“I thought we should jump into a new adventure.”

As January comes to a wintry close, hopefully you’ve taken some time to think about what kind of adventures you’ll be having when it’s warm and sunny later this year. Preparing for a goal, especially big goals that may be a bit out of your comfort zone, can be tremendous motivators. This week’s success story comes from UM’s Gay Allison, who set out last year to do exactly that type of big, out-of-your-comfort zone type of event. Key success takeaways to this story are:

  1. Find a partner.
  2. Train!
  3. Just keep swimming!

I began swimming with the Master’s swim group 2 years ago. I trained, improved, found a swim partner, trained more, got really confident, really in the ‘zone’. So I signed up to do the Long-Bridge Swim in Sandpoint, Idaho last August with my swimming partner. I thought we should jump into a new adventure.

This is a 1.75 mile, open-water swim with hundreds and hundreds of people of all ages swimming across Lake Pend Oreille. We’d both trained hard for the event. Even though I’d never swum in open water but for a ‘dip in the lake’, but I was determined that I could do it.

Off we went, agreeing to stick together, no matter what.

On the day of the swim, we followed our coach onto one of the school buses ferrying the multitudes across the bridge. Like goslings she herded us down to the water, and in we went. There we waited for the gun to go off watching the crowd for friends and family, as well as swimmers looking to make records threading through the entrants to the front of the pack. Volunteers in kayaks were positioned all along the route ready to give aid, water, and a resting place as required.

Suddenly, we were off! Our coach shouting to us to put our heads in the water and swim!!  We were amongst dozens of others in the first wave of swimmers, swimming parallel to the Long Bridge itself. We dug in, shocked by the coldness of the water. It was a cloudy day making underwater visibility impossible, but we forged ahead looking up occasionally so as to not collide with others and keeping each other in sight. We could also look up to see our support team (our husbands) walking along the bridge, yelling and waving encouragement.

At the 3/4-mile marker, we swam through a wave strongly laced with gasoline from the surrounding jet skis and sheriff’s boat, out on the water to assist anyone in trouble and to keep the swimmers from drifting too far outside the swim area. Sputtering up for air, my swimming concentration broken, I struggled to breathe while trying to get through the polluted water. Refocusing, I continued on. That’s when the wind picked up and the calm, fairly flat wave action on the lake began building. All of the swimmers were being jostled about while struggling to move forward in these higher waves. Then a second wave of gasoline hit me. Now, not only were the waves rocking to and fro, so was my stomach.

At the 1-mile marker, a train on the tracks situated another half mile out on the lake came across on its regular route.  Our coach had warned us to expect these trains.  As she explained, they set off deep underwater waves rolling across the lake ending on the opposite shore and undulating all in its path. Someone ashore wouldn’t even notice unless you watched boats on the water rocking a bit. However, to a swimmer, these hit from below the surface, silent and unseen, rolling you from side to side.

With the combination of gas, higher surface waves, and the new underwater waves, I was hit with sea sickness unlike I’d ever experienced.  Every time I tried to reengage swimming I grew dizzy and disoriented.  My swim partner was aware of my issues and stuck with me while we tried to continue forward once again.

We had three-fourths of a mile to complete. At any time, I could have called out or swum over to one of the kayaks to help me get back to shore. But I knew I could finish. I’d trained for this. I had to finish. With my partner’s help, she stuck with me, both of us switching from freestyle to an easy breast stroke. It was the only way I could keep from becoming more dizzy or sick.

As I fought my way slowly forward once again, I had to avoid the continual wave chop slapping my face, forcing me to turn my head to the side on every stroke to avoid choking.  Keeping my eyes on the large pine trees that indicated the finish line, I ‘just kept swimming’!

For this last three-fourths of a mile, I have little memory of what transpired.  I just focused on my swim partner’s voice and continued to swim.

The finish line (area) was covered with mats to aid the swimmers in walking out of the water at the end.  We made it.  We stood up, held hands and walked to shore.  Our times were recorded, and I collapsed on a milk crate just beyond the finish line letting those near at hand that I was terribly ill.  EMTs, my husband, swim coach, and my partner helped to a waiting golf cart and medical aid.

I had finished.  With the help of a great swim partner, good coaching and strong determination, I believe in spite of the lake’s challenges, I finished well!  Out of 722 participants I came in 538 – so not last!!

Last week I signed up for the 2017 Long-Bridge Swim.


Hope you enjoyed the story! Thanks for sharing Gay!

What will your next big adventure be?

One thought on “Just keep swimming: A success story.

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