I stood near the edge of Whiskeytown Lake along with 125 fellow swimmers. We were all wearing green swim caps, and everyone seemed excited. My new friend Janette turned to me and said, “Good luck!”
“Have fun!” I replied.
Then, the race director shouted, “Go!” Some swimmers ran into the water, and others walked in leisurely. I dove into the water, started swimming, and immediately noticed the waves we created. Then I felt the weeds tickle my legs. As soon as that happened, my stomach did flip-flops.
Rather than looking at the weeds while my head was underwater, I closed my eyes so I couldn’t see them. Instead, I raised my head more often to site the racecourse buoys and to make sure I wasn’t swimming over another swimmer. Also, my mantra—“plants aren’t predators”—helped me to stay calm.
Eventually, I broke away from the weeds and glided into deep dark blue water. Rays of sunlight reflected off of the water, and as I took deep breaths, I noticed the mountains, the sky, and the kayakers that were part of the water safety crew. As I rounded the second big buoy, I realized that I was halfway through the race. Part of me wanted to stop and tread water because it was so beautiful out in the deep blue water, but I had to keep swimming.
Before I knew it, I was back in the weeds swimming to the shore. As I made my way through the weeds, I thought about my friend Aubrey and how much progress she’s made since her cycling accident. She’s been working hard in physical therapy and with a CrossFit coach, too. I thought to myself, Aubrey is so inspiring. She’s working hard to regain her strength. That is WAY harder than being scared of weeds! Keep swimming, Tammy.
So, I ignored my fear of the weeds, tried to catch the swimmer ahead of me, and thought about how far I've come this year.
After a bad back flare up in February, I was diagnosed with arthritis in my lower back and degenerative disc disease. During February, it was difficult for me to do basic things like walking or sitting without experiencing intense pain. At the beginning of the year, I wondered if I’d ever be pain-free again. I felt so tired of dealing with my reoccurring back problems. Thankfully, my doctor referred me to a fantastic physical therapist, and eventually, I found my way back to the water and to a masters swim team. Getting back into the water, and slowly building my strength, helped me get through the weeds in my mind.
Facing my fear of lake weeds last weekend seemed fitting because the experience reminded me to prioritize self-care. For example, I rested and recovered from my race. Resting has never been my strong suit because I just want to keep moving. I’ve learned that rest requires an active commitment, just like writing, photography, or any other type of activity. Plus, if I don't take care of myself, and ignore the importance of rest, I'll get stuck in the weeds over and over again.
Serendipitously, the latest issue of SWIMMER arrived in my mailbox last week. One of the featured articles—by Gretchen M. Sanders—is titled “Give It a Rest for Your Best.” Sanders said, “Rest requires commitment—it does not happen by chance. Rest should be as deliberate as putting on a swimsuit. It will take practice for some and come easily for others. Start small by taking a morning off, then a day, then a weekend, then a whole week. With each passing year, our bodies grow older and need more time to recover. Giving your body the rest it craves may just prolong the time you spend enjoying the life-giving sport of swimming."
Cheers to rest, recovery, good health, and conquering the weeds!