Every summer as a grade school child my family would take a trip out to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. This is a strip of land out in the middle of the ocean. It is so narrow that its width in some portions there is just a 2 lane road with beach on both sides, so if a hurricane comes it usually floods out. Also, because of the location it gives the largest waves out in the east coast, perfect for surfing, and body boarding which I took up.
It wasn’t until one day that when a rip tide came in things would change my life. There are no life guards out here. The silly basic swim lessons that I learned at the Boys and Girls club gave a false sense of confidence. Looking for a better wave, I ventured out into the deep where the good surfers where. Short instances of time passed and all of a sudden I noticed I am getting pulled out deeper and away from anyone nearby.
I start “tarzan” swimming to try and fight my way back to shore, and this being the worst method you can use, thus tiring me out. I yell for help but it was as if no one heard me… a couple last cries and strokes that now I start taking water into my lungs. I don’t remember what happened to my body board, just that it was of no use. The swimming did get me somewhere to a lucky point as I was sinking, some how a wave brought me to shore. I laid on shore coughing out water where I simply passed out… not much recollection there but I am sure I woke up and walked over to my parents beach camp spot. From that point on, I took a hiatus, for nearly 14 years in regards to swimming – I was mortified with fear to do anything longer than one lap worth.
So basically, coming to San Diego, birthplace of the triathlon, I felt a motivation, as the races are in a safe environment supported by lifeguards. The race I choose as my first official was the San Diego International Triathlon, which has been around for over 30 years. For this race I did a couple of pool workouts (all Tarzan style) and eventually I purchased a wet suit (ill fitting, floods). My only worry in the tri was to survive the swim, which I did, and it was a trip that on my high of life I was able to go fast on the bike and run. After that I signed up for a few more races, even doing an unofficial Ironman distance in Mission Bay. Confidence was soaring thanks to the world of the wet suit.
Eventually for next year, I worked on my technique and also purchased a legitimate wet suit that doesn’t flood throughout. My swim times improved. To go further, another super confidence builder was the San Diego Tri Club aquathlons, with its challenging wave entry. The first few I just watched and volunteered. I noticed that these races do not have to be competitive and can be for fun… since it is free thus no loss. You can always bail out and come back to shore. So once again I mustered up the courage and did it… now I am in love with these events, even though I am not the fastest swimmer – but passing out people on the run is a trip.
The escape from Alcatraz always looked like a cool event… until I found out you don’t swim from the island but rather jump off the boat… so it seems less like the real escape. Yet the conditions there are still fierce, having water temperature in the low 50s (F) – in which the cold water shock can send someone’s heart rate so high they go into cardiac arrest. This has happened at the race, unfortunately the individual died. Luckily, the oh so cool San Diego Tri Club decided to bring the event here, during the best time of year when the water hits 70s. Jumping off a boat in the middle of a bay for a long swim is already worrisome, so it would be just an aquathlon of 1500m swim and 10k run, no bike problems.
Being that it was in warm water, and seeing all the top swimmer that go No Wetsuit at the club races participating, I decided to be brave and go no wetsuit also! The first time in many years. So it is the race day morning, and I see these same non-wetsuit pros – putting on wetsuits… uh oh. Mind you once you are on the boat, no turning back, as it is going somewhere far off to serve its next client. Another factor to add was the wind creating a chop. Adrenaline starts flowing and I remind myself I have the technique to get through it. The horn goes off and I dive in …. it was a struggle as it is a little more difficult to stop to sight without the wetsuit. I was relying on following others but my initial dive put me too far out in front. I’m sure I added an extra 200m+ as I swam to shore and noticed I missed a buoy. I cannot cheat myself so I go back and round the buoy…. sprint into shore and a nice relaxing run.. The rush I always get after surviving the swim.
Sometimes you just need to do the things that make you appreciate you are alive. Can’t wait till next year!