I’ve kept this a secret because until I actually pulled myself out of the water, I really didn’t think I could do it. That’s what fear and self-doubt will do to you. But, my family and co-workers believed in me and told me I could do it, so I didn’t back out. Here’s how it happened. Brace yourself. This post is longer and more emotional than usual. Please stay with me. ♥
A few months ago, in a wave of team spirit, I signed up to be the swimmer on a relay team for the Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon at Quassy. Half a mile swim. It was my first competitive athletic event ever. I’ve been to the gym maybe a total of 10 times in my life, but I was going to do it!
April and May went by and I hadn’t gotten in the water, but I went to a session at work on how to prepare. I knew the best way to breathe, how to clean my goggles before the race so they don’t fog up, how to tuck my timing chip under my wetsuit so that it wouldn’t slip off my foot while I was swimming. A co-worker lent me a wetsuit and asked me almost daily if I’d tried it on yet. (I hadn’t.)
June came and I was knee-deep in packing, moving, unpacking, preparing for Mexico, preparing for SoWa and Renegade. I was too busy to train (that’s my excuse anyway). I swam a lot in Mexico, but not half a mile’s worth, not in one go. I came back from Mexico and suddenly, Griskus was less than a month away. Better try on that wetsuit! (Is it supposed to feel like I’m squeezing myself into a pea pod? Yep, it fits.) An email went out at work: we don’t have enough swimmers, please ask anyone you know! I asked Stan; he agreed and was paired to a relay team.
Sunday, June 30th: I made my first attempt to swim half a mile in open water at my dad’s friend’s lake house. My brother Chris helped me pull on my wetsuit after I jumped in the water (another trick I learned). Chris, Dad, and I all jumped off the dock at the same time to swim the half mile together. Less then 1/4 of the way, I was struggling to breathe. The wetsuit felt too tight on my chest. My dad’s friend Bob paddled over to me, and I pulled off my wetsuit. I was floundering on my way to the other side of the lake (the halfway mark). When I made it, I needed to rest. I told Chris and my Dad, “I don’t think I can do this. I’m going to quit.” They both agreed it was hard, but they believed I could do it. If I can finish it this time, I can finish it at the Griskus. I finished it, but I had to hang on to Bob’s kayak a few times. I decided I was going to quit…
Monday, July 1st: I told Maura I was going to quit. I tried swimming it and I can’t do it. She said to me, “Sami, you’re not going to win. Take the pressure off of yourself. You can do it.” I decided I was not going to quit, but I was going to do it without a wetsuit.
Monday, July 8th: Stan and I go to a local YMCA to swim 40 laps. Stan tried on a borrowed wetsuit, but had the same problem breathing. He swam competitively in high school and never used a wetsuit then – no reason for him to start wearing it now. He took it off and finished his 40 laps. I think I did around 30 before I had to call it a night.
Wednesday, July 10th: Race day. I’m excited. I can do this! I head to Quassy with my co-workers Margaret (above, right, our biker) and Jahnavi (above, left, our runner). We’re nervous, but as ready as we can be. Stan meets us at the transition area. We register, pick up our timing chip, swim cap, swag bag, get our markings, etc. Stan pairs up with his team. I pop in the water. The temperature is great! I put on my swim cap, and the minutes are counting down. It starts pouring as I check in with Margaret and Jahnavi one more time, then take off to find Stan. Searching, searching, searching… I can’t find him. The minutes are ticking by. It’s raining still. Thunder? The swim will be delayed. Still looking for Stan… there he is! We hug, we’re ready. I see Ausra, another relay swimmer from Timex. She’s doing it for the first time, too. Gary, our CEO, is on her team (he’s the runner). He tells us we can do it, it’s so great that we’re there. Maura and Ben find us, two more Timex relay swimmers. It’s go time. Wave 1 goes… Wave 2…. Wave 3… I stand back for a bit, let the fast swimmers go, then I run in.
I kick someone, swing around to say sorry – they’re already passing me. I’ve lost sight of Ben, Maura, Stan. I’m pushing myself, trying to remember to glide in the water, keep my butt and head up.
1/4 of the way through, I’m ready to give up. I’m paused, holding on to a kayak. “I don’t think I can do it,” I say to the kayaker. “Yes you can,” she says. “Rest here as long as you need, then get back in. If you can’t do it, I’ll help.” I get back in, push on a little farther. I need to hang on again. She tells me I can do it. I keep going. That turnaround buoy is still so far…
I push on. My legs are already killing me. I’m practically dragging them behind. I randomly think of how Suzi made me jump in the pool first at night because she was afraid sharks would get through the filter and live in the pool. I laugh. It keeps me going.
Turnaround point! I’m halfway there! It feels like I’ve been out there half an hour already. The person who was behind me has gotten in front of me. I’m last. I can’t be last! I push on.
I have to hang on again, but now I’m more than halfway through. I can’t quit now! The beach looks so far…
The person in front of me isn’t too far in front. I can’t be the last one out. I push myself harder. I keep thinking of Dory’s “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” I’m going to make it, but I think I’ve disappointed my team. Everyone is back already, and I’m still out here. They’re probably wondering what’s taking so long. Those buoys aren’t getting any closer…
I hold on again. I catch my breath, as best as I can. The kayakers are all behind me now, following me in. I make a decision: I can’t be negative anymore. I need to be positive to get back on shore. I ask one of the kayakers to tell me some jokes. He can’t think of any. It’s okay, enough funny stuff has happened in my life to keep me going. I think of how I photo bombed Scarlett in Mexico. I think of how my Dad puts seaweed in his nose at the beach and pretends it’s a really long booger.
Suddenly, I hear my name being screamed. It’s a woman, maybe a man, too? I hear it again and again. I can see the shore. It’s Ausra! She’s handed off her timing chip to her biker and is back at the beach, cheering me on. Her husband, too.
Someone tells me, “you can probably stand now.” I think this is funny, because I’m so short, maybe I can’t, but I can. I stand. My legs are unsteady. The woman who was swimming in front of me is panting on the beach. I think, “this is my chance to make up my time. Running is easy.” My legs are like jelly. They’re going to collapse under me any minute, but not after I get to Margaret. I run off the beach, up the pavement. Another coworker, Bob, is screaming for me at the sidelines. I high-five him. Kids are pushing cups of water at me. I grab one, take a gulp, and spit it back out. I’m not ready yet.
I can’t see Margaret. Where is she? I hear Stan. I hear Margaret. I see them! I bolt toward her.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I took too long.”
“Sami, stop it! You did great!” She yells at me as I collapse onto our towel. She takes the timing chip off me and takes off on her bike. So many people are yelling at me, congratulating me, but I’m crying. I let down the team. I was the second to last one up. I took too long. I should have done better. Stan helps me peel my cap off as I cry. He holds me and tells me I did great, he’s so proud. I say, “I was in there for an hour!” He laughs, “no you weren’t sweetie! You did great!”
I check my phone; Dad had texted me to apologize for not being there, but he’s sure I did great. I tell him I was second to last out of the water :( He says: “That’s great. You finished!!!! So proud of you!!!!” I cry again, but I feel a little better. I calm down. Stan brings me Gatorade. Maura says, “You wouldn’t have been last out of the water if everyone went at the same time.” Good point. Her husband, Mike (her runner), says, “Sami, you’re lapping everyone on the couch.” I start to feel a lot better. I hug Stan. We did it.
No, we didn’t come in first place. Not even close. But I did it, and it didn’t take me an hour. (It took me 32 minutes, 53 seconds). It was incredible. I really, really did it.
We did it, together.