Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I walk with love...

I drive a good bit for work and I have taken to listening to a number of podcasts. Sometimes I find little interesting things about the world to run home and tell Patrick (my husband). Like did you know there are deep subsurface microbes that live in the mud at the bottom of the ocean. These microbes refuse to grow in labs and appear to have a different view of time and energy. Or did you know opera was the first music to explain the plite of man. How about, did you know there is a group called Story Corps. They have created the largest collection of the stories of humankind and these stories are a collection housed in the Library of Congress. Their mission is to "preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world." Any one can participate, their app has interview questions to start conversation and the stories are amazingly simple, complex, dark, light, and all beautiful. 
I was listening to a string of these interviews as I drove home one day. As I listened to people, just ordinary people, talk and tell their stories I was inspired and restored. During an interview between an elderly husband and wife the husband speaks of their marriage and you can feel the pride and joy in his words; without seeing him you feel his smile as he talks to his wife, and she giggles at his words. Then he says these words, "I walk with love." Those four words struck me. I wrote them down - I walk with love. This post note has sat in my car for a months now, becoming wrinkled and folded, moved and stuck to multiple surfaces, collecting fuzz and sand and pen scratches. These words, however still run though my mind; a record playing over and over with the clicks and pops of life happening behind it
Perhaps it was just good timing or maybe these words held something more for me in that moment. I began to look around me, watching people interact with each other. Were they walking with love? Was I? I wasn't even sure what this meant, yet I was seeking it in others and in myself. Was it a simple gesture or was it the heart's grandeur? Was it something only found in romantic love or was it suited to all types of love we experience?
As I watched people I saw things in a different filter. I watched coworkers laugh and smile, even in the face of the tough work they do. I knew they were walking with love. I watched my Facebook feed show people highlighting their lives with photos of family and sunrises. I knew they were walking with love. I listened to a mother teach her son colors as she pushed the grocery cart. I knew she was walking with love. Over these past days I saw smiles and tears; I heard laughter and yelling; I felt a warm touch and the cold of an empty room. I saw all of these clicks and pops of life while the record still played in the back of my head- "I walk with love." 
I needed to answer something still- what did this mantra mean to me?
It would be easier if I could cut and paste my soul to this page, complete with the footnotes of my heart and epilogue of my mind; that would perhaps make more sense.  I looked back at moments in my life to try to make sense of the rooting of these words, the foundation of love. And I found people and moments in my life where I watched these words lived. My parents who showed us the beauty in the world, through my mother's undying faith in mankind to my father's explanation of the expansiveness of the universe. My brother who would always ask if I was okay, even if he was the one who pushed me down. I looked at family friends who spent nights at our dinner table sharing the day's little moments. I watch my friends as they talk about their children and their voices raise with delight.  I remembered moments with friends playing till the day got dark and making sure we all got home safe. I see Patrick as he looks at me and smiles the slightest smile that only I see. In that moment I know that I walk beside love in my life because he walks with an unending love for me, even in my weakest moments. It is in these moments with family and friends that I learned what it was to walk with love. I watched it happening all around me. 
I find I have learned a great deal in my life about this idea of walking with love. But was I living these lessons in my life? It is hard to look at one's self and wonder if you are living up to the love you see around you. How do you compare your actions to the actions of those who fill your cup to the brim? I figured this out-- you don't. Here is what I know, I walk with love, because I know love. From my first day I have been surrounded by love in the most wondrous, unusual, scary, and beautiful ways. Today I can admit to myself that I walk with love. Love for my family, for all they have given to me. Love for my coworkers, for all they have given of themselves to make things a little better. Love for those who have taught me the little lessons in life, for all the moments they took to teach me.  
But there is one love that oversees it all for me. A love that proves to me I have to be walking with love because this particular love warms my heart on the coldest nights and frees my caged soul. The love I didn't know the words for when I was 13 and it first showed up. This love that has walk with me for 24 years. When I heard the podcast gentleman say that life was better because he walked with love, I knew one thing, my life was better because I walked with love. A love that I have slammed the door on, pulled my hand away from, cried over, yelled at, and fallen for with every part of my being since the day he walked into my 8th grade Algebra class.  This love gives me the strength to walk with love in every other encounter in my life. This love is like a shadow that needs no light to follow me around. It  does not walk behind or in front, instead it only walks with.  I realized walk with love as over over time I have forgotten that there was any other way to walk.

