My achilles heel

I get seasick. I can’t read in a car or even on a train. I can’t even navigate in motion. If asked to check a map or a GPS while riding shotgun, I can only scan it once, maybe twice, before waves of nausea sweep over me.

I always knew this could be a problem in open water. I just didn’t realize how much of a problem.

This morning was supposed to be our epic three-hour test swim before the 10 km race in August. It began inauspiciously. I had an alarm clock failure. Fortunately Kim woke up at 7:30 – just enough time to put me into a complete panic. She helped to get me sorted while I flew around the house in a state. I’m easily rattled by things like being late. I hate being late. Fortunately Amanda was having a slowish morning herself and she told me to relax as I was heading out the door fumbling with the phone and my heavily laden swim bag. Today, I carried ‘supplies.’ I had a mesh bag, water, gatorade, gels and empty kitchen catchers and string to MacGyver an extra buoy so we could mark a distance closer to 500 metres than the existing buoy line at the beach.

I arrived at Woodbine just as Amanda did. While we futzed with rigging up our makeshift buoy, and attaching the mesh bag filled with our refreshments to another buoy, I fretted a bit about the conditions. There were breakers and swells. This would be a challenge, we both agreed. But Amanda wasn’t feeling too talkative. We just got on with it. At 8:35 a.m. we stood together beside our new buoy, gave each other a half-hearted cheer, and got underway. We had already established that on this swim, we would act as though we were in the race, which essentially meant no standing, no stopping, no chatting. We could swim up to the mesh bag, grab a few swigs of water and a gel if we wanted, but that was about it.

At first, I was excited. Sure, it was daunting, but I also enjoy muscelling my way through tough conditions. And I did, initially. Amanda struck out for deeper water, but I stayed closer to the buoy line. For the first kilometre, we stuck to our usual pattern. Amanda  is stronger and faster than me, so I typically swim off her right flank, back  a ways, but never out of her sightline. As she turns to the right to breathe, she can spot me easily in my neon cap, just as I can pinpoint her ahead and to my left. It works well, and we both feel secure together out there in the open water. Amanda just got her NLS certification and is the definition of sensible. Kim doesn’t worry when I swim with her, and, I hope, her partner feels the same way about me. But today wasn’t typical.

There was a section I immediatly dubbed The Washing Machine. It was weirdly predictable, running on an angle between two buoys at the west end of the beach. As soon as I hit it, the water became an impenetrable, roiling sludge through my goggles lens, and the waves hit me from seemingly every direction. It was a proper bitch slap section, and for the first few runs, I loved it. This was a tough swim, so it effected our time. I passed Amanda and called it out to her, as I was the one wearing a watch. It was 9:23.

“But we’ve only done two!” she was perplexed. Almost an hour in, and only a little more than two km was under our belts. I shrugged, but clearly this bothered her. She powered on. And as she found her new, faster pace, the first bouts of nausea hit me. I tried to ignore them. But that’s the thing about seasickness. It will not be ignored. I didn’t tell Amanda.

I tried to think of other things, to work through it, to ‘dig deep,’ as athletes and individuals with more guts and glory than I refer to it. I guess I’m just not that strong. Eventually I even stopped playing my inspirational/comforting soundtrack in my head. (Lately, it’s been Christina Aguilara and Chris Mann’s rendition of The Prayer). Not even Christina could help me out there. I felt wretched. I had slowed down considerably. Amanda passed me and checked in. “What’s up?” she wanted to know, as I had slowed down so much. I told her. She looked worried, then told me to swim in to shore if I felt like I was going to puke. I told her I would and she continued on. So did I, but several times I stopped swimming altogether and just bobbed around, trying to quell the heaving in my gut and shake off the shivery eruption of goose bumps that pimpled my arms and made me shudder. “Fuck Fuck Fuck!” I yelled out loud in frustration at one point to no one in particular, thinking I really ought to call this thing off. But I’m stubborn. And, apparently, I’m stupid when I’m feeling stubborn. I put my head down and swam on, for what seemed a long time, slightly off course into deeper water well beyond the buoys. Without realizing it, I had swum smack into the cauldron of The Washing Machine.

While there, being tossed around by those suddenly seemingly garagantuan waves, I couldn’t get my bearings at all. I couldn’t see my markers. I couldn’t see Amanda. And while I knew I wouldn’t drown, because I just refuse to give up that much and even if I did start to puke, I was certain I could do so without inhaling water, I admit it; I was scared. Because it was then that I finally understood, in a real, physical way,  something I had never before truly comprehended; how good swimmers can drown not that far from shore.

Amanda found me shortly after that. She suddenly appeared out of the surf, looking like a very serious mermaid. “Hi,” I said. “It’s 10:19.”

“I don’t care,” she said. “I’m calling it.” That she couldn’t see me freaked her out. She was right. And I should have listened to my gut and called it myself. On the beach, still reeling from nausea, Amanda did most of the talking. She chalked this one up to a learning experience. And before we take on any epic swims together than involve sea swells and breakers, I have to get the seasickness in hand. Gravol and Red Bull, perhaps? Amanda suggested a mariner’s magnetized bracelet. There’s a drowsy-free Gravol type drug available in the States too, I’ve heard. But this much is certain; we won’t swim out of each other’s sight ever again.

I’m sure no one cares except for me and Amanda, but we swam 4 km today. All things considered, that’s not bad.




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