Triathlon Sisters

July 2, 2007

that’s some cold water

Filed under: swimming — by hawk @ 5:07 am

Feeling very empowered by my open water swim clinic, I was anxious to get back to the lake. I even canceled my gym membership (which I had gotten only for the purpose of having a pool to learn to swim 1/2 mile in … which I can now do regularly) because I figured that it was lake swimming for me from now on. So on Saturday morning I rode with my friends Cbabe and Pepper from up here on the north side of Chicago down to Ohio Street beach which is at the foot of Navy Pier. It’s where the clinic was and where all the lap swimmers swim.

It was a tough bike ride. Some runners with earphones securely sealing their hearing decided to cross the path without looking. The second one just kind of stopped midway to adjust her mp3 player. This all happened just as Cbabe was just about to pass them. There was oncoming trail traffic as well and no place for Cbabe to go but down. I was right on her back wheel and didn’t even have time to clip out of my pedal (you have to practically sprain your ankle to get out of these pedals anyway — no amount of adjustment has helped). I crashed into Cbabe and went down. Fortunately Pepper was able to avoid us. The runners genuinely felt bad and even stayed around to help Cbabe and I up and hold our bikes while Cbabe yelled. It wasn’t a terrible crash, but enough to kind of unnerve you. A quick look at the bikes told me that they were okay, but the bodies were a different thing. Lots of road rash for Cbabe, poor girl. No road rash for me, but when I fell, my leg was under the bike and cushioned the rest of my body as it hit the ground. So I ended up with a pretty bruised downtube impression on my inner knee down to my shin. Who knew that the inner knee was such a sensitive place! Seriously I’m fine but it was just an uncool trail experience.

Ohio Street beach was just a couple more miles away and we rode on. Cbabe was feeling a bit queasy … post-shock response. She and I were planning on throwing ourselves in the lake and swimming a bit, but she opted (understandably) to sit out and get composed. So it was just me. I was very hesitant because as I looked down at the beach, all the swimmers wore their fancy wetsuits. And I was on my way down with my bike shorts and tank top. “I’m going to freeze my booty off” and “Everyone’s going to laugh” were my two thoughts. Pepper was gracious enough to walk down with me and stand in the water.

I put my flourescent yellow zoot cap on so that if I floated out to sea someone would be able to spot my yellow head and drag me to shore. I walked in the freaking cold water. It took a few moments for the feet to go numb (a pleasant, warming numb) and then I waded out further. In about thigh-deep water, I met a shivering woman who had a swim suit, cap and goggles on. Death-defying acts like trying to swim in cold water for your first time tends to make strangers bond quickly. We chatted for a few minutes.

“This your first time?”

    “Yeah, I’m doing my first tri in a couple weeks and thought I’d better try swimming in open water.”

“Me, too. Where’s your tri?”

    “New York. What about you?”


    “Well, so I guess we should give this a try.”

“We did make it out this far.”

    “Why don’t you go first and I’ll see if you survive the cold water.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been out here for a while already?!”

    “Come on, go ahead, I’ll be right behind you.”

With great reservation and coldness of body, I pushed off the sandy lake bottom and launched myself into the icy waters. Holy crap it’s cold! I barely had time to throw a few strokes when my body went into panic mode. “Red alert! Red alert! Can’t maintain systems. Must shut down. Initiate panic response.” I started hyperventilating and immediately stopped and stood up. I turned around and faced my fellow swimmer who, not surprisingly, was not right behind me. By the time I walked back to her, I remembered what the clinic instructers had said about starting in cold water and how the body reacts in this way. For a moment I had thought that I was freaking out (I was close to it, after all) because it was a bit intimidating to be out there. I chatted more with the swimmer and found that she too had been at the clinic. Another swimmer had by that time walked out to us and expressed her reservations as well. We encouraged one another while we each tried to psych ourselves up. I shoved off again, more carefully this time, and took a few strokes then stopped, took a few strokes then stopped. My body was used to the water and now it was up to me to swim. My goal was to make it to the first buoy which was not far away, but far enough for one’s first time. It took me a while to relax into the stroke that I had spent months refining. I had a very difficult time with sighting and my goggles only allowed straight vision, nothing peripheral. But I was out there and I was swimming. It was fantastic! I tired easily so at one point I flipped over for my backstroke. It was glorious to see the blue sky, feel the water around me, and see the Chicago skyline. I flipped back over but was totally disoriented — no pool wall or lines to get my bearings! Took on some water, coughed it up, and kept on swimming.

It seemed like I was out there for hours, but I think only about 20 minutes passed which included bonding with other swimmers. It wasn’t a “real” swim, but the experience gave me lots of good information about the lake, my body’s response, and what I have to work on. I am still nervous about doing the 1/2 mile there, but will try again soon.

Oh yeah, and the woman I met … she was still standing in the water when I headed back to the beach. She said she wanted to make sure I survived before she tried. I told her she’d warm up and do fine. She decided to stand there a bit longer. Once on the beach, I could still see her standing out there. God bless her, she was trying her best and was going to do it — on her own time. After I had put my shoes on and a dry top and was ready to bike on, I looked out and didn’t see her. Finally I spotted her … swimming.



  1. I found you through the Tri for the Cure forum. I have done that race twice. The water isn’t very cold at the beginning of August. You will be fine! Believe me, Cherry Creek Reservoir will never be as cold as Lake Michigan!

    Comment by Mary Christine — July 2, 2007 @ 11:17 am |Reply

  2. Hi Mary Christine! Thanks for your comment. I spent some time on your blog. I saw the awesome picture of you with your daughters. How cool! This is our very first triathlon and we have been regularly training since about January. We are doing this tri both for our own personal reasons and to celebrate my 5 years since being diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m glad to see you’ll be doing it again next month. We are still a bit worried about the open swim, but we’ll make it! Hawk

    Comment by hawk — July 2, 2007 @ 11:52 am |Reply

  3. At the risk of repeating my spoken word, you two are an awesome duo to behold.
    I am so proud of what you are doing, why you are doing it and your attitude towards accomplishing this not-so-trivial-task.
    Once again, it is an honor to be related to you!

    Comment by Auntie E. — July 9, 2007 @ 2:27 pm |Reply

  4. […] fear makes friends of strangers. I wrote about this in my last post. I went swimming for the first time by myself in Lake Michigan. After taking leave of my friend […]

    Pingback by Everything I Needed to Know About Life I Learned from my Triathlon Mishaps « Triathlon Sisters — July 10, 2007 @ 1:33 pm |Reply

  5. Well done on your swim! I’ve been in the same position as your fellow swimmer (/stander) before, and I’m really impressed at your n-nonsense, get right on in there approach.

    Comment by Karl McCracken — July 13, 2007 @ 3:43 am |Reply

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