Thank you to all of those who have shown me how to walk with the grace of love. I hope that others see in me that same love you bestowed in your lessons. 
To my husband thank you for being the love I walk with everyday.   

Sunday, April 15, 2018

SwimRun Lake James... and the Whistle.

Race reports often start at the start line, but this report is going to start with the story of a whistle...

Packed up and ready to go we headed up to Nebo, North Carolina. Yep, we have all of our gear. Yep, wetsuits, newly bought sleeves, newly bought gloves, swim paddles, swim buoys, tether, compression bandage, goggles, swim caps, run shoes, socks, and whistles... oh um... whistles? Well, we thought we had everything, that was until after eight hours in the car when we showed up for check-in. Here are our wetsuits and compression bandage pack, and....now where did we put those whistles. "You got them, right?" This seemed to be the phrase said a lot over the next ten minutes. Just to give you some insight if you don't know what a SwimRun race is, you are swimming and running in remote areas in the wilderness. You are out where a lot can go wrong, so you are required to each have a whistle in the event of such an emergency. Our whistles, a multitude of whistles, were back those eight hours and four states at the house.

Here we are in Nebo, NC at the race venue with no whistle. What to do? Well, go find a whistle before the 1730 Mandatory Athletes Meeting -- how hard can that be? It seemed like a simple task, after all this was  a lake community with kayaking and boating which requires whistles. This logic may have been reasonable if it was May or June and the tourism of the lake would be in full swing. But here at the beginning of April the lake was not a hopping location and the lake front harbor stores were not open for business. We drove on. Next stop a Dollar General- nope.Then a Fire and EMS Department- nope, doors locked. Then an auto parts store- nope. Then a second Dollar General- nope. Then we call a few suggested places- nope, nope, and nope. Then a few gas stations- nope. Then Tractor Supply- nope (but they had baby chicks, adorable, and they make a lot of noise). On the way through the town we passed a Sheriff's station, a last resort; which was quickly making its way to the top of the list. Next stop Wal-Mart (a place we don't frequent in our normal lives)- YES!!! Old school coaching whistles, TWO PACK!! Game on!!!

SwimRun Lake James Photo
We check out and literally run across the parking lot back to the Jeep, jump in, and take to the mountain roads. We cleared the hills and valleys and twists and turns, to arrive back at the park, just in time to get through check-in with all supplies in hand and still managing a smile. Now, let me go ahead and tell you there are extra whistles in the Jeep already.

We sat through the athletes meeting about supply stops, blazes (trail markings), and the course. In all honestly this meeting made me a bit nervous. Initially I felt good on the cut off times but as the list of turns and swims and turns added up my math started to fail me and the task at hand was making me nervous. This is where having a calm partner is beneficial. Patrick simply told me, "We'll be fine." Then smiled and we were off to the hotel for a restless night's sleep. About that sleep, it wasn't race jitters, it was the hotel neighbor playing ESPN at top volume through the night. I now know way too much about this baseball season.

As usual race morning came right on time. Up, shower, repack, dress... breakfast?? What??? We never get breakfast, especially not at the hotel. But the hotel started breakfast at 0600, and with race time not until 0800 we had time to eat like normal people on vacation.

After breakfast we headed out to the race site. Which unlike "normal" road events, is in the middle of a state park. A peaceful place at 0630. As the sun lit the day, we met other athletes, laughed as our wetsuits were all too small (a common problem each time you put on your perfectly sized wetsuit), and we listened to Tom Petty be cut short by announcements. An exciting bonus to this race was Patrick's Mom was able to come see us leave out (and finish). It was awesome to see familiar and excited faces as we left out on our adventure.

The National Anthem played, a deep breath was drawn in, a final kiss to my partner, and GO!!! Right quick let me say, I love race starts no matter the race. I love the National Anthem sing along; I love the vibe; I love the smiles. But in SwimRun (especially mid/back pack) there is another sound- LAUGHTER, more like giggles. See this group is the group that knows we will be out there for a while, but we also know the person with us is our best buddy (for a lifetime or just for the day) and we would not want to be out there with any one else.

