I eased myself from the boulders into the cool lake water, still clinging to rocks beneath the rippling surface. My plan was to swim across the channel.
“Wait to see if I make it across”, I told her. I didn’t want her attempting the swim if there was a current I didn’t see, or if the distance was longer than it looked.
I pushed off from the underwater rock and began a breast stroke for the other side.
I’m no Michael Phelps. While I can hold my own in the water for the average person, I’m also 182 pounds hovering around 10 percent body fat- long and lean. I’m like an Oreo cooking you’ve held in the milk too long. Drop me and I’ll sink.
I started out strong, but I had a ways to go.
My arms and pecs began to tire first, and then my legs grew heavy. I was breathing hard.
I paused to tread water and survey my progress. “Half-way”, I observed, as I continued to wave my hands below the surface, working to stay afloat. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was afraid, but I was concerned. I was tired.
I returned to the breast stroke, striving more deliberately with my strokes. But my chest muscles soon had nothing left, so I flipped to my back. Slower progress, but it offered some rest.
As my breathing grew exponentially heavier, the lack of progress was beginning to worry me, so I flipped back to belly-side-down, striving hard for the rocks on the other side. It was seconds, and I was drained again. The rocks were still 30 yards away.
I felt a panic begin to rise up in me, a buzzing like static on the radio, or the crackling of a Taser, that shot from the center of my chest to the core of my brain.
“Panic is what kills people”, I heard my own voice say, pushing the panic back down. I learned to somewhat control panic while fighting through the claustrophobia of an MRI a year ago. That lesson came to play now.
In circuit training I often find myself in situations of physical exhaustion. Of course, drowning isn’t on the line, but even a fear of looking bad in front of training partners is enough to instil the lesson that you can always last longer than you think you can.
I applied that lesson here, as I focused on simply completing each stroke. My muscles burned as lactic acid built up in my blood supply. My lungs were on fire. My head was barely breaking the surface as I kicked and pulled the water.
But each stroke came deliberately. Methodically. Automatically.
And soon my right hand struck hard rock.
I didn’t have the energy to pull myself up, so I collapsed, part floating, part clinging to the rock.
But I’d made it.
It was a challenge of my own making. Foolish, perhaps.
But don’t most of our challenges in life come from the choices we make? Aren’t most of our problems self-inflicted, one way or another?
If there’s a lesson here, it’s don’t try to swim distances in open water without a spotter.
But if there’s a metaphorical lesson, it’s this.
You can always last longer than you think you can.
Don’t. Give. Up.