My heart pounded, my mind froze and my primal instinct took over.
It had been the moment I had been training for and I had taken the first stroke, my first step towards a new sport and my very first swim in open water.
I trained a lot for the Great Newham London Swim. My Friday evenings were spent toiling away in the Olympic Pool in Stratford. My goal did not change – 30 lengths. And every time I left that pool, I was in a full sweat, yet a grin was pasted on my face. I had taken one step closer to my goal. If I could do 1500m comfortably, nothing could stop me when the day came around.
It was quite a rollercoaster ride preparing for the event. Having no experience swimming in open water, I spent hours looking for a wetsuit; I watched video after video about perfecting technique, and overcoming the mental battle in the water. But in training, as soon as my body hit the water, my mind was calm; my only thought was of my target, of making it.
Weeks went by.
Race day arrived, a scorcher of a day in the middle of July. The sun beat down, and the music beat louder. The atmosphere at the Royal Victoria Dock was great, full of so many smiling faces; you wouldn’t think that it was 9am on a Saturday morning. I hurried to the changing room and slipped into my wetsuit, stretching my swim cap over my topknot.
My family didn’t hesitate to take pictures when I came out. They knew how much effort I had put into preparation for this event, now I just needed to hop into the river and put on a good show. In a few short months I was to go from a casual novice swimmer to a bona-fide and hardcore open water swimmer.
Time flew by that day. The event started sooner than I had realised. A quick dip, a warm up, and all my hours of pool swimming were all the preparation I had for that day. I took a long deep breath, a gulp, and I looked out to the river.
And then the race started.
The first thing I could sense was the bitter, salty taste of the water. I couldn’t see anything, the water was a deepgreen colour. It was disorienting at first – no indoor pool is like this.
I trudged on, my first stroke leading onto becoming my second, third until it became my tenth, then fiftieth. By then I had lost count. I just wanted to keep moving, following the marker buoys. I kept going, one arm slicing the water after the other, and my legs flailing in an attempt to make some movement, to catch up with the other red caps rocketing away in front of me.
I was swimming all over the place, knocking into buoys, people, as well as drifting off course. It was only a change of stroke, into a crawling breaststroke, that allowed me to look up and get my bearings. But, by God, I kept going!Stopping was the last thing on my mind and the last thing I wanted to do. I took a breath out of the water and sawthat there was only one more buoy ahead.
I ploughed on, back into the bitter green, and found some sort of overdrive. I had found something deep down that kept pushing me on through the last few metres. I found a lost goldmine of energy, something that instinct had conserved and reserved for my one last hurrah. I pushed and forged ahead. I was focussed on getting over the finishing line. With each stroke I knew I was getting closer to my goal.
My hands hit the ramp. ‘The ordeal is over’, I thought. As I found my feet and stumbled out of the water like a baby learning how to walk, I let out a sigh of relief. Everything had paid off. My family were cheering me on, other people were celebrating with me, and I had done something I had never done before or even imagined in my dreams. I had just completed my first open water swim.
It was a fantastic experience and the Great Swim team did an amazing job of organising such a complex event; they made it possible for people like me to take part. I look forward to next year.