As we leave out we are back of the pack. Remember that whole "oh my wetsuit shrunk" comment? Well, for me my wetsuit did not shrink and I did not get bigger, my wetsuit just does not fit. You see Patrick and I don't (well didn't, more on that later) have SwimRun wetsuits that have pockets and front zippers and cool features. What we do have is Patrick in a surfer Seadoo shorty and me in a Blue Seventy tri wesuits with the sleeves and legs cut short. The reason my suit was ideal for cutting was it never fit; not the arms, the legs or the torso, none of it fit. SwimRun was originally a one time race so we felt no need to upgrade. Then on the second go around the idea was, "well this worked last time." So here we are running and swimming in a surfer wetsuit and a too small wetsuit.

The factor of my suit being too small, in addition to gloves and sleeves added on took their effect in the first two mile run when I started to overheat a little. Plus I was running in an odd arm due to the new sleeves and poor posture position due to the wetsuit being too short. At about a mile I took off my left glove to help temperature regulation. I also walked for a minute to stretch out. Patrick was giving me grace, which was good because I told him he had to be like our friend L. Bacon who on a ten mile trail run recently was motivational and patient. The phrase I would say to Patrick was "be like Bacon", to "Bacon patience", to "BP". And he was very patient as the athletes in front of us gained ground and I paused to stretched my calves out. Unfortunately, Patrick's mom came by leaving the park as I was walking, but she was still full smiles and kind words. They waved and wished us luck.
SwimRun Lake James Photo

SwimRun Lake James Photo
Soon we could see the bridge that would be the first turn into the woods and would mark that we were only a few more steps from our first dive into the mountain waters. As we weaved through the trees and brush, following the well hung blazes, I could see other teams prepping to enter the water. This race marked the swim outs really well (which is awesome); they were marked with US flags and strobe lights. The flags were easy to see and to judge that you were actually getting closer-- with trees as the only other measure we were glad to have something easy to find in sighting.

SwimRun Lake James Photo
I hit the water first and Patrick right behind me. The water was breath taking- beautiful and cold. Unlike at home where the salt water rushes your senses, you taste it and feel the salt against your face, in the fresh water it is a different feeling and taste. The water is clean but with a hint of mud. I wonder if those first to hit the water tasted it or if this is only after it has been churned up from those before. This first time in the water I kept off my glove (which was shoved in my wetsuit), mostly just not thinking about it. It did not seem too bad, but this was only 800 yards.

At last swim.
We found out quickly that putting on swim caps and goggles with gloves was more difficult than expected, leading to Patrick having goggles that often times did not seal properly. This made finding that happy place where your goggles fill with just a little water to swish and clear the fog very difficult.

We hit the next runs and swims with little problems. The segments were longer swims and shorter runs. This would be a theme in the second half of the race as well. I began to notice that this short time on the land was causing me to get cold fast, it seemed warming the water in my wetsuit to keep me warm was draining my body heat. For the first half of the event this was not a big deal but I knew what was in front of us.

After about 3 running miles and 1800 swimming yards we were at the first aid station. I was glad to find a smiling face saying we were ahead of the first time cut off. When you are in the woods almost alone, it seems like the drop line is hot on your heels; knowing this was not the case eased my mind. We grabbed Tailwind and water and headed out on the long run. With over seven miles to run I went from being cold to being very warm. The best I could do to help with temperature regulation was to take off my gloves and unzip the wetsuit. Since our wetsuits zipped in the back it was an interesting feat to get it unzipped. Over the bib, under the bib; oh, and then thinking the zipper strap was attaching me. Before the race, Patrick and I had agreed that if we needed to take off layers or make adjustments we would stop to do so just to be safe. Guess what I did not do? Yep, I was running behind Patrick while making adjustments. I got the zipper unzipped and went to take off my gloves in that moment a root jumped out of no where and attacked me. Okay, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but as I was headed head first into the trees and briars my glove let loose, I may have said a curse word or two, and Patrick asked if I needed to stop. I quick stepped just enough to catch myself with only a single push back from a tree. Nope, I was good to go- except for the other pesky glove I needed to take off. Gloves off and stuffed down my wetsuit, I was back to "normal".

