I was chatting (more like lamenting) with a friend at the Y after a workout about how my husband wants to buy a boat and I don’t want him to because that would mean I would have to go on the boat and get in the water and that terrified me! Now I have not always been terrified of open bodies of water. I spent my first eight years of life living between Southern California and Hawaii and most days were at the beach or for me in the water. At that age it wasn’t about laying on the beach working on my tan, it was about staying in the water until you were forced to come out because it was getting dark, time to go home or occasionally to grab some food. After moving from California to Pennsylvania and no longer having the option to go to the beach, my family joined the Y with an indoor pool and I wanted to join the swim team (because it guaranteed that I would be in the water a lot) which launched my competitive swim journey. I loved swimming! In the winter I was on swim team at the Y and stayed in the pool playing til they kicked me out. In summer I went to the local pool as soon as it opened for swim lessons. Even if I wasn’t in swim lessons, I was there and the instructors would let me join the classes then it was off to swim team. When that ended I stayed all day swimming with my friends and siblings. Every. Single. Day! I couldn’t get enough!
Fast forward to age 19 when I was dating my now husband and we were having a beach day in Oceanside, California. I was boogey boarding by myself having a blast when I started having trouble getting back to shore because the waves were so high, powerful, wiping me out and pulling me out to sea. The rip current was so strong and the waves crashing against me so fierce that I was pummeled repeatedly and pushed to the ocean floor where I couldn’t distinguish which way was up to get air because I was so disoriented. This happened dozens of times. I was exhausted! I remember looking to shore for help and seeing my boyfriend and a family friend standing at the water’s edge watching me. They couldn’t see that I was crying, panicking, out of breath, scared out of my mind that I was going to drown. Then I thought to myself, I’m a strong swimmer, I should be able to get through this. Wrong! I didn’t know at the time how to swim when there’s a rip current. Next thing I know I see a lifeguard coming to my rescue. He gets me to shore, hands me off to my family then runs back in the ocean to help other victims of the rip current. Sadly, someone died on that beach that day as a result of the rip current and it was then I realized the power of water. It didn’t matter how strong a swimmer I was. I felt powerless and a fear took occupancy in me that crippled me into my late thirties. That’s when a friend suggested I train for a triathlon because it would make me start swimming again and force me to be in open water and maybe help with the fear that gripped me. You see, from that horrific beach day at age 19, I wouldn’t get in water over waist deep and I would only get in if I was able to see the bottom clearly. I was petrified. I longed to be able to get over this fear and enjoy lakes and oceans like I did when I was a kid. Fear had crippled me and it was time to get rid of it.
As I said in the beginning of this article, why I tri has transformed into different things over the years. It’s now not so much about eliminating the open water fear but rather a form of therapy for me. During some very dark times over the past seven years dealing with my daughter’s struggles with addiction and mental illness, in/out of treatment centers all over the country, triathlon has been my therapy, my release, my distraction from reality. Long runs and rides are a great time to cry and get everything out that you’ve kept inside! I refer to training as my “prozac”. Training made me get out of bed when I didn’t want to because my baby girl was living on the streets, addicted to heroin, and I was consumed with wondering if she was dead or alive. How can I focus on training??? I pushed myself through training which gave me the physical and mental strength to tackle the difficult things with my daughter and life in general. I’m grateful I had triathlon to turn to and not something destructive.
There have been many reasons over the years why I tri. It feeds my Type A personality (there are others just like me out there - Yay!), it keeps me strong and healthy, it’s a mental release, it’s challenging, it’s taught me that I’m an overcomer and can do hard things! But these days it’s about having fun with the incredible people I’ve met through the sport, especially with Raise the Bar. This team is so encouraging, inspiring, supportive and fun! That’s what keeps me triing! (new word?)