Point of Origin

Can you remember the exact moment when you started loving open water swimming? Can you remember the place?

I grew up on an island. Standing up atop the hill where my parents lived, one could enjoy a lovely view. To the north: the ocean. To the south: a creek, a green mountain, and the blue rainforest. Clouds crowned the highest peaks on most days. Frigatebirds drifted high in the sky, usually the harbingers of bad weather.

My father used to take the family to the beach, but I cannot remember when he started doing so. It was something he did. I loved the water, its saltiness and the shimmering bits of sun on its surface. I loved playing hide and seek with the waves. I loved the mangrove at the east end of the beach, with its thousands of fiddler crabs. I loved the forest of palm trees I used to run through, jumping over coconuts, to get to the beach in order to build sandcastles with moats that would be swallowed by the surf. I loved to look for shells on the sand. But most of all, I loved to see my father swim. I don’t know where he learned or how or who taught him. He was a great swimmer. He used to tell me, “See that buoy? I’ll swim to it, touch it, and return.” He’d smile and set off—no goggles, only swim trunks—on what seemed to me a grand adventure with a small audience. I stood at the beach watching him. His figure would shrink as he steadily cut through the waves in a straight line toward his destination. As he swum out to sea, I would think that I wanted to be able to swim to the buoy and touch it, too, but I didn’t know how. He wouldn’t teach me. That was not something he did.

Luquillo Beach

It took a near tragedy for my parents to enroll me in swimming lessons. I must’ve been nine years-old. Apparently my backstroke was good enough for me to be included in the age-group swim team. I made it to my first meet and though my name was on the psych sheet, the coach had another girl swim under my name. Disillusioned, I quit because nine year-olds don’t know how to deal with cheats. Since age-group swim teams didn’t abound in my island, for years I thought my swimming ‘career’ was over. My love for the ocean never wavered, though.

My life continued its happy twists and tortured turns and I eventually found myself on a peninsula with many a pool. At the time, I desperately needed to feel better about myself, so the obvious choice was to do something positive: I would pick up swimming where I had left off thirty years before. First step: buy a gym membership and a training suit. What followed was a defining moment in my life. I showed up at the gym’s pool with the goal of swimming ten laps. The modesty of that goal is sobering. I took off and when I finally reached the far end, I stopped, completely out of breath. I cried. Thankfully, I was alone. I told myself there was no way I was leaving without swimming my ten laps. So I composed myself and carried on.

That was in 2009. In 2012, I mustered my courage and signed up for Masters because I had registered for a half-iron aquabike (1.2-mi swim, 56-mi bike) and I needed help in figuring out how to swim the distance in a lake. Signing up for Masters was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My life has been enriched with wonderful coaches who have tinkered with my stroke, challenged me to try new things (fly!), encouraged me when swims haven’t gone so well, believed in me when I didn’t, and made me curse Fast Friday in order to help me become a better swimmer. And Masters has given me opportunity to make so many friends! Lovely people to chase and be chased by, to chat with during the rest portion of the intervals, people who’ve happily shared what they’ve learned and who’ve included me in their wicked swimming adventures.

Tomorrow I’ll be attempting my first marathon swim, the Swim Miami 10K. Very present in my mind is the injury that caused me to bail out of four races and which ended my triathlon career, not as much because of its seriousness, but because I made the decision that I won’t beat up my body doing something I don’t like (running). I’d rather honor my body–as my lovely yoga instructor Terri says–and do what I really love (swimming). Also present in my mind are the visit to the ambulance at the end of GCBS due to heat injury and the DNF at the Pompano 5K due to high water temperature. My body doesn’t handle well the heat. And since Miami is a *hot* city (caliente!), I get water temperature at 82F and air temperature between 72F and 78F. Cloudcover is in my favor, though. This time, I have a well thought hydration plan that Coach CJ helped me put together.

So while I stand at the beach tomorrow morning waiting for the air horn blast, I’ll be thinking of the coaches and friends who have helped me get to the point where I can make this attempt, of my kids, who listen to my swimming stories every day, and my sister, who thinks I’m the coolest sister ever because I swim in the ocean (luv u, sis!). And I’ll inevitably be thinking of my father swimming out in the ocean to a buoy far away.