SwimRun Lake James Photo
This long run took us through beautiful woods, quiet woods. We ran and walked and ran some more, Patrick always remembering to approach the situation with "BP". In this stretch we hit the route elevation, up and down and up. It was nothing like the climb we had for SwimRun NC but it did prove a challenge. We also went past abandoned houses with satellite dishes, camp grounds, and fire roads. I hummed songs, like the theme to Gummy Bears and Walking on Sunshine. As we approached the end of this long run we found ourselves facing the longest swim for the event, just under a mile. Once again we got notice that we were ahead of the cut off and not at risk of getting pulled. There were still a few teams behind us, making us not feel alone in the quiet. There were times we would hear the other teams talk or laugh, times when we would see a glimpse of green or orange through the dense trees. It was nice to know we were all in this together.

SwimRun Lake James Photo
We approached the long swim just behind another team. The kayaker pointed to a flag in the distance and a strobe light that could barely be seen, then made the comment, "Its just over there, sight the mountain". I just smiled and pointed, "over there". Ok let's do this. We had gear all back on and were zipped back up. Step, step, step... and swim. This was a large lake crossing, 1600 yards. I had to laugh a few hundred yards into the swim, because what land people and kayakers don't realize is that at water level the mountain gets hidden behind the trees quickly. It seems like a great idea to start with but the hint of heading for the side of the island ended up being a much better spotting point. In the middle of the lake a boat passed in the distance.  Given that we swim around boats frequently this part we were will trained for, in minutes the waves came over us and rocked us back and forth. Unlike back home the waves were consistent as there was only one boat and they were smooth since there was no wind to complicate things. After a few pauses to adjust goggles we made it across the lake. Cold we stumbled a little up the bank and into the woods. Here is where things got a little more "interesting".

Last Swim
Again the quick land masses led way to water again. Each time our bodies warmed water in our wetsuits it was drained out by the land crossing leaving space for the cold water to come in again and again as we dove into the water. Fill and drain, fill and drain. The time on the islands was only minutes. Of course I used this land time to make a fool of myself. As we crossed one island I was looking at the next swim out and stepped down the bank carefully as Patrick had told me to do, just not carefully enough. As I laughed sitting there on my butt in the clay/mud, I stated, "well, that's going to bruise". I guess it was loud enough to make the team behind us chuckle then I heard one partner say to the other, "we should be careful here." At least I was helping others!!

Last Swim
In this over hill and dale section we came to a point where there was a buoy but no visual of the out point. All of a sudden some how we were totally alone. We eventually waded out in the water to be able to look around the point and see the out. "Found it," I yelled to Patrick. Once the swim was over he mentioned recalling something from the athletes meeting about there being a buoy to swim to and then we would see the out. Hey we found that spot, too bad we forgot about that conversational point until after standing on the shore for a few minutes.
Last Swim

After this we ran past the final check point still ahead of time. One more long swim (1300 yards), two more land crossings, two more short water crossings, and one final hill to run up to the finish. It seems like a lot but we were nearing the end. As we approached the water for the 1300 yard swim we spoke to one of the race directors, Kristen, who appeared comfy in the Fish and Wildlife Boat. She was friendly and made sure we were okay. It seems we always run into a race director near the end. This is one of those things about the SwimRun events that we have done that I appreciate- the RDs are on the course not only for safety but to be a support and a friendly face in a much needed moment.

We headed out into the water, last long swim. On this swim we were accompanied by a kayaker and then two. Along the way Patrick was fixing and clearing his goggles, which made the kayakers a little nervous. Maybe because after a long day in cold waters a swimmer who was floating face down for a moment then flipping on his back seems like a swimmer in trouble. I assured the kayaker that my buddy was okay and that it was just a need to clear his goggles. I was happy for their protection but I had to laugh a little, mostly because it was late in a long day and even if I had to drag him we were finishing this on our own. But I knew I wasn't going to need to drag him but if we hung out in the water longer he might be needing to drag my ashore.

