Slam the Dam

Today I am writing to you as a very tired, worn out swimmer!  As any reader of this blog knows I have been preparing for weeks to swim my second open water swim in Las Vegas called Slam the Dam.  It is held at Lake Meade near Las Vegas and this is the second year of the competition.  My first swim was at the much smaller Deer Creek Open Water Swim and I’m glad I got to ‘test out the waters’ in a smaller environment.

This swim was different in many ways.  To begin with I had sacrificed more of my time and money to get there.  For Deer Creek I had trained for about a month hard core and it was a 30 minute drive from my house.  For Slam the Dam I have trained for 2 months, taken time off work and spent considerable money on fees, bus tickets and other expenses.  Let’s just say there was a lot more than an afternoon of swimming invested in Saturday’s swim.

The weekend started on Friday when I caught the greyhound bus to Vegas (I decided to take the bus because I don’t like long drives by myself and I’m glad I did.  It was nice to rest and not drive- especially on the way home).

The ride took around 7 1/2  hours but eventually I made it to Vegas and met up with my Aunt Rose and Uncle Bruce.  They were nice enough to have me at their home for the weekend, take me to my race, and even stayed to watch me compete.  I really appreciate their hospitality and support (and all the good food!  There is always a feast when Rose cooks!)

My friend Josh and I before the race. Both him and his wife Sabrina were very encouraging and stayed to watch me compete.

Once I was settled I met up with some of my Utah Open Water friends for a pre-race dinner.  I became more acquainted with some people and made several new friends.  I can’t say enough good things about the people I have met through open water.  They have been so welcoming and friendly.  It is such a blessing in my life. (We should have taken a photo of us at dinner.  I always forget to do that at dinner gatherings!)

Fully loaded with Italian carbs (and a sleeping pill) I slept well the night of the race despite my stomach balling up with nerves.  I couldn’t help but feel anxious- a new lake, new course, new distance…with all I had invested the idea of failure was daunting and hard to ignore.

Finally the morning of the race came.  I was a little worried they might cancel the race because of lightning but thankfully the clouds abated and the race went forward.  My 1.2 mile swim was the last event of the morning and since they ran about 30 minutes behind I had plenty of time to stretch and prepare myself mentally.

this is me before the race

Eventually my race was called and we went off in 2 batches.  I had signed up for the race before I became a USMS Member, so I was in the second group.  It was kind of funny because they didn’t give any lead up such as ‘on your marks’ or ‘1,2,3’.  It was just a horn and go!

my racing group. You can see me in the middle with the purple swim suit.

Off we went!  The water was warm, around 80 degrees, but because of the wind and storminess it was very choppy.  I think you can kind of tell that from the above photo.  I had never swam in choppy water before and it was an entirely different beast.  As cold as Deer Creek was, it was not nearly as difficult as the water at Lake Meade.

The course was set up with a finish line path with green buoys and then four orange buoys to mark out to the half way point of the race.  Once past the fourth buoy the racers did a loop and headed the opposite direction back to the green finish line.

the 1.2 mile course

The choppy water meant the first half swimmers had to fight the current and it was very frustrating.  At times I felt like I was on s swimming treadmill and couldn’t make any progress.  It is a strange thing swimming in the open water because even in the best of circumstances it feels like you will never reach the target.  Even when you are yards away it feels much further.  (Kind of a cruel optical illusion if you ask me!).

When I rounded the 1/2 way and was heading towards the third buoy I honestly wondered if I could do it.  I kept swallowing water and the ending seemed so far off.  My lungs were burning and my entire body ached.

Without sounding cheesy it was actually a spiritual moment for me.  I stopped and said a little prayer.  “Heavenly Father, I have worked so hard.  I have sacrificed so much to be here.  Please help me finish the race.”.  Then I rested, treading water, for 30 seconds to catch my breath and refocus.  I knew I could do it.  I had to do it.  Heavenly Father helped Peter walk on water.  Surely He could help me finish my race.

this is my favorite painting and I really felt like He was there for me in the choppy water. Ok maybe it wasn't quite that choppy but it felt as insurmountable to me.

Plowing ahead into the whirlwind of water I pushed forward reaching one buoy, and then another, till finally the green finish line was within my view.  I stopped for another second to take it in and went as quickly as I could until a man said ‘You are done.  Congratulations!”  I think I about hugged him and it took me several minutes to get out of the water.  I was also trying to figure out my time, which turned out to be 1 hour 14 minutes- slower than I wanted, but considering the choppy water, I was satisfied.  I had done my best.

You can see the moment in this clip

When I think back to the race it is hard to not contemplate my life.  There are sacrifices and tests and the water is often choppy, but when we need Him the Lord is always there, and with His help we can finish the race.

I, like Paul, can say  “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)

On that note here, I am with my ‘finisher medal’ and the Elvis impersonator (only in Vegas.  They called him the ‘El-fish’!).

me and the el-fish!

I would like to say thank you to everyone who helped me cross that line.  To my family and friends for all their support and love. To Bruce and Rose and all the volunteers at Slam the Dam for taking time out of their busy lives to make my dreams come true.  To everyone at Utah Open Water especially Erin, Kate, and Josh.  The lessons, pep talks and encouragement did more than you know.  Thank you for welcoming me into your group and helping me feel like I’m part of a swimming family.  Thanks to my trainers Michele and Dave for pushing and praising me in just the right balance.

Thanks mostly to my Heavenly Father for never leaving me alone, especially when the waters are rough and the course feels impossible.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now on to the next goal!  No more open water swims until June but there are  masters meets and a myriad of other challenges and opportunities.

My medals for finishing both races. Never was a medal more prized than these! I'm trying to think of a creative way to display them like a shadowbox or something. Any ideas?

12 thoughts on “Slam the Dam

  1. Congratulations again. I’m glad to see you are keeping up the swimming since Deer Creek. Sorry I couldn’t be there this time to join you. Salt Lake Open Water Marathon next year?

    1. thanks for the support and reading my blog! I am definitely doing the Salt Lake swim. I wish there were even more. I will also be doing the masters swim meets during the fall/winter. So great!

  2. Okay, Rachel, every time you post about your swims I have to grab the Kleenex box! I am so proud of you.
    Kate Damjanovich Pettipiece

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