For as long as I can remember I’ve insisted I was born to live near the water. A tropical (or sub-tropical) beach would be ideal, but honestly I wouldn’t complain about a small shack on the river or a lake. As long as I could open my window, feel the fresh breeze and hear water lapping at the land I’d be content. When I have trouble sleeping, I often turn to a recording of a storm coming over a lake in the wilderness – very few things put me right to sleep, but this works more often than most things.
Despite this, I’ve never considered myself much of a swimmer, nor have I wanted to do much more on the water than paddle in a boat, or ride around while others water-ski. I spent years as a child taking swim lessons from a less-than-encouraging teacher, which is ultimately why I turned to running when I was young.
Last week at the beach I conquered a new challenge – swimming on my own in the ocean. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll get into the water and play in the waves. But I’ve never intentionally set out to swim away from the shore in the ocean, looking for water too deep to stand. I’m not completely crazy or without concern for my own safety – since I was swimming on my own in the open water I used my ‘safer swimmer’ float (a bright orange inflatable pouch that makes you visible to boats in the area and can keep you above water if you run into problems mid-swim).
The buoyancy of the salt water was phenomenal, though when I finally got to water deep enough to swim I was bounced around by waves that looked like ripples from shore, and had to keep myself calm in the face of fish leaping out of the water near my face. I reminded myself that I was in the ocean after all, and not in my neighborhood pool.
I fought some current, swallowed more than my fair-share of salt water, and had a glorious time swimming in the ocean. I realized that if I was worried about leaping fish, I’d come a long way from my fears of putting my face in the water and not seeing a clear black line on the bottom of the pool, or my fear of not making my way back to shore. I’m not an expert swimmer (and certainly not a fast or elegant swimmer), but I’ve developed confidence and have become a good swimmer – and stronger athlete – as a result. It doesn’t get much more fun than that.