Yes I was laughing at his fall.
Up on land after this swim it was clear we were close. A half a mile run, then
New Zone 3 suits- Ready for Next Time
water, then a skip on land, then we heard it the finish line. More so what we heard was Patrick's mom yelling, "there they are!!!" She was so delighted which made me smile. Of course in true team Decision-Making Paradigm" fashion I entered the water gracefully (ha ha ha) and Patrick hit his head on a small branch distracting him from the branch in the water he tripped over. We started this race laughing, we would finish the same way. Across the last of the water and up the steep boat ramp hill. Kristen was there cheering and encouraging us-- oh and telling us that our next SwimRun we would be dawning new wetsuits form Zone3. Super excited about this win!!

That's Kristen running up the hill too.
The finish line came into view at the top of the hill. I can here Patrick's mom cheering behind us. As we hit the gates leading us to the finish I reach out my hand to Patrick and again hand in hand we cross the finish line. This is my favorite part of the day. Not only is it the end to a long day or an accomplishment of making it through this challenge, but for us it is one more notch on our belt of marriage. I can't imagine spending this time with anyone else I know now one could be so patient or make me laugh so hard. I suspect one day he will want to race tied to a faster and quieter partner, but for today he has ME and he doesn't seem to mind.

We crossed the finish line smiles and hugs and yes again laughter. Oh, and burritos!!!!

SwimRun Lake James was an exciting adventure with mud, briars, canopying trees, clear waters, and fun. Over 14 miles of running and 3.5 miles of swimming for SwimRun Lake James. Each running mile filled with the beauty of spring buds and the swimming miles smooth. We hope to return next year to SwimRun Lake James and to do a few other races of the SwimRun sort.

We ended our trip with snow and family!!!


Friday, January 26, 2018

Failure Greets Us All- Tampa Bay Frogman Swim

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.- Winston Churchill

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.  - Johnny Cash

When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel. - Eloise Ristad

I have been told my entire life that if you do something, anything, you may and eventually will fail. Now, my parents didn’t say this to be cruel or to have me accept failure in the things I would attempt or as a way of life. Instead they told me this because the reality in this world is that you will falter, things will go wrong, and no will or faith will stop you from meeting failure. I have met failure several times in my life. One such time was when at a young age I failed at being a balance beam gymnast; I learned failure as I fell off a railroad tie surrounding our garden smashing my face into the driveway below. But from this event I learned other things- first, cement hurts like a son of a gun, a lesson I would be taught several times in life. Second, I learned that I could not fear the edge just because I might fall. You see the reason I was on the edge beam was to pick green beans from our garden. All the green beans had been plucked from the “safe” garden area this factor didn’t stop my desire to eat them. I remember the events of this fall clearly- tears, blood, that metal taste in my mouth, my screaming, sitting in the bathroom while my mom bandaged me, peroxide, iodine, stinging. But what I remember more was seeing my mother yelling at me and shaking her head when she caught me picking beans on the edge again, still with healing wounds from my previous failed attempt. Now I laugh and hope that she will too, but then I believe it was far from funny to her and maybe a little twinge in her heart knew she could not stop me from failing or falling in life. In my mind, my being afraid of falling again was not going to help in the task at hand; it wasn’t going to get me those green beans and stepping over or on the tomatoes would surely find me dead. Maybe from this I should have learned to stay away from the edge or to be afraid of heights, but I wasn’t wired or taught that way. Failure didn’t bring fear; it brought stubborn determination and at times more failure.

I didn’t really think about failing when I started racing. I have always had this mentality about racing: just make it to the finish line. I gave little thought to my fear of not making it across that line. I tell you this to tell you that the thing I did fear the most in racing happened this past weekend. I failed to make it to the finish line. I failed to make it to the finish line on a swim event that I not only love completing but have a passion to be at because of the cause they support. Yes, on Sunday, 21 January 2018, I was pulled from the waters of Tampa Bay during the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim; never crossing the finish line.

Now let’s all take a deep breath because I need one.  Like the story of the Titanic you now know how the story ends but let me tell you the rest of the story.

