Today I went visiting teaching and told my girl about my swim. Her response was ‘Wow! I could never do that!’. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that response in the last 3 years (crazy that I’ve been open water swimming for 3 years btw!). It can actually be quite discouraging because I want to inspire people to do as I do, not make it seem impossible.
If you haven’t noticed I’m not exactly the typical athlete with a svelte figure. Every swim I’ve done I’ve weighed between 275 and 310 lbs (yes, I just admitted that to the world. Deal). I’m a big girl and always have been. It wasn’t all that long ago that just the idea of swimming for a mile felt impossible but I had a gentle friend put in my path who never wavered in his support of my seemingly impossible first swim back in 2011, and I did it!
I’ve faced other challenges besides my weight such as a fall down the stairs, chronic pain/fibromyalgia, PCOS, hormone problems, diabetes scare, and more, so training isn’t always easy or even possible. I’ve faced personal challenges, heartaches and disappointments, which have felt like a fall down the stairs. I’ve spent a greater part of a year looking, building, buying and moving into a new house. I have at times dealt with crippling anxiety and even panic attacks that can make goal setting difficult and self acceptance challenging.
I’ve had all the challenges any of you face and yet I’ve completed my swims.
I don’t want to sound like a great hero. In fact, I am trying to prove the reverse- that there is nothing particularly special about me. If I can do it, so can you. Even people with minimal swimming experience have made amazing strides with consistent practice. I have seen people barely be able to cross the length of a pool, swim a mile in the GSL 6 months later. I’ve seen people conquer fear of water, waves, being submerged, etc and do great things.
The way I see it you have 2 choices in life. You can either take chances or watch as other people take them. Even if its not an open water swim, I am sure there is something that you look at and think ‘I could never do that’. I guarantee you ‘THAT’ is the thing you ‘NEED’ to do! There is nothing more satisfying than doing something you never thought you could do. It could be singing a solo in public, painting with watercolors, running for public office, starting a small business, writing a novel, entering a triathlon, giving blood. Whatever. Find out what that is and DO IT!
Now you may not succeed. My friend Goody had a goal to swim the Catalina channel in California. He was in the water for 16 hours and eventually it had to be called off. It was devastating but he took it like the trooper he was. You know what he had to face this year? Cancer. I can only imagine the fighting spirit he developed in that water and setting a bold goal helped him in his victorious battle. He also became the first Utahn to swim an ice mile in below freezing water. So, your victory may come in a different way than you had planned but it will come.
Part of the reason I know all of you can do what you dream of doing is because I face the same doubts and fears. Every time I swim I face anxiety about whether I’ll be able to finish. Not just before the race but many times while I’m swimming. I got to the point in the last GSL swim where I could hardly move my right arm. The current was killing me and I could do about 20 strokes and I’d be pushed inside. I had seen a woman give up early in the race and I wondered again and again if it was going to be my outcome. I guess I decided I wasn’t going to let the lake lick me and it didn’t and that is the real victory!
I have a quote on my bookcase by the divine Nora Ephron that says ‘Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim’. Stop saying ‘I could never do that’. Stop it! Think of things you can do and haven’t tried and do them. Go for it!
I can think of so many times when this advice has benefited my life. Because of a demon of a choir teacher, I was petrified of singing in public for years. I even refused to lead the music on my mission because I had been so humiliated as a teen. That said- I always knew it was something ‘I wish I could do’ but thought I just wasn’t made for singing.
In 2006 I was so miserable with life that I sought fulfillment in anything and signed up for voice lessons. My first recital my hands were shaking and my skin was pale, but you know what I got through it and 7 years later it turns out that singing in public is actually something I’m quite good at. I’m not saying I have the greatest voice in the world but the acting and performing is a strength. That’s the blessing of doing hard things, of pushing yourself. You find out what you are made of and it constantly surprises you!
Last year I had a goal to introduce someone to open water swimming. I felt it had done me such good and I wanted to share the favor. Unfortunately I come in contact with relatively few new people so I didn’t know how I would complete this goal (speaking of impossible goals!) but I had faith and even made it a matter of prayer. Well, in April of that year I discovered #ldsconf on twitter and made a ton of new friends while watching General Conference. One was a girl from Washington State named Abby.
We still have never met but she read about my prep for the GSL swim and my race last June and one day she asked me if I thought she could be ready for the race on the Columbia River in September. “Sure!” was my gleeful reply. I remind you I had never met this person and yet I felt confident she could do it. Later I remember asking myself ‘You don’t know this person. What if she has a terrible experience and then blames you?”
Well, fortunately she swam it and had a wonderful swim with a great time. Life is usually like that. We need a little encouragement to do hard things and then we pass that gift on to other people. We are the heroes of each other or we should be. That’s the great thing about doing hard things is it inevitably puts you in the path of other dreamers, and your life is so much the richer for those relationships. When I think of the people I have met through just swimming and singing I am blown away. The decision to try seems self evident for the friendships alone.
Like the poet says: