I remember the first time that I swam in open water about as vividly as I remember the first time that I learned to ride a bike. Although decades apart, these two events are more related than I could have ever imagined at the time.
My first time in open water was the day of my first ever triathlon, at age 24. I had signed up for the Lake Mills triathlon in Wisconsin on a whim as a sort of New Year’s Resolution for 2015. I had recently graduated from college and had needed some direction in life during my gap year before applying to PA school, and I had always dreamed of completing a triathlon. Shortly after signing up, I decided it was probably time to learn to swim.
Yes, I signed up for a race where I didn’t even know how to do one of the three events.
In order to jump start my training, I began pool swimming and watching YouTube videos to learn proper techniques.
As confident as I ever felt surrounded by lane lines and life guards, no amount of time in the pool could have prepared me for race day in the open water. Now Rock Lake in Lake Mills, Wisconsin is by no means a large body of water, but on race morning at 7 am it may as well have been the Pacific Ocean to me. The sky was dark, overcast and raining heavily, and my nerves were at an all-time high. I zipped up into my rental wetsuit for only the second time and it felt as though I was suffocating already.
As I lined up with the rest of the pink caps in my wave group, I began to mentally prepare myself for the quarter mile swim that was ahead of me. Then the horn blew signaling my wave start, I ran along with the rest of my group and charged into the water. I ran as far as I could before diving in to begin the initial stretch before our first turn.
I had practiced sighting in the pool and bilateral breathing, but all of this went out the window when the cold water seeped into my wetsuit and the turbid water and waves kept hitting me. I gave up all attempts at a freestyle stroke and began to side stroke just to catch my breath. I realized I was beginning to hyperventilate due to the cold water and constrictive wetsuit and knew I needed to calm myself down and breathe or I would never be able to finish.
As I got kicked, swam over, punched and swam past, I began to steel myself for the rest of the swim. The first turn was coming up, and I knew that if I made it that far I could do the rest. I had worked and trained so hard to get to this day and didn’t want to fail before I had hardly even started, and I knew that if I made it out of the water, I could finish the rest of the race. I began to repeat over and over in my ahead “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” – the mantra made famous by Dory in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”. Stroke after stroke, I kept moving forward and before I knew it, I had made it to the beach. I stripped off my wetsuit as I ran up the ramp at the swim exit and ran into transition.
In hindsight, this mantra of “just keep swimming” reminds me of my experience learning to ride a bike. I remember standing in the middle of our cul-de-sac with my father holding onto the front tire of my bike (which of course had pink streamers on the handlebars) and telling me to just keep pedaling. As soon as I started thinking about how I was staying upright, I stopped pedaling and fell over. I had to learn to stop thinking so hard and just keep pedaling to keep moving.
I will never forget the first time that I biked the circle of our cul-de-sac without tipping or stopping, just like I will never forget that first open water swim. With each bike ride, swim practice, and run that I do for training, I keep those mantras in my head. It’s what keeps me pedaling during a tough climb or keeps me moving forward during a difficult set of swimming. It’s easy to lose sight of the end goal when you’re in the midst of a difficult situation, but as my program director says, you have to “trust the process”.
As I begin a difficult yet exciting summer of triathlon training, first semester of PA school, and Schwinn ambassadorship, I can’t help but be just as excited and nervous as I was for my first open water swim. I can’t wait to share all of the ups and downs of this summer with you all here on the Schwinn Red Blog. Stay tuned as I share with you more about how I just keep pedaling through my crazy exciting busy fun life as a Schwinn Ambassador.
Jennifer is a born and bred Badger, and growing up in Madison, WI she spent a majority of her childhood on a bike. She is currently training for a Half Ironman and will be beginning PA School in Chicago in May. When she isn’t swimming, biking, running or eating, she can be found with a cup of coffee and a good book or baking yummy treats. She is extremely excited to bring her training and health education to the Schwinn Ambassador program, and will be focusing on the health side of cycling. She has always loved the Schwinn lifestyle and mission of getting everyone on a bike, and is excited to use the Schwinn Ambassador platform to show how triathlon is so much more than just training.
Follow Jen on Instagram: @jen_beth
Check out the Schwinn Vantage F1