Open Water Swim

I’ve sat down to write this post several times but each time I’ve struggled to find the words to describe my experience in my first open water swim.  When I try to sound triumphant it seems cloying, when simply describing the event it feels ordinary.

Nevertheless, I will do my best to give you an idea of what the day meant to me.

Walt Disney once said that “the real trouble with the world is too many people grow up.  They forget.  They don’t remember what it’s like to be 12 years old.”   While this may be true with some adults, it is not the case for those of us who grow up overweight.

Believe me we remember what it is like to be 12 and fat.

I wish I could forget the searing images of being bullied and called terrible names. I wish I could forget being looked over and marginalized because of something that I had little control over.

How might you ask did I emerge from childhood with a happy disposition (the blog is after all called Smiling LDS girl!)  and confident demeanor?  There are many answers including most importantly my faith but one small answer is that I found swimming.

I have always loved to swim.  In fact, anything with water has, and always will, make me happy- whether it is boating with my family or spending the afternoon at a neighborhood pool there is something about the water that is freeing.  It was also the only athletic activity which I felt competitive and that did not flair up my asthma/bad feet.

me in high school swim team photo. We changed uniforms my sophomore year which is why I got to take home the jacket I still have.

When I was in high school I decided to join the swim team and thankfully they had an open enrollment policy- meaning every student who wanted to participate could.  In my 3 years on the team I learned how to do strokes properly and competed in races where I actually turned in decent times. (I was one of the only girls that was willing to swim butterfly so that became a bit of a specialty for me!).  Its amazing how once those strokes are in your head you never forget them.  I still do my freestyle in the S shape that Coach Cowperthwaite taught me (yes, that was her name!).   In fact, it is very difficult to change any part of my stroke because it is so ingrained in my body.

Seared in my memory is also the feeling of weightlessness (a big thing for a fat girl to experience) that would overtake me upon entering the water.  I still love nothing more than diving into water, and I agree with my sister who once said- “swimming is the closest thing to flying we have on earth”.  It is freedom, it is lightness, it is happiness!

In my sophomore year I took a life guarding course and believe it or not obtained my certification.  I can’t explain what that meant for a fat girl- to complete a certification in something so difficult.  I remember in particular we had to tread for 10 minutes with a 10 lb brick, and I did it!

Anyway, back to Saturday.

I awoke bright and early to face my challenging swim.  I was a mess of nerves and emotion- what if I failed, what if I got a cramp mid-race and had to stop, what if my paddler didn’t show up or what if they had to cancel the race?  (You get the idea).

As a nod to my former self I wore my old high school swim team jacket.  (Yes, for once my pack-rat tendencies paid off! I have my old swim cap also but it has a rip).

this is my old high school swim team jacket. It says Middletown Knights on the back.

After arriving at the race I met with my paddler who was amazing.   Despite having never met, he seemed to get my story and believe in me. I am so grateful for his sacrifice of a Saturday morning sleep to help me. I told him he was my ‘guardian angel’ for the day.

My paddler Neil.

Everyone associated with the race was wonderful and encouraging.  Again, they seemed to all get that this was more then just a routine event for me. (All together I think there were about 65 racers- plus paddlers to accompany them, so it was a pretty big crowd).

Me with one of the awesome swimmers Erin

Once we gathered to begin the race the day started on a good, surprising note!  They had a raffle and I won the big prize!  (I tell you fortune was smiling upon me the whole day!).  I won a kayak!  It is a one person seated kayak that will be great for future races and trips to the lake.  I never win anything! (Thank goodness I have a van to take it home in. :))

Then the 10 mile swimmers started (can you believe that! 10 miles!), 10 k, 5 k (most popular) and finally it was time for my race.  There were 10 other swimmers for the 1 mile swim including a little girl who proudly announced “I’m going to win. My sister won and so will I”.  I think she came in second but still I admired her confidence.

With the sound of the whistle into the water I went swimming with all my heart.  I was significantly slower than my competitors but that didn’t matter to me.  I had the encouragement of my paddler and a lifetime of love for the water pushing me forward.   Plus, I could just feel the prayers and thoughts of my family, friends and trainers who have invested so much in getting me in that water.

An open water swim is both a mental and physical game.  I had done one mile swims before but never one quite like this.  About 1/3rd of the way through it felt like I would never get to the 1/2 mile marker, and the same for the last stretch.  It almost seems like a mirage and the end does not feel real until you are minutes, mere feet away.  Thankfully I had my paddler and cheerleaders on the side pushing me to keep going.

When I finally crossed the finish line I was overcome with emotions and actually started to cry.  The ending could not have been more sweet if I had finished first.

(Btw, I did make my goal to finish in under an hour by 6 minutes.  54 minutes!)

It was as if I was giving a high-five to the 12-year-old and 16-year-old me- saying we did it!  I can tell you one thing- never was any medal more well-earned or more proudly displayed than the one I received for simply finishing!

At the risk of sounding cheesy I would just like to say something to the young girls out there who feel they are without worth- you can do great things in your life.  You are valuable and important.  If I can swim a mile today and could pass that life guarding test years ago, then you can do whatever you dream of doing.  Just set a goal, gather a team to help you and go and do it.

There is no doubt that the year and half of this fitness quest has been full of difficulties but Saturday made it all worth it.  It was truly one of the best days of my life.  Thank you to everyone for your support and love.  Now on to the next race- Slam the Dam in Vegas on October 1st.  Life is good!

Thank you also to everyone who worked hard to make the event a success.  Thank you especially to my paddler Neil and to Jim Hubbard who went out of his way to make sure I could race, as well as organizing the race for everyone else.  Thank you so much.  (Also, thanks to those who donated the kayak!)

14 thoughts on “Open Water Swim

  1. Rachel,
    Thank You for being such a bright spot of the swim. I was really thrilled that you won the kayak. There was a one mile swimmer that never finished. You had the determination to finish.
    Congratulations,
    Jim Hubbard

  2. “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which have been overcome while trying to succeed.” – Booker T. Washington. Awesome blog and an even better swim!
    Matt Gerrish

  3. CONGRATULATIONS!!! That is a huge accomplishment! I don’t think I could get out and swim a mile in open water right now…that is super intimidating! I can relate to the joy and sense of well-being and love for life that comes from working and training very hard for a race and then achieving your goal, whether it be just to finish, to set a personal record or to win (I’ve had all of those goals at different times). So super happy for you! Keep up the hard work, and keep on setting good goals!

    1. Thanks. It was an amazing day. Fortunately there is another race October 1st in Las Vegas called Slam the Dam that I am setting my sites on now. This way my training doesn’t stall. Its a bit longer swim at 1.2 miles but I am hoping my time is even better then my first.
      The best thing about this race is it has put me in touch with an entire network of swimmers to converse and swim with. For most of my fitness quest I have been a bit of a lone warrior (bloggers and trainers aside) so it is great to have other people to swim with and be encouraged by.
      It reminds me that in setting goals there are so many blessings that come beyond the mere completion of that goal. The journey along the way and the people you meet make it extra special!

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