I stuck in the kiddy pool for a few years longer than I should have. Maybe it was because I liked the warmth of it. Or maybe it’s because any time I inched near the adult pool, my older brothers would try to terrorize me. At summer camp there were Red Cross cards with swim levels and I never got past Level 1: Water Exploration. To make matters worse, I struggled to dunk my head without holding my nose. Year after year, peers would try to help me overcome this challenge to no avail. Hence, the ocean was always a big fear of mine and life jackets were my best friend.
In May 2015, I was on a first date, and we were bonding over our love of being active. The next thing I knew, I was being persuaded into attempting a triathlon. Feeling motivated and ready to overcome my fear, I looked up local sprint triathlons and signed up for one in Staten Island later that summer. It was a 400m swim (the equivalent of once around a track), a 12mi bike ride, and a 3mi swim. The bike and run would be a cinch, and the swim… I’d survive it, right?
I began to research local pools and swim lessons and discovered that just 2 miles away from me was the NY Parks & Recreation outdoor Red Hook pool, free to use! Even better, they offered free swim lessons for adults on a lottery basis. With a little bit of luck, I got in!
It’s quite a sight seeing adults so afraid of water. One lady was fearful of moving away from the wall, thinking it would get exponentially deeper. A man lost his groove with the kickboard and starting kicking and flailing for dear life. I on the other hand used my competitive spirit to my advantage. On the first day of class, at age 29, I successfully put my head under water without holding my nose. Over the course of the next two weeks I learned swimming basics, and while I by no means could legitimately swim, I certainly felt more assured in the water.
Early in the morning of Sunday, August 9th, my roommate Chiu and I made our way to the Staten Island Ferry, where we were greeted by others with bikes in tow. Tris always start in the water since swimming is the most dangerous part, and you can’t be tired for it. My biggest fear was getting kicked. I started in the first wave and kept to the inside, away from others. My form can only be described as a glorified doggy paddle, my head above water, my arms working way too hard. Slow and not quite steady, I made my way. At one point a lifeguard in a kayak asked if I was okay. “I’m fine,” I shouted, that was just how I looked while swimming. I was one of the first in the water and one of the last to leave.
With the hardest part done, I ran barefoot up the beach to the parking lot with the transition area. I quickly got on my hybrid and made my way to the 4mi loop that I was to do 3 times. Biking, which I expected to be easy, turned out to be the hardest part. Riders kept whizzing by me in their aerodynamic tri bikes while I trucked along in my upright lug of a bike, slowly making my way through the turns.
Finally done with the bike portion, I made my way back to the transition area, ready to prove myself during the run. I passed everyone!-and not a single person passed me! I ended up finishing the 3mi run just a smidge over 7 minute mile pace, with a total time of 1:25:08.
I had prevailed!
Chiu and I decided to bike back to the ferry after the race and of course I blew my tire riding over a screw. I still carry the screw today in my wallet. Maybe it’s because I subconsciously have a desire to get tetanus, maybe it’s because I like keeping a reminder with me that I can overcome my fears.
In 2016, I did an encore, finishing with an improved time of 1:19:45, placed 2nd place in my age group, and beat the boys I had come with.
Now in 2017, I’m gearing up for round 3. I’m once again taking free swim lessons hoping to improve even more, but wary of my slower running times. Whatever the case, I’m ready to go!