Obituary for a Great Season

Thirteen days before what would’ve been my first marathon, I blew out my pelvis dancing. Zumba is not out of the ordinary for me; I didn’t fall, I wasn’t airborne. It was a very bad ‘pop’ that rendered my right leg wobbly. I immediately realized my marathon was not to be. The diagnosis was a stress fracture of my pelvis. I cannot walk without a pronounced limp, I can’t lift my leg, nor I can kick while swimming. If I step the wrong way it hurts. Not good. Not good at all.

I should be heartbroken about this injury. However, I’ve learned one thing in three years of endurance sports: setbacks do happen and in many cases athletes bounce back. Even if they don’t bounce back to where they left off, they bounce back to a condition that lets them stay active. Again, this is most of the time, not always. An athlete can have as intense a focus on healing as in training for a race. Time, patience, and common sense are the body’s allies, though perhaps not so much a friend of an athlete’s competitiveness.

I’m dropping out of four races: Swim Miami Beach, Marine Corps Marathon, Challenge Florida Olympic Tri, and the Frogman Swim. Frogman isn’t until January, but I was planning an intense training block for it that now is quite unrealistic.

Despite its early and goofy demise, I had a great season. I’d like to share its highlights because some of the people who made it happen might be reading this post. I’m grateful to you, because I cannot do this alone.

HITS Naples Half Distance Tri – My first attempt at a long distance tri (70.3 miles). It was a perfect race day. The best part was when Sherna handed me my 3rd place AG plaque, because I didn’t know I had placed. I cried.

HITS Ocala Olympic Tri – I’ve never enjoyed a race’s weather so much. It was COLD! My body loved it! This race has two of my favorite things: hills on the bike and a dirt trail for the run. I trained very hard and was rewarded with a 2nd place AG. Flying high! My trip to Ocala was a blast thanks to fellow triathlete Susan M. A total riot, that awesome lady.

Swim Miami 5K – My first 5K swim! I enjoyed every minute of it. It was a confidence builder for the big race of the year, Chesapeake Bay.

Great Chesapeake Bay 4.4-mi Swim – Epic race! It was so awesome to swim across the Chesapeake along the Bay Bridge! I got hooked on marathon swimming, even though this race is a bit short of a marathon swim (10K). I want to do it again, over and over, and that’s despite ending up in the ambulance with a heat injury. No wetsuit in the next installment, though it won’t be as fun a trip without Sherpa extraordinaire Sarah.

Power Challenge 5K Swim – My first DNF. (Great season, I said, not perfect!) I learned my body doesn’t really like swimming in hot water. Nope.

Alligator Lighthouse Swim (aka Jellyfish Swim), 4-person relay – My second year doing this race because it’s always so much fun! Who doesn’t like jellyfish dodgeball? Who doesn’t like swimming out into the ocean to a lighthouse that looks like a dainty miniature from Route 1? Who doesn’t like swimming with three other friends (Cat, Roy, and Gary) in the beautiful turquoise waters of the Florida Keys?

Columbus Day Duathlon Relay with my kids – I’m a blessed mom. It’s so much fun to share cycling and running with one’s kids and cheer at the top of your lungs for them and to be rewarded with their proud and accomplished faces at the finish line. We all got ‘spinny’ 1st place medals. On a personal note, I PRd on my run. I was very happy marathon training was having a positive effect on my pace. Unbeknownst to me, this would be the last race of the year, but it couldn’t have been a better one.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll find out what my prognosis is. I’m signed up for the Swim Miami 10K and wanted to put in for the Chesapeake Bay Swim lottery and to sign up for Swim the Suck (10-mile swim for crazy people). We shall see. In the meantime, thank you for all your love, encouragement, and advice, for keeping me grounded in reality (Astrid and Stefan), for helping me be a better swimmer (Bert, CJ, Linda, and Julia) or challenging me to be one (Roy), a better cyclist (Scott H.), and a better runner (Sandra). You guys are awesome!