I’ve always been afraid of the dark. Not because I think there are monsters under the bed, but I’m afraid of tripping, stumbling, just not knowing what might be there. (This applies to many aspects of my life, I’m not good with surprises.) Dark water, however, is a whole other terror. You’ve seen the movies, you’ve heard the scientists describe what a tiny part of the ocean they’ve explored and what a giant unknown lies beneath the surface.
I was a competitive swimmer from around 7 to 16 years old. I was surprisingly good – I broke pool records from Port Hope to Ottawa. Perhaps the back crawl and individual medley weren’t as flashy as freestyle, but I was fast, paid attention to perfect form, and really pushed myself to improve every practice. I was strangely driven to beat that timer, and beat anyone who dared swim beside me. It was one of the rare things I’ve been competitive and aggressive about. I’d always wanted to do something extreme, like swim across Lake Ontario, or some sort of marathon. But then I was a teenager, and these things get swept under the rug of friends and school and finding oneself.
Years later, I still love to swim, but with most pools being far too chlorinated for my lungs and skin, I don’t swim often. I miss it terribly. So when camping at Sharbot Lake in mid-August , I jumped at the chance to swim a few lengths of the tidily marked off swimming area in a small, warm lake. I noticed the far shore really wasn’t that far. And there was canoeing, but no motor boats. “I think I could swim across this lake,” I told my friend. “I’ve always wanted to do that, and this one has a narrow section.”
Fast forward two days, and we’re canoeing across the lake, to where I would be jumping out, and he would be canoeing back beside me as I swim across, to keep an eye on me. As we glided across the fairly still water, many things ran through my mind. I’m even more out of shape than usual, due to a recent sprained ankle and 7 weeks using a cane. I haven’t swum this far in years. And the most important thing, that shot terror down my spine – I cannot see the bottom and I have no idea what is down there.
I had many second thoughts. I sincerely thought about finding any excuse to change my mind. However, a few hours before when I had been beginning to get nervous, I sent a text to a few friends, telling them what I was up to. Now I could not possibly chicken out without looking like a fool. Insurance policy, of a sort.
It turns out that the actual swim was pretty mellow, and only around 20 minutes. However, there was a point where temperature dropped a little in the centre of the lake. I was obviously at the deepest point. It was immensely crucial that I did not think about the depth of the water below me, and the remote murky unknown.
It was simply a matter of keeping my eyes on the shore, and not allowing myself to think about what was underneath me. I momentarily paused a few times to just float, gazing all of the way around the lake, at the trees, the hills on one side, the lovely greenery. I realized that focusing on what was directly in front of me and never paying attention to what was beneath me was a truly cliche life mantra, but for 20 minutes, it was absolutely true. It was also a timely reminder to keep on being competitive, but instead of the person in the next lane, I should be trying to outdo myself, daily.
This little mission was a great reminder that I must find something to legitimately challenge myself at least yearly. I have made great progress rewiring my brain and personality from timid to bold, but I have a long, long way to go. Eyes front, ignore what’s beneath me. Keep kicking. Oh, and wear sunscreen.
– Do not let fear stop you
– “Can’t Chicken Out Insurance” – once you’ve told somebody, you must do it
– Intensely focus on the goal, do not let the mind wander to the unknown
– If you see a good opportunity, jump at it