The day before the event we did all our normal things. We stopped by Sweetwater to pay for our kayak rental and talk to others about conditions on the water. We then went over for the practice swim. Patrick, braver than me, went in the water skin only. We swam around and out a little ways, feeling the cold “holes” of the water. The water temps were in the mid 50’s, so cold but not unbearable. I swam in my sleeveless wetsuit knowing I would not be in the water for an extended period of time on this day. Just shy of a mile we exited the water. The water was certainly cold, but not the coldest I had swam in. After the swim we went for Korean food (another normal). Now set up, stretched out, and our hunger satisfied, we completed pack pick up. Everyone is friendly. This event is ALWAYS friendly. People don’t feel obligated to have to know you in order to talk to you. The chatter is about the service men we are swimming in name of, past events, and things that have taken place over the past year. We talk of water temps and wind and hope for the both to stay calm overnight. Then satisfied that all boxes are checked and double checked we head home. All normal. The only thing not normal about this day was that my stomach was upset. The 9 miles of throwing up while swimming that plagued the Alligator Lighthouse swim ran through my mind; three cold miles would be a long ways puking in the waters of Tampa Bay, so I hoped for the best.   

On Sunday morning, we head to the starting beach. The sun is not up yet; it will rest for a few more hours. Here on the beach we encounter the first problem of the day, Patrick has no kayak. The guys are running late, leaving several swimmers and kayakers nervously pacing the sand. The only positive for me is my dad is there with his kayak. Although I always find comfort in knowing Patrick is on the water, even if not beside me. I talk to a few people but again my attention turns to my stomach which seems to be trying to scream over the crowd for my attention. My first thought is “please don’t throw up”. Then I stated to think, “well if I can just get to the start without throwing up I know I can swim while not feeling well.” TMI moment: Throwing up was not what was actively happening but my stomach was acting up. Thankfully I was out of the porta potties as the athlete and kayaker brief started. As the brief started kayaks were still missing, pacing was still happening; anxiety and frustration rose around us. Just before the ceremony was to begin the kayaks show up and Patrick sets up his rig. He has had a lot of practice setting up a kayak so this is done in short order.

The ceremony began with the reading of the names of the fallen Navy SEALs whose badges we dawn around our necks, whose names we swim in memory of, and whose memories surround us through their families, their friends, their service comrades, and there ever still photos. You remember that you aren’t on this beach for yourself, this is bigger than you. This event brings a purpose beyond ourselves. You are reminded that today you are standing here because others can’t; you stand here because others stood up and gave for you; you stand here because you believe in honor and grace.

Then the Color Guard marches out to present the colors and the National Anthem begins. In the three years I have been a part of the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim one of my favorite things is the National Anthem (swim or not swim it plays). Not only because it is another reminder of those who we stand on this beach as representative for but because of what happens next. As the singer begins the crowd falls silent. You see hands reaching to their hearts, people stand to attention, and salutes are offered toward our ever waving flag. Then as the second line begins you hear small voices from all around you begin to sing. The voices get louder, stronger, raised together, and inspiring others. By the time bombs are bursting in air your heart to soaring with pride and compassion for your purpose of this day. The conclusion of the National Anthem brings cheers and uproar across the beach. The colors are retired and the start line begins to bustle.

Last messages of good luck to friends and hugs to family. Ready to take to the water. 

As the first wave heads out the cheers on the shore are loud, as many remain there, waiting. This cheering noise will diminish as the wave numbers go higher and the number of those left on the beach dwindles.  The second wave goes off and there is a call out for an extra kayaker. Patrick, who was not assigned a swimmer yet, goes towards the call for assistance. He begins to move his kayak to head out in the following wave only to have it realized his kayak is a rental and could be used by the support member for the particular swimmer. See the kayak for this person didn’t show up, meaning Patrick’s kayak would go but not Patrick. As I approached, thinking I was kissing him good bye and telling him to paddle strong, he was removing his gear from the kayak and it was being whisked away to another kayaker who jumped in and went to find his swimmer. There was talk of more kayaks coming but it wasn’t looking good for Patrick to get on the water this day. While Patrick was never intending on kayaking for me, like I mentioned before there is a comfort in him being on the water, a comfort I can’t put in words but it is built over years of trust and hours of him looking after me in the water.

