I chose to participate in open water swimming because it wasn’t what I was conditioned for, comfortable with, defined by, shackled to. It was new and unknown and free. Mostly free — from expectation and comparison and competition.
I chose open water because swimming in a pool didn’t do it for me any longer. I’m very comfortable in water – in fact, completely comfortable. One would argue too comfortable. Once you get the hang of swimming from one end to the other and turning around and staying inside the lane, the rest is essentially just lather, rinse, repeat. Obviously there is much more to competitive swimming than those simple adjustments, but you get the idea.
The fact is, much of competitive swimming for me was about fear. Fear of failure – of not measuring up, not performing, not winning. I would hazard to say that all forms of competition are essentially like that.
Open water swimming was something I did for myself. No pressure, just anticipation. No looks to the right. No looks to the left. No on-the-block inadequacies. No terror of the gun.
Anticipation. True anticipation. No fear. That’s the cool part.
The start and the finish of an open water swim are similar to the start and finish of any competition. I could fight and kick and survive at the start with the best of them. For many that’s all it was – a battle. At the end, I accelerated through the funnel toward the finality of heat and sand and exhale and completion. But in between, it was all about finding the open water.
There is freedom in open water – freedom from expectation, from comparison, from perfection. You get to swim without lane lines. Without bottom lines. Without that rising, pumping gorge that begins with stepping up to the blocks and sizing up the guys next to you and formulating reasons to fail (indeed, often preparing to fail) and often enough ends in failure.
In open water, I didn’t have to fight, or push, or race. It wasn’t a race. It was a journey. It was about discovery. I wasn’t comparing myself or my speed or my progress to that of anyone else. No measuring up, no regrets, no clutter. Just me — in the water moving forward and breathing and thinking and being. It was life in the essence — not in the balance, not in the thick, not in the race. Life in the essence.
Reachpullpushbreathekickmovereachreachreachreach. Moving through …feeling the water all around me…truly feeling it’s life, its power, its beauty, its history. And feeling that I, here, moving through, was enough.
Many years ago, I used to tell my beginning swimming students that it doesn’t matter what’s on the bottom or where the bottom is if you’re swimming on the surface. You just swim to the other side. Sometimes I forget the simple power embodied in that philosophy.
Fear is the enemy. When you stop moving forward — when you let the fear of the unknown or the uncertain or the imperfect bring on helplessness and doubt and dread— that’s when you start to sink.
This year, 2009, is the year in which I declare that I live in the possibility of freedom – from inaccurate, unnecessary comparisons, fears and judgements which have historically led me to overwhelmed paralysis and sinking depression. Since I have the ability to choose my relationship to the ocean that is my life, I choose to swim. I choose the open water. And I choose a life where the depth of the water is irrelevant — as long as I can choose to enjoy each breath.