in Swimming

On getting in

I stood knee-deep in the water, staring out at Janie, who was already swimming away from me. “Wait!” I yelled, wading in mid-thigh. From there, the small shore on Haydn Lake dropped sharply, 12 feet at least. I could see the tangle of seaweed growing on the lake’s bottom through the clear water, and I knew once I was in I had to swim hard away from shore to avoid it touching my feet. But the water felt cold to my 11 year old self.

“10, 9, 8…” I told myself I would jump in, really this time, “7, 6, 5, 4” I bent my knees and swung back my arms, “3, 2, 1” I stood motionless, like a statue about to take flight. I just stared at the water, my brain telling me to go, my body refusing to budge. I tried again. “3, 2, 1”, and again and again. I was so frustrated, I knew it was inevitable that eventually my body would cave, I couldn’t stand there forever. By this time Janey had swum around the dock and was out of view, but I could hear her laughing with her older cousin. Finally, without even counting down, my mind overpowered my body and suddenly I was swimming, the cold intense at first, but melting away quickly.

All throughout my childhood, my aversion to getting in cold water annoyed me; there were times when I just could never quite get in all the way. To be fair, the Spokane River, Lake Coeur d’Alene, Priest Lake—these are not warm bodies of water. It wasn’t completely unjustified; sometimes my feet would be numb before my knees were even touching water. But I was always the last one in.

At some point after college, when I began cycling and realizing my own potential as an athlete and more used to physical discomfort, I began a crusade. I would just get in. No more counting, that just made it worse. I was tired of being scared, I was tired feeling like a wuss, and I was a mountain biker, dang it. I could handle some cold water.

I recall being at Mountain Bike Oregon, an event where the women were scarce, standing at the edge of the river that went along the campground. It came from the bottom of a reservoir, so it was very cold. It was also the only way I was going to get a day’s worth of dust and sweat off of me; if there’s anything worse then cold water, it was trying sleep dirty. I also knew it would reduce the swelling in my legs so I could ride another day. A large group of people in swim suits were milling around on the shore, a few ankle deep, mostly men. I didn’t even pause at the shore, I just began walking slowly into the water. I registered the temperature, but knew if I stopped I wouldn’t get going again. I got in waist deep, held my breath, and dunked my head in as fast as humanly possible. I scrubbed myself and dunked a few more times, and by the time I felt adequately clean and escaped the frigid water, a few guys had gotten in, a few more tried and ran back out. I must admit I felt badass.

I watched a few guys jump from a rock into the river, which would sweep them down to the neighboring beach. There was no way I was doing that. I had conquered the getting in demon. But not the staying in demon.

But here I am. I just swam for 30 minutes in 48/49 degree water. It felt amazing. The sun was out, and I was just in pure enjoyment mode, no longer afraid that I wouldn’t make it, the demons in my head quiet. My body went numb so quickly I hardly even registered the cold. I kept looking up at the sky, at the sun, and appreciating how amazing my body is. I can’t anticipate swimming bliss every time, each swim is different and has to be approached with caution. But damn if it doesn’t feel good to stretch myself and be so grateful in the moment. Not just grateful for my own success, but so grateful to the people swimming and kayaking around me, people who are equally insane and are the reason I’m in the water.

Swim on yetis, swim on.