I’ve always been comfortable in the water.From a very young age, regardless of what I was doing, or how hairy it got, if I was near water I knew I would be OK. I’m not sure when I started swiming, but a majority of my baby picutres seem to involve water in some way and my earliest memories of childhood take place in the pool. Summers were spent playing at the VFW pool back home, first in the baby pool, but rapidly venturing into deeper and deeper water. My father throwing me through the air in dramatic, spray filled “Blast-offs”; playing Marco-Polo and sharks-and-minnows; doing back flips off the high dive. We would get to the pool early and stay late, our bodies first burned, then tanned by the sun as summer went on. I remember my folks signing me up for swim lessons, but it was almost unnecesary — I took right to it, and soon was more of a helper than a student. The beach? That was meant for body-surfing among the waves, and just like the pool, we hit the surf all day only taking breaks to eat. I don’t think I ever did much with sand castles, if I was at the beach, I was in the water – it was as simple as that.
My Swimming Journey
I loved swimming. That feeling of weightlessness, the unrestricted movement — I imagined that feeling of freedom must be what birds feel in flight. I never tired of it and I was saddened at the end of each summer. When I was in the third grade, my parents thought I would like being on the swim team, and my Mom took me to my first practice with FAST (the Frederick Area Swim Team) in the old YMCA pool. I swam like I never had before and was hooked right away. An hour or more every night for the next 8 years was spent in the pool, and more weekends than I can count sprawled on pool decks around Maryland for swim meets.
At the start of my senior year in High School I stopped competing. My junior year had been a tough one, filled with sickness and performance plateaus. The hard reality was my team mates were getting bigger and taller, and I was not. While I continued to improve my personal times, I was no longer competitive. Swimming favors big arms, big hands, and big feet — and I didn’t have any of those. I left swimming behind to study martial arts for a few years. Instead of pursuing collegiate swimming, I signed up for fencing, eventually making the varsity team at NCSU. I learned to rollerblade, run, play handball and hockey, shoot pistols and archery, and lift weights. It was a great time, but while I appreciated the skills I learned, I never felt the connection with other sports as I had with swimming.When I joined the Navy, being a strong swimmer came in handy. The endurance portion of the Physical Readiness Test can either be a 1.5 mile run or a 500 yard swim. I was, and continue to be, a crap runner and the time of 8:10 for 1.5 miles to get the maximum score just wasn’t going to happen for me. But to swim 500 yards in less than 8:00 was child’s play for a former competitive swimmer! Eventually, I became a diver and being around the water was my job — who could ask for more?
Unfortunately, as time passed, my access to the water passed as well. Entering the managment realm of my officer career took me off the waterfront and into the staff room. Soon, meetings and email became my routine, with less and less time for working out and swimming. Family and kids also entered into the equation, as few of us have the luxury of a private lap pool. Logistics took it’s toll. Sure, I lifted weights, some spinning and running, P90X, a little boxing. Even the dreaded elliptical. But, while those activities did the trick, my heart was rarely in them and it got pretty hard to maintain the mental discipline. Breaks were frequent, excuses plentiful. Over time, my health declined as did my spirits.
Like Going Home
A few months ago, over 20 years since I left competitive swimming, I returned to regular swimming. As the weather got a bit better in DC, making it to the pool became easier. There was a nice pool about a mile from my work, so at lunch I decided to try an old fashioned run-swim-run — run a mile, swim a mile, run back a mile. The run out there wasn’t too much fun, but the swim was great! So I did it again. And again. And the more I did it, the better I felt. Not just physically — I wasn’t that out of shape — but mentally. It wasn’t the exercise — it was the water. After 20 years, I was “flying” once again.
Soon after this rekindled aquatic life, I moved out to California for a new job and a new start. My family and I looked to this geographic change as a means to really start over. No more DC rat-race, foul commute, office mentality, or “the Joneses”. Out here, we’ve got a great place, great weather, and good work. My children are outdoors every day, my commute is no longer a chore, my wife is running, and I’m at the pool five days a week. I decided to forego the structured workout approach of my youth and just swim — most days I cover 3 miles or more. Just a continuous swim. I’ve gotten so comfortable in the water, I’ve even been swimming with my eyes closed!
Now that I’m in the water every day, I feel better than I have in years. My joints no longer ache, my mind is clear, my body strong, and my spirit renewed. I’m smiling more, laughing more — something I’ve done much too infrequently over the last few years.
A New ChallengeApproaching 40, I’ve been looking for something big for a while. Some type of challenge or test. A test of mind, body and spirit. A way to prove to myself, and the world, that I’m not old yet. Most people considering this type of thing think marathon or Iron Man, but I hate to run. So what is the swimming equivalent? What is a marathon swim?
Out here in SoCal, there is a big swim. The Channel swim. The most common is the Catalina-LA swim, roughly 20 miles between Catalina Island and Los Angeles. But, there are planned routes between each of the Channel Islands and shore. One of them runs from Santa Cruz Island to Oxnard Harbor, and at 19 miles it’s just a short jaunt to the harbor of Port Hueneme, the home of the Seabees. And, in many ways, my home.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to swim from Santa Cruz Island down into the Harbor at Port Hueneme. Between now and then I’ll do a few other open water swim events, but that swim is the big goal. Shooting for summer of 2013. Wish me luck.