South Bound Part 2: An Epic Flail

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” –Winston Churchill

     Definition of FLAIL Courtesy of

     1 a: to strike with or as if with a flail <arms flailing the water>

     b: to move, swing, or beat as if wielding a flail <flailing a club  to drive away the insects>

     2: to thresh (grain) with a flail

     3: to move, swing, or beat like a flail

My first open-water swim was, let’s just say, a little less successful than I had imagined, even after being so inspired to get in the water after spending the morning at a triathlon. The rain was beating hard enough on the water that visibility was probably less than 3 feet. I texted my coach and asked him if it was safe to swim in the rain and part of me really wanted him to say, “Stay away from the water! It’s dangerous!” Instead he said that as long as it wasn’t lightning and I could sight ok it would be fine.  I waited it out until the rain slowed down enough for it to not be a hazard and walked down to the end of the dock and got myself ready. I stared the water down like it was a creepy stranger offering me candy in a dark alley, but I decided that the best thing to do was just get over it and get in. The water was COLD and it took a few minutes to adjust. I started out trying to maintain my composure and the technique that I’ve been working on for three months in the pool. For this beginner, it wasn’t the easiest task I’ve ever undertaken.

I could not make myself put my head and face in the water. The clouds and rain gave the water an odd greenish, murky look that made me so uncomfortable I “swam” with my head above water and proceeded to break the world speed record for the 600-meter doggie paddle. I noticed a man and woman sitting under the cover of their boathouse watching me and I’m still surprised that they didn’t call the Coast Guard in for a rescue. (Isn’t it amazing that even through my panic, I was able to see them and wonder if they thought I looked like an idiot? Insecurity can blast through any brick wall.) It did start to thunder while I was out there, but at that point a water spout could have blown up and I wouldn’t have been any more FREAKED out than I was.

I made it back to the dock before the rain picked back up again and headed back inside. I was overwhelmingly disappointed in myself, but my brother-in-law pointed out to me that just getting out there was a solid first step in the process and that with time and practice it would get easier. Instead of focusing on what I thought was a failure, or flailure as I decided to call my first attempt, I decided that it wasn’t at all a big flop, but a first step in the process of learning how to do this thing called the triathlon. Everyone starts somewhere. I wouldn’t buy ingredients for a cake and then expect it to magically appear having not completed any of the steps in the recipe.

Learning to see the positive in the negative things that happen in life takes a lot of practice, but I know that I can restart my day and change my attitude at any given moment as many times as I need to during the course of a 24-hour period. With that in mind I made the decision to stop moping and feeling so damn sorry for myself and be excited that I actually got out there in the rain, jumped in the water, did the best I could and had no run-ins with any sharp-toothed sea life. I have to remember that although I am a strong swimmer, it will be a challenge to transfer the confidence I have in the pool out there to the open water. For any beginners who may find themselves reading this, if I can get out there with all of my irrational fears and hang-ups, so can you. My biggest fear about open water swimming didn’t happen and I’m still alive, didn’t lose any fingers or toes and am motivated to do better next time.

I would love to hear (and learn from) other stories about first-time open water swims if anyone wants to leave a reply. Happy swimming!

Unhappily waiting out the rain.


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