Monday, July 12, 2010

A Team Effort

Today is a different sort of challenge post for me. Sorry, there aren't any photos or a poem for this week's Random Photo theme of communication (although I did "phone in" the photo below to Photography139 as a late half-hearted attempt). I just simply didn't have time.

Between nightly visits to swim laps at the pool and trying to stay caught up on laundry and housekeeping for my upcoming trip, I was simply pushed beyond my normal daily routine.

It was well worth the diversion though.

Sunday morning Avril, Willy (of Way of the Wolf fame), and I took part in the Iowa Games. We had been training for the past several months to tackle the triathlon as a team. Each of us would handle the sport that we were strongest in. I would be the swimmer, Avril would bike, and Willy would run.

I don't really a recall a time in my life when I couldn't swim thanks to my grandparents owning a house on a lake throughout my entire childhood. I recall swim lessons to strengthen my skills, but not ever knowing how not to swim. I was on the swim team for two years in Junior High, and part of the season in 9th grade, so I had competitive experience. But that was in a pool, not a lake.

Sunday morning, after several coordinating phone calls among the three of us, I picked the gang up and we headed out to Don Williams (after a stop at Casey's for protein bars, donuts, and coffee of course). As we pulled into the park Willy announced that around 300 people had signed up for the competition.

I felt the first butterflies starting to flutter in my stomach.

I hope I can just finish and not need to be pulled from the lake, I thought to myself.

We checked in, picked up our packets, and headed to the beach for our timing chip. The half mile walk to the beach seemed tortuously long. We joked in our nervous way until we had our spot picked out in the transition area, then it was down to business.

As I tugged on the uniform swim cap and adjusted my goggles the rest of the team gave me pointers. We coordinated who would do what during our pass off of the timing chip to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Soon the announcement came for swimmers to line up according to wave. I was pretty lucky that I was in the last wave (reserved for teams and kids 15 & under). At 8:00 they started the race with the Elite wave. That's not too bad, I thought to myself as I watched them dive into the water. A minute later they started the second wave, men ages 16-34. There were a lot more people in this wave and for the first few strokes it looked like mass chaos. Then they straightened out and each found their own swimming space. The third wave (women 16-34) was even more chaotic. Closer to the start line now I could see people swimming into and over each other.

What have I gotten myself into, I wondered? Too late to bail now, I can do this, I'm a strong swimmer, I reassured myself.

5 minutes after the first wave left it was my turn to get into the water. This isn't so bad I thought as I stepped in, cool, but not freezing. I listened to the announcer's instructions and fidgeted with my goggles. I studied the course in front of me. 400 hundred yards total, 1/4 mile. To my left was a long yellow rope attached to two small and one large buoy. On my right were two kayaks marking the approximate distance of the smaller buoys , a small motor boat was stationed at the end just past the large buoy.

200 yards out, circle the large buoy counter clockwise, 200 yards back, I repeated to myself. Counterclockwise, not good. I naturally breathe to my right when I swim. I hadn't been working on breathing to the left. I would need to use the boats as my markers instead of the buoys.

The countdown began... 5...4...3...2...

I dove forward into the water. The cold compressed around my chest. I felt someone one my left plow into my hip. I lifted my head enough to get my bearings. I could make out the first kayak to the front and right of me.

"Veer left, veer left!" I could hear the kayaker scream.

That quick glimpse showed me that I was surrounded. The large red buoy was now more to my left than directly in front of me. I pushed harder, gasping for breathe with every lift of my right arm. I touched some one's foot in front of me. Someone was trying to swim over my waist in their effort to veer left. Someone was directly on my left side, keeping pace and brushing my arm every few strokes. Preventing my veer to the left.

I have to get out of this before they push me under, I thought to myself. Breathing was getting difficult. My chest felt tight from the cold and exertion. The cold, thick, mucky water made it difficult to fully expel my previous breathe before it was time for the next one. My lungs needed fresh air before my usually dormant asthma flared up.

On the next stroke I flipped over to my back.

I was in survival mode now. Something from back in my days of water & life saving skills training kicked in. On pure instinct I flipped over and started doing the back stroke, pulling myself quickly past the school of blind swimmers I had been immersed in.

As I caught my breathe I tried to lift my head enough to get my bearings. Out of the corner of my right eye I could see I was right beside a red buoy. Someone hit me from behind. confusion set in. I was doing the back stroke, no one should be swimming toward me. I bobbed up right and uttered a confused sorry as I turned my body to look behind me.

