I am by no means a strong swimmer. I had taken lessons as a child (thank you mom and dad), but refused to join the team in high school (sorry mom and dad). I got back into it a few years ago, when I began doing laps on my own to stay in shape, but my technique was still rather poor. So, when I moved to Seattle and saw that the Downtown Y offered a "Fitness Swim" class led by an instructor, I figured, why not give it a shot?
The first day I attended Fit Swim, exactly a year ago, I was the sole participant. The instructor at the time informed me that most everyone else was at the Fat Salmon, a 5k swim in Lake Washington. I laughed at the idea of swimming a 5k.
A year has now passed, and I still think the idea of swimming a 5k is ridiculous, even though I did it myself yesterday. I signed up on a whim two months ago, banking on the idea that forcing myself into the reality of participating would motivate me to improve. Apart from the distance being much farther than I'd ever swam and the fact that I hadn't participated in any open water races at that point, there existed a (loosely enforced) two-hour time limit, imposed by the organizers of the Fat Salmon in the interest of safety (in the last few years, swimmers have come in on as late as 2 hours 21 minutes). Those straggling too far behind are pulled onto a boat by the race organizers.
Immediately after signing up, I doubted myself. In fact, I hesitated to inform my teammates that I had registered, reserving the right to not participate if I didn't feel ready. This stemmed from my fear of failure; a fear that is shared, I think, by many young people who are accustomed to being relatively successful in their endeavors. For me personally, I felt it preferable to not try at all than to risk the embarrassment of being pulled from the race. Absurd, right? Even though it makes little sense from an "logical" viewpoint to handicap myself by not trying, it's still a fear that's not always easy for me to get over.
As it turned out, the participant roster was public, so my teammates knew I had registered regardless. The pressure was on. I went to my first lake practice and found the water so cold and the darkness so disorienting that for the first twenty minutes I couldn't keep my head in the water. Fortunately I was accompanied by John, an excellent swimmer and exceptional friend.
The weeks passed, and I gradually improved. Two weeks before the race, our team organized a practice run of the course, and I came in at 2 hours and 17 minutes. It wasn't a great result, but knowing that I could swim the entire course calmed my nerves.
For the week leading up to the Fat Salmon, I tried being too excited to be nervous about the race. That worked until the day before, when all the nerves came home to roost. I told myself that it would be great if I finished, and if I didn't, it would prove that there's no harm in trying—the harm is in not trying.
In the end, I finished at just over two hours. I couldn't have done it without my team, in particular John and Juli, whose moral support carried me through; nor without Kathleen, whose coaching has done wonders for my stroke. Now, I need to find another goal that is just out of grasp, and possibly fail at that.