My wave readied, I hugged my mom and kissed Patrick and told my dad I would see him out in the water. My wave entered the water slowly since the water temps were low and the sun had not warmed us yet we moved very slowly, as if we would not be cold if we snuck in not disrupting the water. We gathered together wishing each other good luck, reminding each other to be safe, and letting each other know we would see them on the other side. Our kayakers are behind us and I spot my dad giving him a signal that I am who I am- seems hard to tell us apart in our wetsuits and hot pink caps. My dad signals back; we would do this about three times before the horn would start our wave.

In the minutes leading up to the start I felt good. I had my line laid out in my mind and knew where I wanted to be in order to be in “clean” water and out of the crowd. The horn went off and I took a high line closer to the radio tower and then bridge. My dad was at my right hand side within a few minutes of the start. I gave him a wave, just to acknowledge that I knew it was him. I settled into my stroke early- 1, 2, 3, breathe, 1, 2,3, breathe, spotting forward as needed and watching the bow of the kayak for direction. The sun was, as usual, in a horrible spot hiding the buoys for me, but I knew our course was good. On the course we were on we were out closer to the bridge, just us and a few other swimmers; all the rest of the teams were closer to the buoys and mostly out of my sight as they were behind my dad’s kayak given my water level view. I was in clean, flat waters and moving well. At about a half mile I felt this tightness on my left side, but it quickly faded and I gave it no second thought. I figured it was shoulder and back tightness from the full wetsuit I was wearing. I am not a fan of a full wetsuit but I wanted warmth over comfort.

I felt strong hitting the first mile mark. I was holding a good pace and we were positioned well in the Bay for the current drift that was happening. We began crossing the sandbar. On the sandbar I started to feel the side pain again, only this time it was going from my shoulder to my hip on the left side. Also there was a feeling like my guts were being crushed by the wetsuit. I briefly stood up and stretched my side and arm. I felt the water leave the top of the wetsuit, which I believe added to the problems to come (only in retrospect). I reentered the water and began swimming again. Now I could feel the cold rush over my core. I tried to focus on the stroke, to find that smooth motion I had before- 1, 2, 3, breathe. I was longing for this pattern to come back to give me a sense of comfort and control, but I was not finding the rhythm. I swam on and then something happened I had never had happen before.

As I was swimming it was as if there were two worlds overlaid on each other. One is reality and the next was a disorienting view of reality, like waking up from a dream where you are trying to figure out if what your mind is showing you is real or not. Only I wasn’t asleep. In years of racing with cold, sleep deprivation, pain, lacking nutrition, I had never had a cognitive feeling like this one. Somehow my mind was literally scaring me into thinking I was going to sink. I know this is crazy- one I am in a full wetsuit, you don’t sink in wetsuits; two, I am in three feet of water I can literally stand up inn this moment. I swim a little more and the water deepens. I pop up and grab for the kayak. I am pretty sure this is the moment that I saw panic in my father’s eyes. A panic I had not seen since I was much younger and popped my elbow out of socket while wrestling in the living room. I grabbed the kayak thinking I could center myself. I think I told my dad that I was okay but that I didn’t know what was happening in a sense of I didn’t know why I was not just continuing to swim past this feeling. I took a few breaths and tried to stretch again to ease the pain along my side. I let go of the kayak and went back into the water.

My dad pulled up his anchor and paddled. I only made it a short distance further before popping up again and grabbing for the kayak. I knew now what I had feared was about to happen. My dad felt my hands and my neck, I said, “I can’t do it.” Something was wrong and I did not know what. Funny enough I know that I didn’t become disoriented to not knowing where I was or what was going on because in true athlete fashion I stopped my Garmin at 1.8 miles my day was over.

Before I could really process what was taking place my dad singled for help, the right choice as time wasn’t something needing to be wasted if something bad was happening. The safety jet-ski with rescue board came over and the lifeguard jumped off the back. He helped me onto the board, jumped on to the jet-ski and instructed the driver to go, but to go easy so I would not be thrown off. I had wrapped my arms into the roping on the board and he held my hands, shifting my body to make sure I stayed on the board. I know he told me his name but I was too busy being mad at myself and frustrated to remember. He told me repeatedly that I was okay; he was comforting and kind. My mind raced I knew I was okay. My health was okay, but “I” was not okay.

