“Big girls don’t cry” is the title of four songs, two albums, a TV show, a film and an episode of The Sopranos. It’s also a lie. I’m a big girl and I cry. I bawled duringWall-E, I shed a tear at the end of relationships, and I threw a temper tantrum after being pulled from the water of Lake Willoughby in August.
In 1966 Robert Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” After this summer, I finally understand what he means.
Everyone gets nervous in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to an event. Nerves are good. They unite us swimmers, help us focus and give us a rush of endorphins. I am so used to feeling ‘normal’ nerves before a swim that I didn’t know what was happening when I woke up in September with my stomach so unsettled that I could hardly force down breakfast.
As the 6km sea swim in Cala Montgó, Spain, started on 21 September, I stared into the watery depth, terrified of seeing jellyfish and feeling the sea swell churn my almost empty stomach. But I swam on. I waited for myself to settle. Waited for my body and mind to remember that I love swimming.
But I didn’t settle. Instead I realised how tired I was. Tired from fighting the swell during a 3km swim the previous evening. And tired from a season of pushing myself more than ever before.
I also realised how unprepared I was for the challenge. I spent all summer training in a lake and then told myself that the sea is just a large, salty lake. In reality it is much more than that. The sea is bigger and stronger with different challenges.
Every pull made me nauseous. With every kick I wished I was back in bed. I swam for 1.5 kilometres before giving in to exhaustion and exiting the water.
It was the second time this year that I left a race early. I am proud to say that I handled it better the second time. When I forfeited an 8km swim in Lake Willoughby, Vermont, in August, I cried about my failure. Leaving the Spanish waters, however, I did not consider it a defeat. A summer of pushing myself mentally and physically had allowed me to accomplish more than I thought possible. In order to do that, I need to test my limits. I finally realised that means failing sometimes.
I still don’t want to fail. No one ever does. But I recognize that the same drive that caused me to jump into the Mediterranean Sea in September also allowed me to exceed my goal of two 10km lake swims this season.
So I will push on. I accept that means that I will cry sometimes. But only when I have a very good reason.