Last Sunday, I clocked up one of my proudest achievements. I swam in a 1km ocean swim at Burleigh Beach on the Gold Coast.
I know. I did not swim the English Channel. My achievement was on a far humbler scale. But I am very scared of waves. And I am very scared of all marine animals. So this was my English Channel, if you will. It’s all a matter of perspective…
As we walked along the foreshore to the appointed registration spot on Sunday morning, the wind was blustery. I was convinced the event would be cancelled. Having bragged to my friends about the event for several weeks, cancellation was the only way for me to avoid having to compete. But it was not to be.
I had swum in two ‘ocean swims’ before, only now I know they weren’t really ocean swims at all. One was at Bondi Beach on one of those delightful days when the surf could be more aptly described as a bath. The other was held in a delightful little inlet of Sydney Harbour. Which is not an ocean.
So I was blissfully ignorant of the challenge before me, and as the starter’s horn sounded I ran excitedly towards the water.
But then the waves started pounding towards me. Even after I passed the breakers, the waves just kept on rolling in. They didn’t stop. Up, down, up, down, I went. Fuck. What am I doing? Can I actually finish this? I can’t just give up! Can I? Imagine the shame! And then, by some miracle I arrived (and was knocked by a wave straight into) the first buoy. I can turn and swim parallel to the shore now, and the current will be my friend. But where are boats? Where are the clever people looking out for unpleasant marine life? I am alone! Swim, I thought. That’s the answer! And so I did.
In what seemed like about 5 seconds flat, I reached the final buoy – my signal to turn back towards the beach and swim on home. But I hadn’t contemplated swimming with my back to those enormous waves. How on God’s earth was I going to reach the beach? I saw a big breaker crash into the shore ahead of me, and I felt more frightened than I have ever been. I was going to have to swim all the way through that?! Fuck. What can I do?? Swim, I thought. That is my only option. That is the answer…
And so I did. And eventually, I felt the bliss of sand beneath my feet. I ran the hell out of that water as fast as I could, and there was Hubby – taking photos, cheering, and smiling a great, big, proud smile just for me.
I crossed the finish line, and it took every ounce of my remaining strength to hold back my tears for the few moments it took an official to untie the timing device from around my ankle. And then as I grabbed some water and walked away, I cried. I don’t know why – perhaps relief, perhaps fear, perhaps sheer pride – but I could not have stopped those tears for anything.
Annoyingly, when I looked back at the ocean after the race, it really didn’t look that rough. But when I was in it, it scared the bejeezus out of me. Waves look a lot bigger up close.
This was a small achievement in the scheme of the world, but it was a big one for me. I am proud of myself. Really proud. And I feel braver now. Because I know that no matter what happens in my life, all I need to do is keep on swimming…