As we checked in to the hotel, I could hear the thundering waves crashing against the sand, and my heart started to thump. My greatest fear would be confirmed as I kicked off my flip-flops and made my way to the beach. Waves. Big ones.
I was in Ixtapa, Mexico to race a triathlon. And I would have to complete a 1500m swim in just two days.
Ten years ago I was introduced to panic. It was during an open water swim, and my whole body froze; paralyzed with fear. As I screamed for help, no one could hear me. Since then, it’s been a dormant terror that is brought on by one thing: water, especially open water
As I walked down the beach with two friends, I tried to talk my way through it. “They can NOT have the race with these waves. No way. They’ll have to cancel it.” Part of me was wishing for the swim portion to be cancelled, and part was willing the rolling rumble to just ease up.
On Friday there was a practice swim. Normally this eases my nerves as I see that it’s not as bad as I made it out to be. But not on Friday. The swim out was ok. I dove under the oncoming waves until I was well past the break. But on the way back, I sighted a hotel that was not a direct line back. Stroke by stroke I could feel the sensation welling up in my chest. It’s farther than I thought. Breathe. Am I moving closer? Feel the water on your face, breathe. Deeply. You are moving closer! Where is Sarah?
And soon I approached the break. As one wave gently guided me forward, another approached with more of a thrust. Finally, I felt my feet above my head and I was flipping over. I was inside a washing machine. The tide was pulling me out, and the waves were pushing me in. And up was no longer above my head. But the ocean spit me out. And it bellowed, “Breathe. I’m not finished yet.” So I gasped. And along came wave Number One's identical twin. And there I was again. Breathless and thrashing. Fighting the ocean. Fighting the ocean? Yes.
I felt the sandy bottom and raced out as fast as I could, tears filling up my goggles. My friend asked, “Are you ok?”
“No.” I admitted. “I am not ok.”
Later in the night, I received a poem my inbox. It was a poem entitled ‘She Let Go’ (author is unclear, Reverend Safire Rose or Ernest Holmes)
One part of the poem reads:
There was no effort.
There was no struggle.
It wasn't good and it wasn't bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
I hardly slept a wink. Hour by hour, I could hear my friend roaring in the distance. But inevitably, Saturday would come, and the day would go on.
The swim wasn’t cancelled. And the waves were just as big as they were the day before.
I would need to let go of the struggle. Be cautious of oncoming waves, but let go of the fight.
Let go of the fight.
As the start horn sounded we ran into the ocean. One by one we dove under the charging waves, and we rounded the first buoy. Then the second, then the third. And then, after what seems like a lot longer than it ever is, we were on our way in.
Let go Diane. Be a rag doll. Let go. Do not fight. Let go. You WILL be ok.
And I did. I watched my back to catch the oncoming waves and I caught two of them. But when one caught me by surprise, I let go. I let go of the struggle. And I surrendered. My body tossed and churned as if I was an over-sized Raggedy Anne. And I let it.
The ocean is most definitely a lesson in life; the depth, the surface, the push and pull; the mystery, the challenge and the power.
But an important lesson that Baron reminds us of time and time again, is the power of letting go.