I find it absolutely crazy that some people are scared of water, or they can’t ride a bike or if they don’t read books. These are all things I like and so they have always come naturally to me.
Swimming is one of those things that puts the fear of God into some people; that fear of having a expanse of water below you is very real. And then if you throw in the fact that you can’t see down in the sea, I can understand why people are afraid.
I, on the other hand, see swimming as a bit like flying; it’s so freeing. I feel like I’m immune to those sea monster fears that plague other people.
I do wonder if life would be different if I had that fear and what fears do hold me back. I’ve been lucky enough to swim across the English Channel and it is my proudest achievement, but if I was scared of what’s below I wouldn’t have even left the beach.
I must have loads of fears that have kept me on my metaphorical beach, and I suppose we all have them. I’m going to try and start dipping my toe in a bit more regularly this year. Make sure you don’t get stranded on the beach worrying about a sea monster that doesn’t even exist.
We stood on the promenade that ran along the bank of the river. There were about twenty of us all clad in our England swim kits. The race was going to take place that afternoon; a 5km slog up the river and back again.
“So we’re walking the course,” said the woman who had selected our team and organised everything about the trip, from the travel and accommodation through to which T-shirt we should be wearing if we were called up to the podium to collect a medal.
“And why would we want to walk the course?” she asked us, holding her hands together, palm to palm, as though she were praying.
Heather’s hand shot up and she gushed “so that we know about any obstacles and where the currents are.” She puffed out her chest, proud that she was the one to impress the chief.
“Well done, Heather,” said the chief. Her name was Wendy and she was small and old, but also formidable.
We traipsed down the promenade, all in our navy blue polo shirts with the England roses embroidered onto the front. When the package with all of the kit had come through the post, I had held the polo shirt in my hands and stared at it for longer than was necessary. This was the kit that I had given up my childhood for.
“Stop!” Wendy ordered, and we all ground to a halt. Just in front of us was a stone bridge, beautifully French and curved. “What do we notice here?” she asked.
I could sense Heather shift uncomfortably, knowing that she didn’t have an answer for this one.
“A bridge?” Tom ventured. He looked like Michael Phelps and I kind of fancied him. Someone in our midst sniggered and I hoped that they would do badly in the race.
“You’re not far off,” said Wendy. “It is a bridge. But what do you notice about the water flowing through it?”
“It’s going quickly?” Tom asked.
“Yes!” Wendy said. “And why do we want to concern ourselves with that?”
We all stood quietly.
“Think about the way you move through life,” she said.
We all continued to stay quiet. I thought about my own lumbering journey through life. I was only fifteen but I already knew that I was the kind of person that would always be unlucky – always running into road blocks.
“You find the easiest route,” Wendy answered for us. “You follow the quickest road and if somebody comes along and gives you a bit of a push, you take advantage of it and build on that speed. That’s how you got here, and that’s how you are going to live successful lives in the future.”
Everybody nodded knowingly. I nodded too. I didn’t know what she meant.
“Use the eddies that go through the bridge,” she clarified. “Make sure that you stick close to the walls as you go under the bridge. That’s where the current is at its fastest. It’s where the water acts like that friend that’s going to give you a little push. Take advantage of that.”
Everybody began to move on to the next feature that Wendy was going to point out but I stood rooted to the spot, staring at the fast running water that passed under the bridge. I touched the cold granite wall that ran along the edge of the river and waited to feel the light bulb moment that the other swimmers seemed to have just experienced.
I learnt to use currents to my advantage that day, and yet I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to live the life that Wendy thought I would. She probably expected us all to grow up to be doctors and lawyers. I moved on sadly, knowing that I was always bound to let Wendy down.
When I was training to swim the channel, I got really upset one day because training had gone badly. I had set out to do a six hour sea swim and I ended up getting out of the water after three hours. I’d been sick and the weather was awful and I was feeling cold. Everything felt stacked up against me.
However, I wasn’t upset because I hadn’t reached the six hour mark. I was upset because I went on Facebook and saw that somebody else training for the channel had done a seven hour swim that weekend.
We both went on to complete the swim and I actually did it faster than her, so that disaster of a training session didn’t actually matter. The sad fact was the I was upset because I thought it looked like she was a harder worker than I was.
I’ve had similar experiences in the work place, where I’ve almost felt angry that somebody has looked like they work harder than me. But I can’t understand what for?
I’m learning that the amount of effort you put in is important but it’s not the be all and end all. Why on earth would you want to be the hardest worker in everything? Surely it’s more impressive to get the result and prove you’ve done it with the least amount of effort possible. Then people will be much more likely to think you could achieve more.
So nowadays it’s all about getting the job done with the least amount of work. Life’s for enjoying, not for proving that you worked for seventy hours last week. You get me?
Fear can eat you up as waves wash over bobbing heads,
Only light from high power torches light the way,
But the water is a dark and murky soup
That churns beneath the ferry boats.
The rays of light will soon come up
And dance across the water’s edge
In pinks and purple hues that make for pretty photo calls.
But still the panic builds within the swimmer’s head
As land dissolves and doesn’t reappear.
I’ve always been fascinated by the water and sea and I have quite a special relationship with it given that I’ve been lucky enough to swim across the English Channel three times.
More than anything in the world, I would love to either row across the Atlantic or sail around the world. Although I know that both can be extremely dangerous. There’s always that worry that I may never come back.
And I think that’s what holds my fascination with the sea. It has this gentle beauty at sunrise when the water is flat and the swimming is easy. But when the wind kicks up it can snatch life away in the blink of an eye.
I’m missing the sea at the moment. The power of the waves crashing on the shore and the wonder of looking out to the horizon and trying to imagine where it may end. It’s not surprising that people in the past thought the Earth was flat.
I think that most of all I miss that feeling of taking a risk. We’ve all been cooped up and I haven’t felt that buzz when you’re bobbing in the middle of the sea and you can’t see land in either direction. It’s quite thrilling…..and I want it back.
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