Tuesday, December 2. 2008
Polar Bear Swim? No big deal! It’s not like we need to chop a hole in the ice, come on, we live in sub-tropical Texas; how bad could it be? Besides, there was an option. For the faint of heart the “Plunge” was a mere 200 meters. And the “Double Crossing” is less than a mile; just around the big orange buoy and back. Not nearly as bad as that 5K when you had to take it on faith that there was a buoy and just follow the other swimmers and aim for the water tower on the horizon. In this swim there was the buoy, big as life, and not too far away. No big deal. Besides, I’ve done, there was New Year’s Day in ’76 when the set was 76 x 100s.
But back to the Polar Bear Swim. On this race day, the temperature was an uncharacteristic 46 degrees and there was a blustery wind. No problem; it would give me a chance to pull out my old college sweats; you know the old fleece kind that they retired in the 70s. And besides, the water couldn’t be that cold. But then, as I stood on the dock in my Speedo (I know, nobody wears Speedos anymore, but I am an old guy!), waiting to jump in the water, I heard our Iron Man coach, Keith Bell, mumble, “I’m not so sure about this.” If old Iron Man Keith is unsure, I know that I am not! Turns out that, with the lake being very low that year, the water had cooled considerably, down to 53 degrees. Whoa!
But, in we went. I gotta admit that in all my 5 decades of swimming I do not ever remember being panicky in the water but this time I was - it literally took my breath away. This was the point at which several of our compadres opted for the “Plunge”. And this became my first open water race in which I didn’t even mind those swimmers who felt the need to cheat on the starting line – if someone would just blow the damn horn so we could start.
Then we were off and it didn’t take long to feel at least somewhat comfortable. And there began that lovely burn in my arms and legs as I stroked the water. Ok, I was around the buoy, and although I don’t do this to “win” anymore, (sure I don’t!) there were two swimmers within striking distance I just be able to catch. (I couldn’t catch them which led me to remember that I sometimes change my goals several times in a race like this.) It didn’t help at all when I discovered that the two in front of me, whom-I-did-not-catch, were women about half my age. Oh well, no need to be sexist, they were faster than I – AND they were half my age.
Finally, there was the triumph of having once again challenged my body and myself and succeeded. As I walked to the bank the water didn’t feel all that cold and they air, well, it was still that cold, but everyone was smiling and, I think we all knew that we had “won”!
Now in the old days it might have been beers on the beach to celebrate, but this day, and at this age, we were very content with, and grateful, for hot chocolate. And we did what swimmers do with a race just completed; we talked a little, lied a little and bragged a bit too.
Not a bad way to begin the New Year!
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