Monday, August 2, 2010

A Happy Ending

Curt and I in the transition area
A little over a year ago, I took swimming lessons for the first time since I was a little girl. Five minutes into my first lesson I realized why I always dog paddled from point A to point B. I have an intense fear of being under the water, particularly in water that’s over my head. The more time I spent in the pool, the more I realized the depth and breadth of that fear and it’s incapacitating hold on me.

I knew I would never conquer my fear of being under the water without a goal, so I set an Olympic-sized one - to finish an Olympic-distance triathlon. It meant swimming a mile in open water. Later that week, I watched my husband compete in an Olympic tri and I saw one mile marked out in a lake. It was daunting and just watching him swim made me nervous.

I kept plugging away in the pool. Twice a week trying to figure out this thing called swimming, forcing myself to look fear in the face and learn to deal with panic. Through it all, I felt God’s comforting presence and each time I would feel fear begin to grip my mind, I would quote 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” And for good measure I’d tell myself, “Just keep swimming.”

Fast forward to this weekend. Curt and I both registered to compete in the Mid-Summer Triathlon at Blue Lake Regional Park. It has been on our radar screen since I watched (with sweaty palms) Curt swim it last year. Three weeks ago when I fell and hurt my wrist we weren’t certain the race would materialize for us. With my wrist in a splint and a possible hairline fracture, my hopes were hanging in the balance of what the x-ray revealed. Fortunately I came away with the diagnosis of a bad sprain and the race was back on. Earlier this week I timed myself swimming a mile in the pool and it took me fifty minutes, a time that pretty much guaranteed me a spot as the final swimmer out of the lake.

On Saturday night, Curt started making piles on our bedroom floor. A seasoned triathlete, he more than took care of all the details for both of us, and his knowledge and leadership brought such comfort to me. I watched and listened as he explained what gear we needed for race day and what we left at home. He packed everything into two bags for each us, tinkered with our bikes, and got everything ready for our 5:40 a.m. departure time the next day.

on the water front - pretty sure I was going to puke
Sunday morning we roused the kids from their bed and delivered their sleepy bedheads to my Mom and Terry’s house by 6:15. As we left their house, I felt the nerves settle in. To kill time and distract us both, I pulled my Bible from my purse and spent the commute reading God’s Word out loud. We both felt our spirits settle and enjoyed the quiet ride to the lake.

Mr. Professional knew just where to drive, where to park, how to get into the transition area, where to go for body markings, and how to set up our stuff in our designated transition row. The transition area was crammed with muscley, beautiful athletes who all looked like they knew exactly what they were doing.  I felt like such a fraud. The lakefront was a sea of wetsuits, colorful swim caps, and spectators. As soon as I saw the pre-race organized chaos, I thought I might puke.

Curt and I decided earlier in the week that our multi-purpose intent for this race was to finish, have fun, and stay together from start to finish. Curt marked the back of my swim cap with a symbol he could see from behind me and promised to swim the entire mile directly behind me and to my left. Knowing he’d be with me in the water helped me feel more peace to do the swim.

Can you see the panic in my face?
The woman in charge of the swim announced through the bullhorn that our wave needed to advance to the start corral. It was in that moment I realized I was really doing this. I was walking into a dirty, murky lake that was over my head and I was committing to swim one mile in this lake. The first (of many) buoys was so far down the lake I could barely see it. The shrill blare of the starting horn rang across the lake and I couldn’t move. I heard myself asking Curt, “Where are we swimming to again?” and heard him say, “Come on baby. The race started. We have to swim.”

I took about ten strokes in the murky water and a paralyzing fear came over me. I yanked my head out of the water and wave after wave of sheer terror washed over me. All I could think about was getting out of the water. I couldn’t quote Scripture. I couldn’t pray. I didn’t even have the sense to look around for a life boat. In that moment, I considered the unthinkable – quitting before I even started. I looked at Curt and said, “I’m not doing good. I’m completely freaking out.” His kind response was, “It’s okay. You can do it. We’re in no hurry. Just take your time.”

Coming out of the water alive!
There was just enough logic in his answer that it broke through to my frozen brain. I stuck my face back in the water and swam a little farther. Came up for air, told myself I could do this, and stuck my face back in the water again. As I swam, I ran down my list of options: swim to a rescue boat and quit, drown, or finish what I started. I opted to finish what I started and slowly but surely over the next ten minutes, the panic faded away. By the time I reached that first buoy way in the distance the fear was gone. Praise the Lord!

I came down the back stretch of the lake feeling awesome and actually enjoying the challenge of finding a buoy, swimming to it and throwing myself a mental party for my great achievement. When I rounded the final buoy and saw the Red Bull Finish arch as my final destination, the reality of what I was doing began to sink in. I was actually swimming a mile, in open water, in an Olympic triathlon. And I wasn’t drowning. I was swimming! 

running to our family
I fought back tears as I swam toward the finish where my Mom and Terry and our four kids waited on the shore. The closer I got to the beach, the more I could hear their cheers. When I started getting tangled in seaweed I knew I was close and the moment my feet hit the lake bottom, I started bawling. Curt and I came out of the water together and my mom and I had a crying fest on the finish mat, 42 minutes after my terrifying start. I wasn’t the last person out of the lake – just the 6th from the last out of almost 200 participants!
God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind!  Thank you Jesus!

The rest of the triathlon was amazingly fun. The 24-mile bike was somewhat boring but we took turns leading and heckling each other. We finished the bike portion about 15 seconds faster than Curt did it on his own last year and headed out on the run.

almost to the finish line
By the time we hit the run, I was going on pure adrenalin and felt like I could conquer the world. My poor husband, who breast stroked the majority of the swim since I was so slow, was tired from firing up muscles that aren’t used to taking such a beating. Since running is what I’m comfortable doing, I was able to return the favor and encourage him through his most difficult leg. I set a pace I knew he could maintain and just kept encouraging him to keep going. I chattered non-stop about anything and everything to keep his mind occupied on our conversation and not on how tired he was. The miles ticked away as we ran. One, two, three. Before we knew it we were hitting the 6-mile marker and only had .2 to go. Our cheering section met us on the lakefront just shy of the finish and we high-fived and hooped and hollered. As we entered the finish shoot, we grabbed hands and crossed the finish line holding hands. It was so romantic, in a sweaty kind of way.

Thank you Jesus - we did it!
Every good story has a happy ending. I’m so grateful to God, to Curt and to all of you who prayed for me for the role you played in making this a happy ending for us. I can hardly wait for the next tri.


  1. Congrats, Jodi! You have SO MUCH to be proud of!

  2. I just love reading this! I laughed out loud at one point... and I hear you about utter fear of swimming a mile... unlike you, I would drown. Love you, girl! Congrats! So encouraged by you...