Drowning is not always what you do when you stop swimming
Spoiler alert. I didn’t almost drown. This is just a story about the time I gave up swimming while I was in the water and then figured I didn’t really have a choice about swimming/not swimming if I wanted to do things like meet my friends for greek food later that night or even just NOT be in the water any more. So that’s the story, and I guess you don’t have to read anymore since you know I didn’t drown. But I did swim a long way. On purpose.
This was a few years ago, in Hawaii of course, and I was participating in the annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim. It’s a 2.348 mile ocean swim along the coast of Waikiki. The currents along the coast are changeable which in some years have prompted rescues of large numbers of swimmers. I think they even cancelled the race once due to a hurricane but some hardcore folks swam it anyway. (oooh. So hardcore.) The time I swam it (1999**) conditions were good. It was a sunny Labor Day morning. Oddly, I had prepared for this endeavor by swimming in races of different lengths all summer, attending a race clinic, and joining the Masters Swim group at UH. Still, 2.4 miles is kind of a long way to swim and was the longest I had attempted.
Swimming is quite meditative if you can allow it to be. I remember at one point swimming all alone, not in a pack or drafting anyone or anything, and seeing a big spotted ray swimming beneath me in the turquoise water. It was beautiful.
When I got to the final turn there was a choice to make that we were told about and even practiced in the clinic. Swim through the channel and fight the outgoing current but “surf” the incoming surges OR go over the reef and take the safe, slow way. I tread water at this last turn wondering what to do. I was so tired. Too tired to want to swim any more at all even though I could smell the coconut sunscreen from the beach and see people greeting the finishers as they ran up the beach. I wanted to already be there. I just floated there for a couple of minutes, thinking about giving up, about just letting myself sink and maybe no one would notice and it would be ok if I didn’t finish and drowned instead. I seriously contemplated this option. Then I thought about how embarrassing it would be if I didn’t successfully drown and had to be pulled from the water, sputtering and choking. Somehow I found enough strength to swim the last 800 or so meters.
And I ended up beating my arch rival.
** It took me a while to figure out what year I swam the race. Turns out it was 1999. I finished the race in 1:47:50, seventeenth in my age group and 549th out of 777 swimmers.