomes harder and harder to find your breath.

A few seconds pass but it feels like an eternity.  Adults by now have realized there's a problem, and all hurry to the side of the pool.  Someone's dad, someone you don't even know, frantically reaches over the edge of the pool for your hand.  But your arm is too short by at least a foot to catch his grasp.

He starts yelling at you to come forward.  "It's just a little farther, you can do it". 

You're sobbing, screaming, thrashing wildly and fighting for breath.  The water is burning your throat and nose.  The dad extends his arm further out, stretching more and more.  Finally, he ends up laying down on the pools edge for leverage, stretching out to his limit.  You extend your arm as far as you can and you graze his finger tips.

Everyone is screaming for a life guard.

You finally get close enough that the dad can grab you by the wrist.  He grips you so tight and pulls so hard that your wrist aches.  But he has you.  And suddenly you are sitting on the edge of the pool, coughing and retching chlorine out of your throat and nose. 

Your eyes are on fire.  It hurts to breathe.  You have lost all emotional control and are so worked up you have to go sit in the car outside.  You end up going home early from your outing, the jubilation of the field trip now totally lost.


A few months later, it's warm enough for outdoor swimming. Your parents take you to a long time family friend's house.  They have a pool in their back yard that you used to love swimming in, but now you refuse to even get in the water.

Your parents force you to walk down the stairs into the pool.  You make it about ankle deep before you have a full on melt down, and end up running out of the pool to the bathroom where you promptly vomit due to working yourself into such an emotional tizzy.


Eventually, the years go by and you're able to enjoy the water again, although you prefer to keep it waste deep or shallower so that it's "in control".  Regardless of your comfort level, you've had plenty of swim lessons, so when the opportunity presents itself you can swim ... although you never stray too far from the edge of the pool in the deep end.

Some time in early college, you're at a hotel for a family wedding when an attractive person starts flirting with you at the pool.  They had navy seal training and can literally swim with their belly scraping the bottom for minutes on end, so you watch them play "shark" with the young kids in amazement.  Eventually you decide to get into the pool - after all, flitting around the edge of the diving well is fine, since you can hold on to the side for the most part. 

But when the seal silently sneaks up on you from behind while you're treading water, and playfully tugs on your toe to pull you under, you startle badly and scream bloody murder.  You become so upset that you have to excuse yourself from the pool and the person who scared you feels so bad that they won't talk to you the rest of the weekend.


A few more years go by and now you've pretty much forgotten your water anxiety.  Sort of.  You feel comfortable enough to float around in pools and get into the ocean from the shore. 

While on your honeymoon in Jamaica, your fascination with tropical fish wins out and you decide to take the free snorkel boat out to a shallow reef.  This will be a piece of cake, right?  You even get a life vest if you want.

The boat arrives to the reef and the boat captain passes out gear - flippers, masks, the whole lot.  You watch the first few folks lean back over the edge and tip off the boat, and are excited to follow suit.  Until you splash into the water yourself.

The water is choppy, and even with the life vest your mouth can barely stay above the water.  The panic of the community center pool in your youth and not being to breathe rushes back.  Your spouse is in the water next to you, trying to talk you off the edge, but the anxiety has ratcheted up so high that you have to get back into the boat just seconds after getting in the water.


Almost ten years after the honeymoon, it's Tri U Mah race day.  You're sitting on the edge of a pool that's 7' deep.  Despite having spent the last year or more lap swimming every Wednesday night, the anxiety of the community center incident in grade school is right back in your throat. 

You know the longer you sit on the edge and contemplate, the worse it will get.  You clench your jaw, take a deep breath, and immediately force yourself over the edge.

The depth makes you gasp as you come up to catch the ledge.  But you realize: you're ok.  You can do this.  And then the race begins.

And you do it.  And you do it well.


The entire time I swam at Tri U Mah, I couldn't believe I was doing it.  And not only because I forced myself to push through my fear of water. 

As I swam, I thought about how in the last five years I've taken myself from 240 pounds to what I am today.  I thought about how 2014 was so miserable for me with my miscarriage, my feet issues and my total loss of motivation to work out.  And despite how I ended the year regretting some weight regain, I thought about how I've turned it around for 2015 - I've been approved as an InkNBurn Ambassador, I'm feeling better in my running, and even in that very second ...I was doing my first ever triathlon. 

Despite trying to do my best on the swim, I couldn't help but pause for a second and feel some emotion.  I realized I had climbed the mountain of infinity that was 2014, and I was finally coming down the other side.

And then I had to tell myself: stop crying you idiot!  You're going to drown yourself in your goggles.  Ha ha ha.


So what's my point of this long, drawn out, image-less post?

Don't let ANYTHING limit you.  Keep pushing.  One day, it will be worth it.


  1. Wow. Just wow. I had no that you'd gone through these experiences with swimming and the water. Even bigger cheers and kudos to you now for all that you accomplished at your first tri! You should be SO proud of yourself!!!

    On a side note - my sister in law experienced a water-related incident of some sort, too. I don't know the details, but to this day she is terrified of the water. She refuses to go on boats, etc. Seeing her reaction, I can only imagine how much these experiences can affect people going forward!

    1. Isn't it amazing how traumatic events like that seem to stay with you forever? I have to admit, the unease of water has never really left my brain. It's only with a lot of self patience and repetitive practice that I've gotten where I am today. Maybe some day your SIL will be as lucky as me to be able to overcome at least some of her fear!!