I Finally Got My Popsicle Stick

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I first moved to Seal Beach 21 years ago. Shortly thereafter, I learned of a big tradition in this small town – The Seal Beach Rough Water Swim. I thought it was for crazy people. Back then I wouldn’t get in the water unless it was 95-degrees in the shade. And if so, I’d only wade up to my waist because this East Coaster wasn’t comfortable in the surf. I wasn’t a swimmer yet. That changed in 2006 when I took up triathlon. My first few times in the surf were a disaster. I didn’t know what I was doing. It terrified me. I got flipped by a wave and stuck the landing like a waterlogged, lucky gymnast. Unfortunately, I allowed that experience to let my growth as a swimmer get stuck too. My fear of waves was as palpable as others’ fear of flying. My heart pounds, chest tightens up, and throat closes up. Pretty hard to hold your breath and duck when you already feel like it’s hard to breathe.

After my first season, I stopped entering races with a beach start. I wasn’t proud of it. Just wasn’t ready to face it again yet. Then last year, still recovering from the shingles, I watched my Master’s swim teammates compete in the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim. I was so proud of them. As they entered the finisher’s chute, each was handed a Popsicle stick with their place written on it in black marker. I was so envious. I felt left out.

So last summer, my friend Dave worked with me on dolphining in and out of the water whenever he was in town visiting from Utah. He was so patient with me as I timidly tried it out. When he left, I had my nephew and sister spot me as I kept at it – my homework. I met “Sharon Swimmer” on trail patrol and she swam with me several times at Corona Del Mar last fall. I even took a couple of Fearless Swimming workshops this winter from Ingrid Loos Miller, which were wonderful.

I still hardly felt fearless. I was scared. And I had all year to think about how chicken and evasive I’ve been about getting over it. The self-admonishment was tempered with the visual of one day being handed a Popsicle stick. I meditated on it. I read about it. I watched ocean swimming videos. Now it was just a matter of doing it.

Last Saturday was my chance to toe the line of the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim. Todd was my Sherpa. Coach Mary was my escort out to the first buoy. I experienced all those uncomfortable feelings those first 200 yards and then I was good. I thanked Mary and enjoyed the rest of the 1-mile swim. The water was very cold in places and very warm in places, thanks to the power plant that heats the nearby river that runs into the ocean. As Sharkbait put it, “Made you wonder if a whale just peed.”

I was apprehensive about coming into shore, but Mother Nature was kind that day. There were no flips, but I felt like doing backflips when I ran up to the chute! It didn’t matter where I placed. The joy I felt to finish. The joy I felt to be with my teammates Sandy, Janice, Jeff, Gus, and a coach I truly love. The joy I felt to have Todd, Dave, his siblings Lynne and Laura, and his wife Jan there will be something I’ll cherish for a very long time.