For the Love of the Swim?

When I was 5 or so, I very nearly drowned in a lake.

To this day, it remains one of the most vivid of my first memories – walking down the stone stairs, following my uncle Mike into the water, only to discover I couldn’t put my feet down. I remember sinking, going under water, then struggling to put my head out, seeing him with his back to me, trying to call for him, but sinking again before I could make a sound.

I don’t remember this part, but I am told that his wife at the time pulled me out of the water within a few seconds, and I was fine. Scared, but fine.

Since then, I’ve had a very irrational fear of drowning, and I’ve avoided swimming in lakes or ponds or any place where I can’t put my feet down if I need to.

Which is why I told people before this year that there was no way in hell I’d ever be able to do a triathlon. The IDEA of it freaked me out, I just couldn’t see myself doing it. Too scary.

But. I loved lap swimming in the pool, and working with group swim this winter helped my fitness. By spring, I was able to swim in the pool for a whole hour without stopping. And my friend Dawn told me that a wetsuit would make me buoyant enough that it was nearly impossible to drown in open water. And I felt comfortable enough to say, okay, well, maybe.

My first open water swim at a pond close to my house was only four months ago, with my friend Jessica, and though I panicked a touch as soon as the land dropped away, I actually was able to do a decent job of swimming.

Because Dawn was right.

It is, in fact, nearly impossible to drown when you are wearing a wetsuit.

And then I started swimming there more, twice a week. And when the water warmed up even more, I stopped wearing the wetsuit and just swam in a bathing suit. It was harder without the extra buoyancy, but I was able to do it.

What I didn’t expect, though, was how I would fall in love with it.

I didn’t expect to love smell of the water, or the view of trees all around me, or the greenish color of the water in the sun, or the feel of the wind on my face, or even the chop of the waves when it was windy.

I love it in the early mornings, when the sun is just rising.


I love it when the sun has made its way over the horizon and it feels like you’re swimming right into the sun.

Spring swim Stiles

I love it in the middle of the morning, when I have the whole pond to myself.


I love it in the rain, when everything’s grey and the water is warm and delicious compared to the air.

Stiles in the grey

And if you had told me, even 6 months ago, that I’d have said that the swim leg was my favorite part of completing a half ironman, I’d have laughed you out of the room.

But that’s what happened.

The swim on Sunday was amazing and I loved every minute of it. The water was so warm, the air cool, and it was raining, and I was comfortable in the water in my wetsuit. Even with all the people passing me and swimming around me and the chop of all the other people… I could have spent the rest of the day swimming around those buoys.

I came out of the water with a huge smile on my face, thinking, Best. Swim. EVER.

And.This question has stuck with me for the past few days.

If can put aside the fear of drowning that has been with me for nearly all of my life, and fall in love with swimming in open water…

What other fears could I put aside?

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3 Responses to For the Love of the Swim?

  1. Turia says:

    Swimming in a lake in one of the greatest pleasures of summer, in my opinion. Jumping off a dock into cool, deep, water, surrounded by trees- nothing comes close. Q. is a reluctant convert, having been raised in a country where one jumps into the water, swims around and gets out in haste because you can never be certain there aren’t sharks. Now the sunset swim (which you never, EVER do down under) is his favourite.

    I’m so glad you conquered this fear. I’m so glad you have years of lakes and rivers and ponds ahead of you.

  2. Justine says:

    You continue to amaze me. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this journey, and for being the inspiring you that you are.

    (Aside: I, too, almost drowned when I was about 5. In a pool. Kid of some mutual friends pulled me in, thinking it was a game. Only I couldn’t swim. I still don’t put my face in the water when I swim.)

  3. noemi says:

    What Justine said. Your recent posts have made me smile a big smile, and made me wonder if I can find space in my life for things that bring me this kind of joy. (Probably not for a few years, but at some point in the future, yes, I can make that time.)

    Keeping doing what you’re doing. It’s obviously working. 😉

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