Here were all the swimmers I had just passed coming straight toward me. I turned myself to head the same direction as them and pushed as hard as I could. Twice I looked up to see that I was once again veering to far to the right.

I could now see the shore ahead of me. Head there, I told myself, it doesn't matter if that's where you are supposed to be or not, you NEED to get out of this water before you can't suck in another breathe.

I reached the end of the dock where I knew the water would be just above my knees. I stood up and staggered to the shore. As I took my first step up the boat ramp someone grabbed my shoulder and yelled "that way, that way" as he nudged me in the direction of the transition area.

A smile broke out on my face, I was on dry land again. I broke into a sprint. I couldn't say anything when I reached Avril. She laughed and told me I did good as she bent down to take the timing chip.

Once the chip was off my ankle and securely on hers she took off on her bike. I leaned against the bike rack and watched the last of the swimmers approach the shore.

"I don't think I did it, Willy," I gasped, "I think I skipped a buoy."

Willy explained that while he didn't watch me the whole time, he thought I did fine. Then he took off on a warm-up run.

I dried off, pulled on my shorts, brushed my hair. All the while convinced that I had somehow inadvertently cheated and skipped a buoy. I was positive that I had not swam the whole course. I couldn't have. I wasn't in the water more than two or three minutes, was I?

My heart rate and breathing slowly returned to normal as I paced the transition area. Waiting for Willy to return from his practice run I watched the buoys get pulled in. Then it struck me, I couldn't have skipped a buoy. I would have hit the rope. I would have gotten tangled. The kayaker would have yelled for me to stop. I was always too far left to come even close to striking that thick yellow rope.

Then another revelation hit me. I had done it. I had really done it. I swam the whole thing. I hadn't somehow cheated myself or my team. I had done what I set out to achieve and while I didn't know yet how well I had done, I did know that I came out of the water ahead of a whole lot of people.

Willy returned from his run and I filled him in on my epiphany. He chuckled and we attributed it the the exertion and reduced oxygen levels. We anxiously waited for Avril's return while watching the elite group arrive. Willy pointed out how even the elite group was so fatigued by this point that they had to be pointed in the right direction and how someone would have done the same for me had I veered off course.

Avril arrived a little while later and willy took off with the timing chip. We took a few minutes for her to recover while I amused her with my delirious tale. As soon as she had caught her breathe we started the uphill half mile trek to the finish line.

Willy, who had a 3.2 mile course, passed us shortly before we reached the finish line. We cheered him on and joked that he wasn't trying hard enough if he could still smile and joke as he passed us.

We reached the end and collapsed at a table devouring our earned rewards of bananas, oranges, bagels, trail mix, granola bars, and water. Lots and lots of bottled water. We congratulated each other on our accomplishments and spoke of the struggles and joys we each had as we were focusing on our goals.

As we walked out of the cabin times were just starting to get posted and the awards ceremony was starting. The final confirmation that I had indeed completed the race came when I read my swim time of 7:50:8. 7 minutes and 50 sec to swim 400 yards. I had been hoping for 8 minutes, but half expecting 9 instead. I was elated!

We listened and cheered as they read the winners of each race category. The last categories were the team efforts. We broke into grins and cheers as they read our names off as the 1st place over all team. We had finished before all the other teams, including beating the second place all-male team by almost 2 whole minutes.

We came home exhausted but very pleased with our "gold" medals.

After a wonderfully warm shower and lots of scrubbing I collapsed into bed for a two hour nap. I'm slightly achy today, but Avril's inquiry of "that was fuuu-uunnn, what's next?" inspiring me to consider more.


  1. Oh excellent! Congrats on this big win. Truly, I think I held my own breath throughout the swimming part of your story.

  2. WOW! That is SO impressive! I have never know a GOLD medalist before... Can I have your autograph? I am way too afraid of drowning to ever swim competitively like that. Congrats!!!

  3. You had me on the edge of my seat while you were swimming.
    Congratulations! on both the win AND on POTW great reads over at Hilary's.

  4. Hilary~I'm glad it captured you. Almost 2 weeks later and I can still remember the struggle that I went through very vivadly. Thank you again for including me in your POTW post.

    Becky~Anytime Dear, although I'm sure you know others that have won something. Surely Bennett has won the gold with some of his photography submissions? Thank you :)

    Kcinnova~Thank you for the visit and the kind words. I am just heading back from vacation, but look forward to checking out your blog this weekend.