Well, Sunday I had a chance to face a fear of mine - the deep blue. It's not so much swimming in water so deep and dark you can't see the bottom, but rather what might be lurking just out of sight. Where shadows grow teeth and bubbles turn to jellies. Where sea monsters live just out the corner of your eye and where your imagination comes alive (if only I could write my blog then ...) and you kick yourself for watching "Jaws" the night before.
Giovanni, Rob and I went to Keauhou Bay to practice for the Alii Challenge taking place Sunday. Mostly to get to know the water around the first mile or so of the race. and to practice switching off in the kayak.
The Alii Challenge is a 6-mile ocean swim from Keauhou Bay to Kailua Pier. You can swim it solo or with a partner who paddles a kayak and the two of you trade off at whatever intervals you decide. Rob and I are teaming up and will probably swim 20 minute legs. With each leg the partners will switch places, giving the swimmer a chance to recuperate and hydrate. During the race, Giovanni and Karen will help with water patrol in a separate kayak. Hopefully there will be 20 or 30 teams plus water safety at the race.
I should also mention that the start of the race is shallow, a little murky and just so happens to be where Karen and I spotted a 6-foot tiger shark in about waist-deep water a few months ago. But once you get out of the bay the water turns an incredible dark blue with unreal coral formations on the bottom.
Then, about a mile away from the bay the coral stops and the sand begins and falls away. And almost suddenly it's an abyss with dark shapes that can't quite be identified far below you. Are they moving? The first dark shape I saw made my heart pound through my chest. I pulled up so fast that Giovanni, paddling the kayak, looked over at me to make sure I was alright.
"OK, face your fear, Randy," I told myself trying to get my heart out of my throat. I started swimming again. There's that shape. blackish and blurry way down there. Is it moving? No reference to judge it by. I can tell that it has a roundish shape to it. A ray? Maybe. I swim a few more strokes. There! it moved, didn't it?
I pull up again. Now I know rays aren't dangerous but anything swimming that is bigger than say, a small car, kinda worries me when I'm in the middle of the ocean. You have to remember I just learned to swim a little more than a year ago and I'm not all that comfortable in the water yet.
After I stopped, Rob swam over and I told him and Giovanni that I thought there was a ray below us. Rob took a look and matter-of-factly said, "It's a rock."
OK, OK. I'm embarrassed a little, but it was a round rock. It could have been a manta ray. Off we go again. My heart still in my throat. I'm tempted to swim with my eyes closed. You know, kind of like when you are on a roller coaster and you crest the big hill and start the long, fast drop. You just naturally want to close your eyes, right? Well I do, and that's how I felt at that moment. My imagination was working overtime and getting to me.
But all that Masters swim training kicked in and I stopped concentrating on what I couldn't control - all those unseen monsters - and started concentrating on what I could control - my swim stroke. So I picked up my pace and focused on my form. Am I rotating evenly on both sides? Am I keeping my elbows high on the pull? Am I following through all the way?
Before I knew it I had forgotten all about what was beneath me and was pulling ahead of Giovanni in the kayak and Rob swimming and I was out by myself, calm and enjoying the rhythm of the ocean.
And almost as suddenly as the abyss began, it ended and coral appeared below me again and we stopped there to rest, talk, play in the water and take photos. I had faced my fear of deep water and things unseen, and lived to tell about it. At least for that day.
They say the course gets even deeper and darker for a few miles, so next Sunday I'll probably be facing some demons again. My motto since I first decided to do triathlons has been "Do What Scares You!" Swimming scares me. Going 40 miles an hour downhill on a bike in a crosswind scares me. Swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then running 26.2 miles scares me, but hey, I'm doing it.