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Sink or swim

Training for a swim across the Aegean Sea.

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As I sat in a room with my 18 new friends the other day, I realized I was in awe—for two reasons. First, because we were only two weeks away from departing for Greece and swimming 28 kms. Second, because nine months ago these people were simply the strangers who would see me in my new swim suit.

I didn’t think I would make it to (or through) that first swim practice back in February. Reluctantly, I found myself on a pool deck for the first time in five years and then I found myself flailing in the pool to the other end. It turned out that what I had considered “swimming” was actually “not drowning.” My technique was essentially non-existent.

My frustration grew steadily with each practice—and quitting was on my mind. But then, one month after the practices had started, I swam my first full 25-meter length. I admit that it may not have been pretty or medal-worthy, but there was no flailing, no gasping, no near-drowning. It was swimming.

That day, I cried even before I made it off the pool deck. Those 25 meters were what I needed to believe I could truly take this on. They were also the push I needed to take on swimsuit shopping, which is a whole other challenge in itself.

I went armed with two friends and a shot bottle of rum in my purse. I perused the swimsuits, all the time cursing whoever was responsible for their design. Walking into that dressing room, I wasn’t sure I would make it out. But like those 25 meters that I never thought I could conquer, I emerged. And surprisingly, so did the rum.

The training commitment became more intense as time went by. In order to be ready for Greece, it meant being in the pool – and eventually open water – four or five times a week. Team practices with our coach were held weekly and we did drills, speed workouts and the dreaded continuous swims. With dedication and guidance, we found ourselves doing more each time – one kilometer, three kilometers, five kilometers.

It is during those long swims that I discovered a new side of myself. Granted, there have been good and bad swims, but each one made me a stronger swimmer and, quite possibly, a stronger person. Physically, I feel better than I have in a long time and I was quite delighted when I realized I was actually developing bicep muscles and not matching tumours. And mentally, this whole thing has been an incredible release of energy. There is a feeling of freedom I get when cutting through the water that I’ve never experienced before. It’s my space, my time to be, and I’m grateful I found it.

So, Greece is just days away. As our coach says, the homework has been done. And soon we’ll see how well this final test goes. As much as the team and I will celebrate when we complete our 28 km swim, we will also take time to remember the little victories that happened along the way.

Because this has never been about the destination – it’s about the journey that got us there.

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Uploaded by Lesley Mulcahy