Today, I went back to my roots in swimming; open water. As a kid, I used to swim the bay and ocean of Long Beach Alamitos Bay Peninsula, long before I made my way into a swimming pool. The first time I had been in a pool with lane lines and a black line on the bottom was when I joined the swim team at Lakewood High School. Pool swimming was all new to me then, but all I have known ever since- until I competed in Georgia Games Open Water Swim, today.
I decided to register for today’s event, because it was what I needed to compete in, to clinch the Georgia Swim Championships in my age group. After winning the high points award at the short course meet, at Georgia Tech, back in April, I was told by my team’s relay coordinator that I was in the lead for the championship trophy in my age group. And, to win it, I would need to earn the most points in my age group in three out of four designated swim meets: The short course yards meet at Georgia Tech, the Long course meters meet in Athens, today’s open water swim, and the short course meters meet. Since I won high points in the first of the series, I was determined to win high points, again, at the long course meet, in Athens. And, I did. So, I signed up for the open water swim, just to make sure I got three of the four events in the bag, in case I miss the St. Nick’s meet, at Georgia Tech, in December. (You never know if a bug is going to strike the immune system that time of year…)
Today’s event included a 5k, 3k, and 1k swim at beautiful Lake Acworth (http://www.acworth.com/attractions/lake-acworth/), north of Atlanta. I decided to challenge myself and sign up for both the 3k and 1k swim; a total of about 4,300 yards. A few swimmers did all three swims, but I figured I needed to leave that challenge for next time- maybe.
The expected conditions concerned me way more than the distance of the swims; I knew the 3k and 1k would present no problem at all. But, I have Meniere’s, an inner ear disorder, and I just didn’t know how I would do swimming in a lake with no visibility- and no black line to follow! I didn’t have this condition as a kid, so it was a new challenge for me as an adult swimmer. Would I get dizzy? Would I lose my sense of direction? Would I have to sight constantly to keep my eye on the three buoys I would have to turn around on the course?
The other concern was the heat and water temperature; both expected to top 90 degrees. Fortunately, we had cloud cover for the first 2k of my 3k swim, and, at 85 degrees, the lake water was the coolest it had ever been for the Georgia Games. (You call 85 degrees cool? Yikes!). Competition pools are set at 78-81 degrees, so 85 degrees was warm! But, as it turned out, swimming without a cap was just what I needed to stay cool (enough) to swim hard.
On paper, the odds were against me having a successful day, or, for that matter, even having an enjoyable day. But, I had my heart set on it and I was going to give it my best! Besides, my buddy, Mark (another open water newbie), decided to swim it, as well, so he could clinch the Georgia Championships in his age group. Mark always calls me “Champ!”, so I couldn’t let him down!
Several of my other teammates participated, too, and I was happy to see them on the beach. Mike, for one, was on one of my relay teams at Nationals, in Greensboro. As an experienced open water swimmer, Mike had been very helpful and supportive in getting me prepared on what to expect today. I was so happy to see him after his 5k swim! And, his encouragement fired me up.
Sunscreen on, Blistex on my lips, Vaseline around my eyes, goggles firmly in place; I was ready to swim. And, we were off!
My main objective in my first ever open water race was to stay on the outside of the pack (to keep from getting kicked and clawed) and keep from getting dizzy and seasick from my Meniere’s. The first couple hundred yards or so were tough; I was disoriented and starting to feel nauseous from the dizziness. Panic started to rear its ugly head, but I took a good long look at the buoy, put my head down, talked myself into a relaxed state of mind, and settled on a good, steady pace, frequently sighting the first buoy to stay on course. After a short time, I was good to go for the remainder of the swim.
The swim felt great and I felt strong. Rounding the final buoy, I decided to pick up my pace, knowing I was almost home- at least for the first of my two swims. My goal was to reach the finish line before the start of the 1k, so I could do that swim, as well. The two races were set to go off one hour apart; no problem if the 3k had been a pool swim. But, with being a newbie at sighting and having no walls to push off of every 25 yards, I knew not to expect too much. But, as I reached the shore and stood up to run to the finish line, I saw a large group of green-capped swimmers facing the water, ready to race the 1k. The 5k group was orange-capped (except for me, Mark, and a few others who opted to go sans cap), so I knew I had made it in time.
1:1:24.14 was my final time; less than two minutes past the 1k start time. And, lucky for me, they held back the 1k start for a few more minutes; just enough time to get a high-five from Bruce, grab a gulp of Powerade, and join the pack for the next race.
Mark had come in three minutes ahead of me, so we headed out for the 1k together; the last time I saw him until we both rounded the buoy together and I looked up and said, “Hi Mark!” After that, I put my head down and swam hard for the beach. Little did I know until I saw the photos Bruce had shot, Mark was right behind me at the finish line. He had tried to catch me (according to Bruce), but ran out of real estate.
As it turned out, I ended up beating three other gals in my age group for the silver medal in the 3k. In the 1k, there were only two of us in our age group and I ended up beating my competitor by 11 minutes to win the gold.
Another day, another challenge! And, another day of pure joy.