I’ve decided to start up this blog again. And I’ve decided to make it about something different again. But that’s the nature of life, no? Change…and, hopefully, growth.
I’m still working on that manuscript I blogged about last post, but I miss blogging like woah, so I’m back in bidness.
New posts are going to be about trying new things, even scary ones. My goal is to try at least one new thing a month. I’ve fallen into comfortable habits since my move to Austin and I wanna stretch my wings a little. Like that bird up there at the top of the page.
The newest, scariest thing I’ve done of late is open water swimming in a lake.
Now, I’m from Louisiana. I’ve swum in lakes before, sure. But always within close proximity to a boat, or a dock, or the shore.
This time, circumstances were different.
A little background: I belong to this gym that’s right beside my office. Super convenient. Also super guilt-inducing because I can’t seem to drag my butt over there the piddly minimum 10 times a month I need to for my company to reimburse my membership…but I digress.
My gym has exclusive access to this little private lake. People can kayak, paddle board, and swim in it all day long — and they do. I know this because I often creepily watch them from our office break room window on my lunch hour, and wonder (with more than a trace of envy) what kind of job lets someone spend midday out on a lake.
I ran a half marathon February of this year (woo for me!) and during training, I’d often run the track around the lake to make my miles. Haven’t done that in, oh, about two months now, but who’s counting? Anyway, during my runs around the lake, every now and then I’d hear a splash in the water.
The first time it happened, the Louisiana girl in me thought that’s a gator! Upon further inspection, a gator had not made its way into this private lake in Texas. The splash came from a human gracefully swimming the same 2/3-mile lap I was huffing to finish on land.
And I thought that was absolutely bonkers. That’s way too far to swim without stopping. And there’s no real “shore” to this lake except at the one access point where you can pick up your kayak or paddle board. At least not one that’s easily accessible. It slopes steeply all around and is basically all sheer limestone.
Fast forward many, many months and suddenly I see this in a new light. This is doable. People do it all day long. I see them. And they look like they’re having fun…and I like fun. One crazy Saturday afternoon, I decide I’m gonna do it, too.
Keep in mind, not only have I not been running recently, I haven’t really be exercising recently at all. Unless walking to and from my car counts. (It doesn’t count.)
But no matter. It’s not really that far, right? The lake takes about 15 minutes to walk. I’m certain that if I just take my time, I can swim myself right on around, no problem. And swimming’s supposed to be so great for you, the perfect exercise, according to the internet. Low impact and it stretches, it strengthens, it cardios. Does all the things. This new habit of me swimming one lap around the lake every day is going to change my life.
See how quickly one lap one time became one lap every day? That’s just how I roll with “minor” positive habit goals. Big. Bigger. Biggest. What’s better than biggest, after all? (Turns out, actual, feasible goals are better. But that’s a different topic for a different post.)
I show up at the lake in my tankini with no goggles or even a hair tie because my vision of me swimming around the lake has me looking more like a mermaid and less like a goggle and swim-cap wearing olympic athlete. This is going to be so great, and Imma look great doing it, too, dammit.
But once in the lake…it seemed pretty big. Impassably so.
I decide I’m just going to tread water and see how I do with that. Easy does it. There was this swim test we had to take before summer camp every year. You had to do a couple laps then tread water for something like 10 minutes before they’d sign off on you swimming in the deep part of the Frio River, where all the cool, big kids swam. I remember that being a lot of motivation to make treading water for ten minutes look easy. I also remember it being a lot easier to make it look easy than it was present day.
I dog-paddled about five minutes before I sought shelter at the pier, gasping, not quite mermaid-like.
I rested a bit, then I tried it again. The difficulty, I decided, was all in my mind. And actually, when I realized I could rest by floating on my back instead of latching onto the wooden dock, I was right. I could bob all day long, it seemed, if I didn’t panic and I told myself that if I got tired, I could just float.
That was confidence-building, so I took it a bit further. The lap the swimmers take around the lake is lined with about 5 buoys. I decided I could at least make it to the first one, swimming and treading water and floating as necessary.
In the time it took me to decide this, three “real” swimmers had entered the water. They were talking, laughing, saying things like “You think we should do 2 or 3 laps today?” This also contributed to my conviction that yes, I could make it to the first friggin’ buoy.
So I waited for them to start off on the first of 2 or 3 laps, then I set out. Easy does it. I made it about halfway before I saw one.
There, floating in the water, LOOKING at me, was a real live turtle.
I hadn’t counted on this. Thinking about it, I’m not sure why the turtle came as such a surprise. The few times I’d paddle boarded the lake, turtles were always out in abundance. From the safety of the board, they’d been cute little things. But from the open water, where all was vulnerability and certain death, they were terrifying.
I mean, animals react to threats with fight or flight, right? That’s what you hear. Well what if this little guy decided to fight?
Granted, I’m a human and could probably withstand whatever his little beak could throw at me, and this was no snapping turtle but a little lake turtle with a tiny beak for eating tiny things — but what if it drew blood (which was unlikely) or what if I just panicked brushing up against it and drowned (which seemed very likely)?
I froze, making my own fight or flight decision. The buoy was within reach, and if the turtle didn’t move, I could swim around it and make it and gain that sense of sweet accomplishment I sought. Or I could turn back and never brave the lake again.
I took a good hard look at the swimmers . They were nearly halfway around the whole lake by now, just beginning their swim, undeterred by what I saw as very real danger in the water. They looked fine. They did this every day.
I pressed on.
About three or four more little turtle heads popped up as I made my way to my ever looming symbol of safety. In a different frame of mind, I might have thought of them as cheering me on. Go Leigh! Slow and steady wins the race! (Turtle pun!)
As it was, I felt like they were taunting me. Come out just a little further, girlie…and then we’ll get you.
As with most unrealistic, blown-out-of-proportion (or….out of the water…ha…) fears, nothing came of my turtle terror. I made it to the buoy and back unmolested by anything other than my mind (though that has a beak capable of causing much more damage than a turtle of any breed).
And that, my friends, was friggin’ empowering. That day, I’d done it. I’d gotten to the buoy.
Not only did I make it that one day, but I went back a couple times a week a few weeks in a row afterward and continued to go to the buoy, and back, go to the buoy, and back, go to the buoy…you get the gist.
My goal was to get to where I could go there and back five times, the number of buoys around the lake, and then go around the whole damn thing.
Well, yesterday, weeks before my planned moment of triumph, a couple of work friends I’d told about the lake came out with me.
Once in the water, they had the same initial thought I did: let’s do the whole lake!
Except they grabbed a couple of kickboards to ensure success. Smart. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
I abstained from the kickboards, though, relying on my few weeks of training…and…get this…
With them floating alongside me, supporting me with words of encouragement like the awesome friends they are, and me resting at every buoy along the way, I swam around the whole damn thing. 750 yards, according to the map in my gym.
It felt friggin’ great. Like swimming across the English Channel must feel, I’m sure :)
I’m going to end this blog post the way I’ll end future blog posts in this vein: with a challenge.
Try something new, something you’ve been wanting to try. And tell me all about it in a comment. Hell, if you’ve already tried something new recently, tell me about that right this second. I need ideas and I want to steal yours.
Let’s stretch and grow — and live.