You Make A Difference

On Wednesday I was having a crap time at swim practice. I couldn’t make the pace times. I felt like I wasn’t moving in the water. I was slow. I was angry at myself. I really really wanted to get out of the pool and go home.

I was standing around getting ready for the next set. I took a look at the workout and then I heard:

“Vicki, you’re doing good. Don’t give up. You’re getting better.”

This made all the difference for me. I kept going. I kept swimming. I felt better.

I was ready to quit that day. But I didn’t because my lane mate noticed I was struggling. She took the time to let me know that she saw me and understood what was going on.

Just a reminder that small actions make a big difference.

Good words really do work.

Under Duress

Scene is the pool. Swim Coach is on the deck. Eager Swimmers are standing in the deep end hanging on every word Swim Coach says.

Swim Coach: The difference between you guys here in lane 2 and those guys in lane 8 is they can hold their technique under duress.

Confused Yet Eager Swimmers Continue to Stare at Swim Coach….

Swim Coach: For you to improve you need to practice your technique to the point where you can do it under duress. To the point where it just happens naturally. This takes work. Hard work. It is the difference between you and them.

Eager Swimmers Start To Get It But Keep Staring at Swim Coach….

Swim Coach: You need to use your warm-up sets to practice technique over and over again. You need to build your muscle and mental memory. And now you’re going to swim under duress so you understand what I’m talking about.

Eager Swimmers Start to Sweat and Stop Making Eye Contact with Swim Coach…

And for the next 1,000 meters the swimmers swim under duress. And slowly but surely, the cracks float to the surface. One swimmer who shall remain anonymous learns her open turns really aren’t great when under duress. In fact it turns out that her open turns are downright terrible under duress. This same anonymous swimmer learns that when under duress her head falls off and she forgets everything she was practicing a mere 15 minutes earlier in the warm-up.

This motivates this anonymous swimmer to get better and to keep on practicing. Turns out this swimmer likes swimming enough that she appreciates the value of being under duress.

Under Duress

Hint – those athletes we cheer on during the Olympics who make their sport look effortless, the musicians we watch perform in front of thousands of people night-after-night, the journalists reporting from the scenes of terrible horrible devastation and loss, the author who keeps churning out best sellers, or that person you know who just keeps on going and doing and doesn’t seem to ever stop – well, they all got there the exact same way.

Under duress

And now think of how this applies to you on a day-to-day.

Maybe, like me, you rearrange the letters of the alphabet over and over again every single day (hint – you create word magic for a living). This is not easy. You were not born being able to do this everyday all day. It took practice. It took patience. It took learning. It took doing it badly to slowly get to doing it really well.

I am not an expert in this – of course.

But here’s the thing – I am not naturally talented at anything. I’m not a natural athlete. I’m not a natural writer. I’m not one of those lucky people who was good at that thing the minute they tried it.

I am a natural at stick-to-itness. I am a natural at wanting to be better. I am a natural at not letting go. This has gifted me the ability to perform under duress.

Taekwon-do – definitely not a natural. But I have a first degree black belt and competed at the 2003 ITF World Taekwon-Do Championships.

Cyclocross – definitely not a natural. But I raced at the 2010 World Cyclocross Championships.

Writing – definitely not a natural. But this is how I make a living.

I kept at it. Until, like those guys in lane 8 – I could do it under duress.

What does this all mean? I have no idea really. I just had to get this thought out of my head.

And because every search engine likes a blog with a photo, here’s three random but connected photos.

Riverkeeper 4km Open Water Swim 2022

Driving to pick up my friend Louise this morning on the way to the Riverkeeper Open Water Swim, this thought popped into my head, “why do we sign up for these kinds of events? Why do we put ourselves through these challenges?”

This is why:

For the people you meet and become friends with along the way. No one gets to an event like a 4 km open water swim alone.

I certainly could not have done this without the amazing human hugging me in this photo.

Friendship. Camaraderie. Support. Confidence. Community. Strength.

People. It’s the people that make these kinds of events so worth doing.

Seeing people chat and hang out before the race – talking through their nerves and encouraging one another. Then at the end, seeing and hearing people cheering, talking about their race, congratulating one another, hugging, laughing, and just being so dang nice.

This is why I do these events. Yes, I get nervous. Yes, I have lots of self-doubt. Yes, I am tired afterwards. But all of this is so worth it when you see your friends accomplish big goals and do the thing they weren’t sure they could do.