I could feel the shore getting closer. As we slowed and then stopped I stood up. The pain along my side still there, still reaching deep into my abdomen. Patrick and my mom were on the shore, they both jumped up seeing me. Patrick came towards me as the race coordinator and medical personnel moved towards me. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to ask to be taken back out to where I had quit in the water. I wanted to start again. I wanted to be anywhere but there.

Here is the thing when you come in behind a jet-ski people want to check on you, they want to make sure you are safe, they want to ask you questions. While I had heard the speech earlier to listen to the race personnel and if something happened to let them help, all I wanted was for the world to stop spinning so I could figure out what was happening and the place to do this was not beside the finish line that I was not going to cross. I told them I was good, no need for medical care. They pointed me towards the warming tent or medical tent if I did find myself in need of them. My mother looked at me with worry but comfort that I was safe.

Patrick was there and even though he will tell you I stubbornly did not listen to him either, the only thing I wanted was to be next to him; there I knew I was safe. I was fighting tears- tears over this failure, tears over feeling I failed those I was representing today, tears from failure to be able to push down this pain. I didn’t want to cry here, I wanted to yell at myself. Patrick convinced me to go to the warming tent and lie down on the warming mat. I was there with the mat warming around me, a shower cap warming my head, and a warming blanket over me. I should have felt good warming up. I should have been happy to be safe. But I wanted to run away. Each finisher who came in I wanted to hide from out of embarrassment and my own frustration. After only a short time I was done, I could not take being there any longer. I was not able to lie there any longer without sobbing and I didn’t want to do that, not here, not over myself.

Patrick walked with me to the truck to get changed and then back to the beach. My dad kayaked up and when he looked at me it was like I was five years old again. He hugged me, repeating that I was okay and he was glad I was safe.

We packed up and with few words between the four of us we went to the after event. As my family went in I took a moment to sit in the truck and cry. First I cried about my failure. I let that fear of failure sink in, the realization that it had happened flooded over me. I replayed every moment in my mind, where it went wrong, why it went wrong, how it should have or could have been. Then I got mad at myself. Not for failing but for my change in perspective. My failing to complete the last 1.5 miles did not change why I was there, it did not change the fundraising we completed, and it did not change my pride in representing a group who gives to the families of fallen warriors. I sat there and cried over all of it. Then I took a deep breath and went inside.

Again I still did not want to talk to anyone. I still wanted to disappear. I felt ashamed and embarrassed to be standing in this space with others who didn’t fail; others who made it across the finish line. We went home that day again with few words. For me I needed the one thing that could not happen right then I needed time to think.

Over the next few days I just tried to forget about the water, but it would come flooding back to my mind, replaying over and over. This was my happy place and now all I could think about was being pulled from it. I am still not sure what caused what or why it happened in that moment on that day- other than to say failure happens. Maybe the side pain and cramping was from the cold or a lack of nutrition or from my stomach attempting to leave the body union. Maybe I should have trained longer in the full wetsuit. Maybe I needed more time in colder water. Perhaps I was caught up in negative self-talk that just manifested itself in the real world in that moment. Maybe it was all or none or all, I don’t know.

Here is what I do know. Failure sucks… but it does not define me. It does not define my passion. It does not define my grit. It does not define my love. It does not define my family. It does not define my life. It simply defines the moment. A moment that will be met with stubborn determination.

I will swim again. I will find the finish line again. And someday when I least suspect it I will meet failure again, but I don’t fear that day. I don’t need to fear failure because what has never failed in my life was standing on that shore that day with compassion, love, and support that held me steady and stopped the world for me for just a moment allowing me to catch my breath. In that moment I was surrounded by purpose and by those who love me unconditionally. This is what I learned in this failure- when you fall of the edge, when you stop in the middle of the bay, when failure greets you, if you look around there is love and there is no reason to ever fear when there is love.

And my favorite quote of failure:
The phoenix must burn to emerge. - Janet Finch

The Phoenix will be back...

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