It’s 5:45 a.m. and I’ve already hit snooze once. I slowly fumble out of bed. Boudreaux, my yellow Lab, barely raises his head off his pillow to acknowledge my presence—even he thinks it’s too early to be awake. I grab a Clif bar and my swim bag and head out the door at 6 a.m. to meet my friend, who is already waiting for me in the car. By the time we arrive at the lake, the sun has just started peaking over the trees, and the sky is bright red. The water stretches out before us and is flat as glass, reflecting the morning light. We are the only ones out here, besides the turtles that are lazily peeking their heads above the surface. They, too, are enjoying the stillness of the morning.
I jump in and slice through the water, steady and strong. I focus on my stroke, on bilateral breathing, on sighting the buoys, on the way my body feels in the water. For two glorious hours, I don’t have to think about my job, approaching deadlines, paying bills, to-do lists. For two hours I can be in the present moment: It’s just me and the water.
If you had told me 20 years ago that I’d be extolling the virtues of early-morning swimming—let alone a two-hour training session—I would have smirked or responded with a snarky comment. Growing up, I was a marching band geek, a drama club nerd. At the insistence of my mother, I was also a long-time member of the local swim team. In spite of my years of training, I was always the slowest, the least athletic. I placed last in every meet I competed in.
When I was finally allowed to quit, I stayed as far away from the pool as I could—for almost ten years. I rolled my eyes at my friends who went on to college and then Master’s swimming; I sneered at the Olympic swimmers on TV. But then one day I slowly, gradually began to dip my toes back into the pool—for fun, for recreation—only this time, it was on my own terms. Then I discovered triathlon and I realized that all those years in the pool, once the bane of my existence, were now a huge asset in my newfound sport. I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud when I was moved to the fast lane of my training group. It’s all about perspective, I guess. I began to make peace with swimming.
A year ago, a friend from my triathlon group participated in a four-mile open-water swim benefitting Colin’s Hope, a nonprofit organization that promotes water safety and drowning prevention. It was an amazing accomplishment—and it stirred something inside of me. I loved the idea of such a challenge, a chance to train for and compete against only myself. I tucked the info away in the back of my mind.
When registration for the 2012 Colin’s Hope Got2Swim team rolled around, I was in dire need of something to look forward to. It had been a difficult year of Job-like proportions, and I was feeling beaten to the ground. I applied for the team, unsure of whether I would be accepted. When the email came that I was in, I was overcome with emotion: Some inner part of myself knew that this was the right challenge at the right time. I needed a physical outlet. I needed a boost of confidence.
Throughout my training this summer, I have continually battled the indignation of my inner 14-year-old, who still can’t believe I voluntarily signed up for a swim team. I remind her that this is no ordinary swim team. And this is no ordinary swim.
I look forward to practices. I look forward to seeing my teammates. Most days I even look forward to waking up early so I can swim before heading to work. Ironically, I am once again one of the slowest on the team. But each week, as my mileage increases, so does my confidence. And on race day, my swim time and ranking won’t matter. Whether I come in first or last, I will have achieved something great in the face of what continues to be an incredibly difficult year. I will also have brought awareness to a very important and worthy cause—water safety and drowning prevention—which makes me doubly proud.
And, perhaps it’s Olympics-induced fever…but lately I’ve been considering joining a Master’s team so I can work on my speed. I’ve already got my sights set on the Colin’s Hope 10-mile swim next year.
Courtenay Verret is a freelance writer in Austin. She hates to admit it, but these days, swimming is her life.