Today I battled my head for the first 1 km. I had serious thoughts about stopping. My brain was a swirling cauldron of negative self-talk. But I tried to remind myself of the people rooting for me. And I kept swimming. Right arm. Left arm. Keep going. Make it to the sailboat – if you still feel like garbage then reevaluate.

And guess what? I got to the sailboat, turned left and hit the most beautiful calm water. The sun was shining. And then I started swimming. I relaxed.

I heard Lesley’s voice reminding me to reach and roll. I could hear Filippo telling me to stay relaxed. I remembered meeting Louise at the pool for the first time and our locker room chats. I imagined I was swimming with Nina at Murphy’s Point. I thought about Megan and how she is so graceful in the water. I remembered the early days of open water swimming with Aimee, Julie, Diane, Tom, Nadine, and Candace – how they encouraged me and welcomed me to their swimming group.

Friends. People. This is what it’s all about.

Bring On The Bay 2022

Two years ago when I started swimming with the Britannia Swim Gang, I was adamant that I would not swim Bring On The Bay (BOTB). Nope, just wanted to be in the water swimming – no events/races for me.

Thanks to my swimming friends who slowly but surely planted seeds encouraging me to get out for more swims, convinced me to join a masters swim club, and helped me set some swim goals – I changed my mind and today, I did the Bring On The Bay 3 km swim.

A few years ago I gave a talk at the Bushtukah S.W.E.E.T night where I talked about controlling the controllables, having a support system, believing in yourself, and harnessing the power of the reset button.

Well, I tell you – I used these tools and more today during the 3 km swim from the Nepean Yacht Club to the Britannia Yacht Club.

In the days leading up to today’s swim – I was nervous. I was freaked out. I was making this swim into something more than it was. At one point I even heard the voice in my head say “this swim is bigger than the cyclocross world championships and the taekwon-do world championships”… Yes, I was steadily doing a good job of creating a very large anxiety tornado.

Thankfully I have an incredible support system of people who know me and know that I tend to place immense pressure on myself. The text chats, phone calls, hugs, real life conversations – they all made a massive difference for me. Thank you.

Thanks to Lesley we have been practicing and thinking about different scenarios that could have happened today. We practiced jumping off the dock. We practiced not sinking when landing in the water. We practiced swimming in traffic. We practiced sighting when the water feels alive. We practiced accelerating. We were ready. Each week and each practice, we slowly but surely chipped away at the controllables, so that today we’d have the composure to respond and react without panicking.

Knowing that we had done this practice and that I had swam 3 km multiple times this summer – really made a big difference for me. On Friday I finally managed to stop making this into more than it was. It’s a swim. I can do this. I can do the distance. I’ve done the work to control the controllables.

The swim went by in a blur. I have my watch set to vibrate every 500 meters so this helped me know where I was along the course. When I felt the 2,000 meter vibration, I could feel myself smiling inside. I was doing it! I was getting close! I can do this!

The water was bumpy and frothy. It wasn’t windy but I presume this was due to the number of people in the water this morning. The sighting practice we’ve been doing paid off huge. I still managed to drift wide but thankfully there were some very helpful kayakers who didn’t hold back with yelling at me and getting me pointed in the correct direction.

I hit my trusty reset button multiple times today. Swallow water – no problem – this has happened before. Nauseous – no big – this happens when I swim in bumpy water. Need to get some gas out – burp it out – this happens to people with ileostomies and barbie butts. Feeling a bit too close to people – head down – accelerate and keep on swimming. Voice in my head is telling me I’m tired – talk back immediately – I’m not tired – I’m doing great – keep swimming – right arm, left arm. Feel myself sinking – use my checklist – suck in my gut, tighten my bum, reach and roll, look back, alligator eyes, keep the legs together, breathe, exhale.

When I climbed that red ladder and landed on the dock with wobbly legs, I was overcome with emotion. A combination of relief, celebration, pride, and fatigue – I finally believed I could and I did it.

It was so awesome to see my friends and hear them cheering for me. It was so fantastic to hear about everyone’s swim and to be surrounded by smiling people.

Having a body that allows me to do things like swim, bike, play hockey, and enjoy life is a true gift.

Three years ago I was nervous about swimming with an ileostomy. Two years ago I started open water swimming. And today I did a swimming event. (And in August I’m swimming the 4 km at Riverkeeper)

Believe in yourself. You are whoever you want to be. You can do that thing that seems out of reach right now. I did it – and so can you.