“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
I was invited to swim with an amazing group of swimmers in the Trans-Tahoe Swim relay and although I have swam in Lake Tahoe before, swimming across the deepest and coldest part of Lake Tahoe is not something I have conquered before. To make matters worse, no wetsuits would be allowed… water temp in the lower 50’s… Really? Why?
Considering it is an honor to be invited, I remember the day I received the invitation and thought, “I have to take on this challenge!” How many times will I receive an invite like that? So, I accepted the invite in the late winter but had wavered and hesitated as the months went by. And then I received the final call to see if I was really on board to be a part of the team. I very carefully and slowly responded….. “….. Y…e…s…” Deep sigh, as there was absolutely no turning back now! I was either going to sink or swim and if it be to sink, then at least it was a great ride!
The Trans-Tahoe relay is a 10-mile relay with 6 swimmers each committed to swim one 30-minute leg, two 15-minute legs and a 10-minute leg. The lake has depths greater than 1,500 ft and temps are an average of 55F in the center which is at the deepest part of the lake. The water has varying shades of clear blue with mountain scenery that simply leaves you speechless as you try to capture the beauty through your camera lens… no matter how many pics you take, being there is the only way to fully appreciate this outdoor gem. Every trip to the lake reminds me of how fortunate I am, but today, I was feeling a little bit apprehensive.
I was heading out on one of the support boats for a quick practice swim. I was feeling positive about having the opportunity to practice, but a little apprehensive since I was swimming alongside the Coach/Captain/ Organizer of the team. He wasn’t the only swimmer practicing, but he was the one that had me feeling oh so nervous. Would I meet up to his expectations? This is a man who swam for West Point. He was a very high-ranking member in the Army and the list of accomplishments is never-ending. ” Why did I accept this invite?”, I kept thinking, “He is going to be so disappointed when he sees me swim”… Feeling inadequate and certainly not that confident, I began to preface our adventure with, “Are you sure you don’t want to phone a friend now and get a replacement for me, because when you see my swim, you might be just a little disappointed.” He just laughed… “He really is going to be disappointed!”, I thought!
I arrived at the beach and the boat was out in the water waiting, “No turning back now”, I thought. I climbed aboard with my foot on the lake floor refusing to go along for the ride. Alas, I sent the message to my leg, “We must go now!” Up in the boat we went. It was a gorgeous day. The sun was warm, the water was a rich deep blue, I was wearing a light grey tank top covering my swimsuit and my hair up in a clip. I was starting to feel relaxed trying not to think about the “test” that was just a little distance away. And then, there he was, walking so determined and serious down the beach to board the boat. I swallowed hard trying to ready myself for the disappointment of a deep water failure. He boarded the boat and said a quick, “Hello”. Not much else was said and off we went to the center of the lake for a practice swim.
As we cruised across the lake, the spray from the boat gently misted my face. The cool hardly mattered as the sun had warmed my skin, comforted my nerves and calmed my heart before I was to take a dip in the frigid waters. As I sat there, my mind was tortured with the constant conflict of enjoying the scenery and the boat ride while fearing the swim… I chose to enjoy the ride, but by the time I had made that decision we had already arrived.
“We are here?” I asked… My good friend and her husband laughed at me and said, “Yup, we’re here!” Gulp! The Coach/Captain quickly got into his swim gear as did another swimmer and before I could slip out of my clothes, they were already in the water. I looked at their faces for some sign of distress or discomfort… and there was none! They swam as if they were otters in their delightful habitat. As I looked out and watched, I knew that I had to prove some value to the team and I had to do the unthinkable, get in the water even if it meant facing that evil challenge, called “Hypothermia”.
I could feel the eyes on me as the others waited for me to get in. Slowly, quietly, surely, I made my way out of my shorts and shirt and took a couple deep breaths, said an extra prayer in hopes that someone would listen and protect me. And it was time…. Into the water I went… I could feel the ice-cold water first numb my toes and then before I knew it, I was a human icicle… but a swimming icicle at that!
We began the 30 minute practice swim and I was full of fear that I would not be able to keep up. As I went stroke for stroke I noticed something unexpected, something so odd because I had envisioned a completely different scenario. There I was swimming to the left of my Coach and Captain, a man who has swam his entire life. Much to my surprise, within one minute, we had fallen into a synchronized swimming rhythm. I felt like a baby dolphin being led by a parent so wise and experienced, yet still able to keep up and follow his every move. He became a guide, a compass, a shadow to find comfort in. The cold was not even recognizable at this point. My breathing and arm movements took on his rhythm and I could feel my body relax and be at ease each time I caught a glimpse of him swimming next to me. The 30 minute swim flew by and we stopped. We weren’t even out of breath and both of us were smiling… I could feel his sense of relief to know that I could keep up with him, but I also felt a new kinship that had formed in that very cold water of Lake Tahoe.
We decided to climb aboard as our mission had been accomplished. He congratulated me on a good swim and I returned several compliments and it was then that I simply began to bask in the sun’s warm rays. With my fears conquered, I looked around in awe and amazement. I could see the light shimmering off the lake as if a reward for a job well done.
I sat there and just felt grateful for the swim, for good friends, for the opportunity and that magnificent view that I simply could not reconcile to be a coincidence.
As we returned from the adventure, I couldn’t help but snap as many pics as possible. I knew that on the relay morning, my mind would have to be focused but my fear would not be allowed on that ride. No, it was on that practice swim that I let go of that anchoring feeling of fear… no need for it to weigh me down… I was close to certain that I could face the challenge and rise above the fear that now rested some 1,500ft below the surface.
On this day, I had to balance my fear of failure with the ability to do my best and enjoy the adventure. In the end, the Coach/Captain that I thought to have every right to be concerned at his choice of teammates, took me under his fin. With no more than an encouraging look, we swam in unison as if we had swum together for years… his look of approval and his complementary words were the energy my spirit needed to be convinced that I belonged on this team. Our swimmers now possessed the confidence to take on this chilly challenge to do what so few people ever have the opportunity to accomplish…
Feeling grateful, excited at the opportunity, humbled at the challenge and grateful for a Coach that believed in me when this little dolphin wondered if she even could… wondering what tomorrow will bring…