In the words of Pulp
Do you remember the first time?
I can’t remember a worse time.
But you know that we’ve changed so much since then,
We’ve grown.- Do you remember the first time.
The year was 2013, I had lost 50lbs and a friend convinced me to sign up for Big Shoulders 5km.
I had lost all the weight doing dry land exercise. Then finally on my 32nd birthday feeling very self-conscious, wearing baggy shorts, I got back in a pool after a 10 year hiatus.
I swam about 1km and it nearly killed me. It was a combination of side stroke, breast stroke and free style. I kept this up for a month or hitting around 2.5km before my fried convinced me to sign up. This was in the days before big shoulders would sell out in 4 hours.
It took some convincing but I finally signed up. I had also recently become aware of a dog rescue through my wife Erin that a friend from her law school was involved with. So I made the decision to try to raise some money for them if I was going to do this thing.
I gradually started to then increase my mileage. I was becoming more comfortable with the distance, however I was also dealing with a regular question from Erin and my mother in law regarding whether I had been in to Lake Michigan yet? i continued to do my best to avoid/evade and not really answer the question as the answer was NO.
Then a few weeks before the event we got a notice about an OW swim clinic. I knew I needed it. It was led by a triple crown open water swimmer Marcia Cleveland. She was very kind and generous with her time that day. She also invited us to come down and swim with her group of swimmers at Tower Rd beach ( a beach I now consider to be my home water). I took her up on the invite and joined her on the Sunday before Big Shoulders for my second open water swim.
I should add some clarification, I swam open water many times in Ireland, I was a lifeguard on Dollymount beach in Dublin for part of a season and even won as a team (captain) the RLSS All Ireland open water Lifesaving competition (Mountbatten Trophy). It had just been a long time.
Anyway, as the day approached, the panic of myself was amplified by the others posting on the big shoulders page, the temperature worries, the wind worries, the weather worries. This is something I have since learned is very common in open water swimmers and is something I have thankfully been able to compartmentalize into things I can not control.
The day finally arrived and we got lucky, per the race directors post race report ” We split the uprights”. The weather was calm, the water was about 70f and I finished which was the aim. I will admit to a lot of breast stroking, I had yet to figure out any real approach to “sighting” (ability to spot where you are heading for during an OW swim). The swim itself was pleasant, I don’t remember any moment when I considered getting out and it clearly did not scare me off OW swimming. I wish I remembered more specifics but the swim itself is a blur.
I did finish faster than I expected in about 90 mins and was already clear of the water and dressed when Erin arrived.
As a bonus, that year we raised over $1k and it appears the OW world seduced me.
In the following weeks I continued to swim at Tower Rd beach until it got too cold for me and I finished the year having swum over 300 miles. All in all it was a pretty successful return to the Swim World.