On Saturday I completed my first ever ocean race! It was the Corona Del Mar – Don Burns 1 Mile Ocean Swim. Aside from scuba diving, I haven’t swam in the ocean since I was a kid and that wasn’t really swimming. I was very fortunate to have Patsee Ober, a veteran ocean swimmer with me by my side. Patsee is faster than me so there was no way that I was going to keep up with her, but knowing that she was also in the water with me was all that mattered to me so I didn’t feel alone.
The area was unusually foggy then, which I joked about how times before when I’ve come down to the LA area that I brought the SF fog with me. Seems like I also brought the fog with me for my first ocean race also. I talked with some of the guys about the red buoy that we could see from shore and I asked about the yellow_wish one that I could see in the distance. Some of them couldn’t see what I was talking about. As it turned out, that yellow buoy was the first turn buoy in the course. Okay, this was going to be an interesting race if those veterans that I was with couldn’t even recognize the first buoy. I was getting nervous as the start time was getting closer. Patsee had wanted to show me the race course on the way there, but it was so foggy that she couldn’t even do that. In a way, I was swimming blind as I had a general idea of what the path was, but had never seen it before. I was late getting into the water too to try and accliminate my body to the water temperature (since I was doing this without a wetsuit naturally) that I missed the orientation that said what colors the other turn buoys were. Oops.
I remember asking Patsee before they signaled the race start of what was the temperature of the water. She basically said “Who cares? You’re going in it anyway.” Okay, good point. The race started and as all my other races in my entire life, I thought “WTF am I doing in here?” for the first few minutes. Then I got into my groove and it turned into “just finish this damn thing. You’re in this because you love doing this, remember?” That really does help keep one’s sanity. Even to the first buoy, there were a couple of swimmers who crossed my path at severe angles who obviously knew nothing about sighting. We’re talking about 70 to 80 degrees off of the direction that they should have been heading in. I did perform a classic type of “tuck and roll” (as I call it) with one swimmer who insisted on swimming right into me so I could move around here and push her away so I could continue going on the actual path to the turn buoy.
All of this did help alleviate my fear that I was the only one out there that had no idea what the $#*)$% she was doing. With the low visibility too, there were other swimmers that had no idea where they were going either. After awhile, we really were just sighting off of the swimmers in front of us and hoping that they were heading in the right direction. The race had guys out on surfboards too that if anything, helped you know that you were still on course since if you saw them, then you knew you weren’t heading out to open sea. I’m still not quite sure when I made the third turn, but before I knew it, I was seeing the red buoy from before that I recognized as being the final turn. The visibility was still low and I could barely see the flags for the return point at the beach. I could see something blurry that looked like a group of people so started heading towards that. As I got closer, I could see the flags finally so made a slight turn to my right to head towards that. It was an incredible feeling to be heading towards the flags, the finish, seeing the sand rise up closer to me, and knowing that I had just completed my first bonafide ocean race, ocean swim, and let alone my first open water race. I was stumbling a bit when I got out of the water and the guy that handed me my placement stick asked if I was okay. I had this at the PacMasters Longcourse Championships, which I knew that I was fine, but I was more in awe of what I had just done than anything else as it’s just so surreal.
I stumbled my way back to where all of us had our stuff. Patsee was there already recovered from her swim since she’s an awesome swimmer and seems to always come in first in her division. Patsee really is one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet, period. I rinsed off so I felt less like I had just crawled out of a salt lick and Patsee claimed her division award. I’ve never really been to Laguna Beach, but I can definitely see myself coming down here a lot more often. Patsee, Lynn, and all of their friends are really cool. 🙂
In other news…my awesome San Mateo Masters coach, Tom Reudy, today sent out the most awesome inspiring video EVER. It’s a video from the 2012 Paralympics Men’s 100 M Backstroke. You can watch it here. He said it was inspirational, but I had no idea just how inspirational it would be. I almost cried while watching it. Here are athletes, some without any arms, jumping into a pool and swimming. I hadn’t even thought about a person with no arms swimming or how they’d even start a backstroke race. We really take things like our arms for granted. I couldn’t believe that I of all people have forgotten this. I’ve had my pelvis surgically broken twice. I know what it’s like to be bedridden, to be in a wheelchair, to need a walker to go anywhere, to be so weak that I couldn’t make it from my bedroom to my living room, to spend 9 days completely in my bedroom, to have to think if I *really* needed to use the commode *that* badly with it 3 feet away because of the energy involved to get in and out of bed, to be 100% dependent on someone, to lose 40 pounds in 2 months, and I have never thought about how lucky I am to have all of my limbs permanently. Here I was watching men who were missing their arms swimming <i>backstroke</i> and kicking ass at it. It was such a beautiful event to watch. If you didn’t watch closely, you wouldn’t have even noticed that they were missing limbs. They could have easily said “I can’t swim” and here they were in a pool swimming faster than most people on the planet. They could have easily said “I can’t swim” and most people would have said “yeah of course because you’re missing your arms/legs” and instead they turned it into a strength. A physical handicap was not going to stop them from doing what they love, as it should be.
I was inspired by the video that I asked my manager if I could spam the entire department with a link to the video. I felt it was important that other people see this. In my email to my department, I said that I hoped they were inspired by it to do something that they didn’t think they could physically do. I offered to help any of them with swimming (hint hint). The third response I got from the video was from a woman who said that she was interested, but afraid of drowning because of an experience from when she was 6 years old and trying to catch a fish. I said that I was happy to help her get over that and wouldn’t push her past any limits that she was uncomfortable and would she at least try. She said yes. I’m having lunch with her later this week to discuss with her about getting her into the water again. I’m happy that sharing the video inspired at least just one person to face her fear and that I could do something about that to help her.
I emailed Tom back thanking him for the video and giving him an update on me. I miss him, the other coaches, and my teammates. I told him what I was doing to prepare myself for the Slam The Dam’s Super Slam. He responded saying to be careful because of the heat conditions (80F water temperature and even higher air temperature) and it sounded like I was on the right path for preparing myself though. Even though it’s not an USMS sanctioned event, I want to do a good performance. I know Tom is proud of me no matter what, but I still feel an urge to show that what he taught me is not in vain. I hear his voice with every conscious stroke I take. It has been hard to be away from my Masters team.
Swimming has been extremely rewarding for me especially in the past year, not just in my own feats but using it to help and inspire others. I had no idea my life would have come to this. Two years ago I was just another patient at Stanford Physical Therapy with a physical therapist whose childhood best friend was an awesome open water swimmer preparing for his 111-mile swim down the Sacramento River. Less than a year later, I’d take up swimming again for exercise and pleasure. Less than 2 years later, I’d have that awesome Sacrament River swimmer by my side while I did my real first ever open water swim in Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe. It’s been an awesome incredible journey that I’m still in awe of when I sit back and think about it. I’m not even sure where it’s going to take me as I’m not in a position that I thought was imaginable 2 years ago. I’m not the fastest swimmer and never will be, but I love this activity/sport and feel the desire to share it with people. It’s been so rewarding for me on a personal level of seeing what can I push myself to do and also with the wonderful friends that I’ve made through it. I really want everyone to experience this feeling as it’s just indescribable, but I think everyone should feel it at least once. If you could feel what I feel right now and not be moved…no, there is no way that you could feel the way that I feel right now and not be moved. If anything, it’s feeling truly alive.