Thursday, February 15, 2007

Getting in the Swim of Things (a jellyfish story)

What's more difficult than sitting at home watching a winter storm eat your time? For me it was getting back into the pool after a week of not swimming, in addition to three days of all weight training and no aerobic exercise.

Even though I swam around 2,200 yards (2,000-2,200 yards free and the customary 100-yard fly finale), my lungs weren't exactly pleased with the situation. And it was only after 200 yards!

My goggles were leaky, my cap wouldn't stay on and my bathing suit started rubbing raw both sides of my neck and under my arm way earlier than usual. And while it stinks to have irritated eyes (everyone thinks I've either been crying or numbing some other pain) and open sores on my neck (teenage love affair, again), I understand that circumstances in the triathlon — especially in open water — will be less than ideal.

Which brings me to the long-awaited catamaran story...

Nearly 15 years ago I swam in open water for the first time. Sure I grew up 100 yards from Lake Erie and splashed around at Mentor Headlands as a kid, but it didn't constitute real open-water swimming.

When I was 12, my family and I went to the Bahamas over winter break. On what would have been a wind advisory day in the States was just a breeze on Cable Beach. My mom, step-father and I rented a catamaran, asked if it was safe and were sent on our way.

The first half-mile was a little bumpy and around a mile we started hitting our stride. But then our stride got a little faster, and as our pace kicked up with every bruiser wave we hit, my heart rate jumped twice as fast.

My mom and I were lying at the front of the catamaran platform as my step-father sat up steering from the back. The catamaran kept picking up more and more speed as the wind grabbed our sail and wouldn't let go. That feeling that something just wasn't right washed over me just as the catamaran was flipping over.

Next thing I knew I was under the catamaran and searching for my mom who cannot swim. I had seen my step-father go flying off in another direction, but heard him shouting for my mom and knew he was all right. I was diving under the catamaran and searching all around. I thought for certain she was stuck under somewhere thinking she was going to drown.

Then I heard her say, "Hey, I'm up here."

Let me illustrate the flip for you: I was lying on my back and facing the back of the boat. When the catamaran flipped, the front went down and the back came over me. My legs went over my head as I was thrown into the water.

You would suspect that the same would have happened to my mom, who was lying in the same position right next to me. But she somehow ended standing up on the only part of the catamaran that was out of the water, her hair still dry and sunglasses on her face. Talk about unbelievable! To this day no one can explain how she did it. Her water angel must have been on duty that day.
So, the three of us were stranded five miles out into the Caribbean Sea, past where my step-father had flown parasailing the day before and watched sharks swimming. If the same thing had happen after the media coverage of recent shark attacks, I might have just died of fear and never made it to shore. But these were more innocent, less media-saturated times.

What else could we do then but try to make it back to shore? I don't recall the logic behind the decision, but we left my step-father with the flipped vessel as I swam my mom back five miles to shore. I remember being so paranoid about sharks that I jumped every time I would see my own arm stroking through the water at a different angle.

Damn jellyfish!We must have still be a mile or two out when I tried to switch arms for swimming and carrying my mom. But when I moved the entire left side of my body tingled like a thousand needles were poking me. While my mom let me believe that my arm had fallen asleep, we had actually been attacked by jellyfish from shoulder to toe (she's experienced in jellyfish attacks; she realized what had happened and knew that I would have freaked out!). So, I switched arms back to the original position and continued swimming entirely unaware.

Finally we made it within 100 yards of shore when they sent a rescue boat to help us. We drove out to pick up my step-father and left the catamaran towing up to them.

While we all know the best remedy for jellyfish stings, I stuck to the Windex. I was like Toula's dad in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." And that's the story of how I swam five miles (while carrying someone) in open water.

Sorry for the long story, but at least now you know why I'm afraid of open water and hate jellyfish. Running is on the agenda for tomorrow, followed by some major goal catch-up over the weekend and an extra swimming day (despite the recalled memory of the jellyfish).