When I joined U.S. Masters Swimming in 2010, I never dreamed I would compete in open water swimming. I was a breaststroker, after all, and a sprinter at that.
In July, 2012 that all changed. To win the Georgia Championship Series, I needed to compete in the Georgia Games Open Water Meet to rack up enough points to remain in the lead. The series is comprised of four events (Short Course Yards, Long Course Meters, Open Water, and Short Course Meters), and I was leading my age group after the first two meets.
I will never forget showing up to Lake Acworth and wondering what I had gotten myself into. There were three races (5K, 3K, and 1K), and I had signed up for the 3K and 1K in hopes of winning some points. Was I NUTS?
As it turned out, I won a silver medal in the 3K and a gold medal in the 1K. I was overjoyed! More importantly, it was the most fun I had ever had at a swimming event. Ever. I was hooked.
In 2013, I couldn’t wait until July rolled around, so I could compete at the Georgia Games once again. This time, I swam faster; however, the competition was tougher, and I went home with two bronze medals. It didn’t matter, because I had a blast!
Last year, it was during the 3K race that my hip pain that was previously only an issue on land became problematic in the water. For the first time, it affected my swimming, and I was forced to drag my right leg along for the ride. Still, I swam well, enjoyed the competition, and took home two silver medals.
This year, I wasn’t going to race at all. Between having hip surgery in December and not knowing for sure whether my hip could tolerate 4K’s of racing, I was going to give it a miss. Add the ridiculously hot weather we’ve been having to the mix, and the fact that I didn’t get enough pool time logged during our 47-day road trip, it was a no-go for me. Or, maybe not.
I decided to swim a trial 3K race in the pool to see if perhaps I could handle the yardage. If I could swim pain-free and not struggle, I thought I would give the Georgia Games a try after all.
Surprisingly, I finished in 1:05, ten minutes slower than when I had swum the same time trial in 2014. Given the circumstances, I was happy to finish at all!
In open water, though, there are factors that make swimming the same distance much more difficult. There are no walls to push off of after each 25 yards of swimming, there is no black line to follow or lane lines to separate the swimmers, and the water is as clear as mud. Literally. Add the sun and warmer water to the mix and the need to “sight” the buoys on a frequent basis, and it is a much greater challenge. Oh, I also forgot the fact that getting kicked in the head or smacked by an arm doesn’t happen in pool competition, but it does in an open water race, especially at the start. I know, because it has happened to me.
Still, I had too much fun the first three times at Lake Acworth to sit this one out.
I drove to the lake this morning with the idea I would race the 3K and opt out of the 1K if I felt bad from the heat and hot water. If my hip started hurting, I would quit.
The water was even hotter than I thought it would be, and I was surprised the meet wasn’t cancelled. USMS’ rules state a limit of 86 degrees, and FINA (the international governing body for swimming) sets a limit of 87 degrees. Surely, the water temperature hit those limits.
I chucked my swim cap, hit the water, and swam cautiously until I knew my body could handle the heat. Surprisingly, I was able to increase my speed throughout the 3K race rather than slow down or quit. After turning at the last buoy for the last 1K to the finish, I kicked it up to full throttle and aimed for the finish.
It wasn’t until after my 1K race that I learned how I had finished in the 3K. The two races had only a short break in between, and the medals were announced while I was racing. No matter. I was just ECSTATIC that I finished the 3K strong and felt good enough to return to the water for the 1K. Besides, it was enormously gratifying to watch all of the swimmers who finished AFTER me, especially many of the young studs and studettes who appeared to be in their 20’s and 30’s. Talking about a great sense of satisfaction!
The 1K was a diamond-shaped course, and I noticed after rounding the first buoy that I had company by my side. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake this blue-capped gal who was matching me stroke-for-stroke. I was hoping she would swim off-course, but her sighting was good, and we both swam straight.
As we approached the last third of the race, I decided it was time to turn up the heat (as if I wasn’t hot enough already!), test out my hip, and kick with all I had left in the tank.
The effort paid off; I beat her to the finish by over a minute.
When we met up onshore, we introduced ourselves, gave each other a big hug, and thanked each other for the great competition. We each had swum the 3K as well, so we looked up our times on the results sheet to see if we had finished close in that race as well. As it turned out, she beat me by less than two minutes!
Thankfully, Loukia is only 34 years old, and I’m 53, so we didn’t have to give up medals to each other. That was a good thing, because just before we posed for this photo, Bruce put my 3K medal around my neck. It wasn’t until afterwards that I looked down to see which one it was. I just assumed it was bronze, and I was just so happy to win ANY medal!
When I finally looked down at it, I had to pick it up and turn it back and forth before I was convinced it was actually GOLD. For the first time in four years, I won gold in the 3K. (There were only four in my age group, but still…)
The gold medal winner in the 1K hadn’t swum the 3K, so she was fresh for her race and beat me for the gold. During the 1K medal ceremony, another name was called for the bronze, so I thought my chance for a medal was zilch. When the name was called for the silver, though, it was mine. YES! Once again, I won a gold and silver; however, this time they were switched, and the gold was for the longer race.
The sense of satisfaction I feel today is the greatest I have felt since becoming a USMS competitive swimmer. What a fabulous day!