Swimming, personal questions and loss..

I will start with I am not sure where this post is going, I don’t plan them, I write them with the thoughts that are running through my mind with no outline, so logical thinking is not always top of the agenda nor is an aim to not contradict myself.

It’s been a tough week, it’s been a sorrowful week, it’s been a week in which I have watched various swim people I admire argue about rules and safety when all I really wanted to think about is the man Charlie and what we lost.

I have been lucky enough to know Charlie a few years and won’t hide that we fell out at one point over his desire, to in my eyes, to politicize his swim posts, but had reconnected a short while after because who could argue with a man like Charles and had even communicated the night before his death. Charlie had DNF’d on the Thursday swim, I told him to forget it, the next day would be fine. It wasn’t..I feel a little guilt but I also know I would of done the same thing had I DNF’d on Thursday, I would of swam, it’s what we do.

A lot has been running around my head since last week, this event took some veneer from swimming for me, for now, it took away some invincibility I find in swimming, it inhibited my feeling of flying in water.

My wife asked last Friday night if maybe I should stick to the pool (half jesting I think). She has never asked me not to do a swim, she has mentioned risk in passing because open water swimming has additional inherent risk but has never asked me not to do one of these events and I appreciate that.

But I do remember post End Wet where she was a little annoyed as my tracker had gone out and she did not know what was going on for 15 miles and this created some anxiety which I can appreciate more now.

So Saturday morning what did I do, i went for a swim in Lake Michigan, more unusually than not though, I swam with others. I will hold my hands up right now and say I regularly break the first rule of OW swimming and swim outdoors on my own. I regularly make excuses for this, time, other people were busy, I texted you I was going and when I got out, but here is the really important thing for me, I really enjoy swimming on my own, over with people. I know this is selfish and creates risk but all cards on the table, I hate the self consciousness of being with people, I am a 38 year old, bald, hairy, overweight man, I am not the fastest, most graceful or any other wonderful word, when I am on my own I don’t have to be self conscious, I am just me. I don’t have to keep up, I don’t have to be better, I can just be me. This past weeks events though have made me question this, I am not sure it is fair to those who love/like me and it may be really selfish.

On the other ongoing debates, firstly I wear a safety buoy when I swim on my own, my main thinking not being safety, but being ooh look I can put my shorts and shirt and keys and phone in there. Is there a benefit to being able to grab the safety buoy in an emergency..um…maybe, if I have a heart attack or stroke or something similar, I am not grabbing the buoy, I am going under and the buoy May help you find me but that’s not a guarantee either. But yes, I wear a buoy on my own.

Part of this weeks on going OW swim community discussions come down to the safety buoy and swim events.

The “pure rules” per captain Webb to paraphrase are shorts, caps, goggles and many people cling to this and I understand and respect it, it is you versus the wilds, it is a pure form of human versus nature and from my perspective long may it continue, for those that want to do it.

Others on the debate want to safety rule it, everyone should have to wear it in events, I disagree, if you want to, please do, please do what makes you happy and comfortable in the water, you can complete any event and know you did it and get the recognition you deserve, if that is what you are doing this for, but you can not expect governing bodies to change their rules in place for years and treat your swim with more safety controls as the same as those that have less “safety” controls (I say safety in the assumption that the buoys are considered more safe by those who see them that way and not by those who don’t). To my view the perception of increased safety even if marginal to the swimmer gives an advantage psychologically, takes away an element of the swim and there could even be a potential for reduced training and a blasé attitude as “it’s going to be ok, I got my buoy”.

Anyway my basic thought on this is do what makes you happy, if your aim is to enjoy swimming and not ratification then it doesn’t matter, swim in a way that makes you happy. If you need others approval of your swim maybe it’s a different issue.

Kayakers, oh the poor kayaker at 8 Bridges I hope she knows it’s not her fault and finds peace with that, have crossed my mind a lot and I must admit I have not always thought about their role in a full, frank and with all possible eventualities considered. When I have thought back to end wet, if something had happened, if I slipped under, there is nothing James could of done, I mean visibility is 8 inches, it would not be smart for him to jump in and his main role would be to get other rescuers. Maybe in other swims, clear water he could see me….maybe. I have recognized this week that me and my kayaker need to have a chat about eventualities and guilt and not anyone’s fault other than mine, if something ever happens, I make the choice, I get in the water, I know the inherent risk.

I was traveling for work this week, so I have had a lot of time on my own, there was a sea near by, I got in, the water was 55f, the locals looked at me odd…it’s what we do.

I have been thinking about what matters to me most in swimming lately, I don’t think it’s the events so much any more, while they are fun and I enjoy being around other swimmers, for my soul and mental health I care more for my lonely, solo swims.

If I do an event I personally prefer without the buoys but again people should do what makes them feel best and accept the reality of that, without expecting others to change their rules for them and to change the rules for all others to accommodate the buoy wearers. Basic motto make your own choice and live with it.

But for me, right now, the big personal debate is whether it’s right for me to continue my Solo swims with my buoy knowing the inherent Risk in that too and I haven’t reconciled it yet.

This week took some invincibility away and left some thinking to do.

This week also took a friend away and left some tears and fears in its place.

“Pushing the edge you eventually find it”- Jimmy Chin


A somewhat adequate swimmer

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