It was a beautiful day, the sun sparkled over Dover harbour and there was a hubbub of activity as swimmers prepared for training. Camaraderie and connection were the flavour of the day as volunteers kept track of all swimmers ensuring they could raise an alarm if one didn’t return within the allotted time.
I was excited and terrified in equal measure.
My first time swimming in the sea.
My first time swimming in a wetsuit.
A training weekend for my big Solent swim coming up in a few months.
I donned my yellow Aspire hat and set off with 2 very able and competent swimmers as swim buddies. I hobbled across the stones and walked into the cold water. So far so good.
I managed 3 strokes before panic set in. I had to stop and catch my breath unable to breathe. Treading water wondering what the heck I was doing.
My swim buddies were amazing, they understood the fear, the shock of the cold water, swimming in a wetsuit which is tight around your chest, making it harder to breathe. They encouraged me to take a few more strokes. And stop. A few more …
Oh my goodness I was going so slowly, I was holding them up. I told them to go off and swim, that I would be ok. That they could leave me swim on my own and I’d be fine.
They wouldn’t leave me.
I tried, I tried so hard to go faster, to swim more than 3 strokes before having to stop, yet I couldn’t. I became very adept at treading water.
As we “swam” we got into a rhythm, one of my swim buddies would stay with me going at a snail’s pace to ensure I was safe, to keep me motivated as I flailed around, whilst the other would go off and swim, returning to check in to let us know he was ok. Then they swapped.
I was in a mess – the mental bashing was extreme.
“Melina, what the hell made you think you can do this. You’re not a strong enough swimmer. You’re going to be a liability on the Solent Swim. In fact, you should probably pull out now. Right now. Leave the water, go home for the weekend. You’ve not got what it takes”
“Oh no, but what about all the people that have sponsored me. Will I have to give the money back? What will they think of me? Katharine didn’t give up when she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, no… she kept going, taking one step after another until she reached the top”
“Yeah, but I’m going to be a liability, I’ll hold everyone up, they won’t let me swim, it will be dangerous to have someone as incompetent as me swimming with them”
Round and round my thoughts went, as I took 3 strokes and stopped to catch my breath, all the while my swim buddies telling me how brilliantly I was doing.
Yeah right, I was holding them up and spoiling their training.
But they stayed with me right by my side, telling me I was halfway there – that I only had to stay in the water for two hours. I didn’t actually have to swim. No-one was tracking me. They reassured me I was doing great.
I decided I’d complete the two hours and then speak to the organiser. Tell him I didn’t think I was good enough to swim the Solent and see what he said.
I’d love to tell you my swimming got better, but alas the whole two hours was swim 3 strokes, tread water, swim 3 more, tread water.
I walked out of that sea after 2 hours of treading water feeling despondent, knowing I’d held my swim buddies up, thinking they were probably lamenting at their short straw of getting landed with me.
But then something amazing happened.
As I returned to our group, everyone cheered and congratulated me.
“Well done Melina, you did it”.
I’d completed my 2 hour swim. I’d passed the minimum requirement.
When I clarified that actually I barely swam I mainly treaded water my swim buddies said:
“You swam more than you thought – even though you were treading water you were always moving”
And as I looked across the harbour I realised I had gone from one side to the other.
Maybe I wasn’t as bad as I thought, maybe I could do it.
What if I could?
In that moment I made a decision.
To stay for the weekend.
To complete the rest of the training.
I didn’t have to make a decision about the Solent swim there and then. I was there for the weekend, it was all booked. Tomorrow I’d make the decision.
A shift that would stay with me forever.
Is there anywhere in your life where you simply need to take the next step?
Take it now and see what magic awaits.
PS: And if you’re wondering what happened next and whether I did indeed swim the Solent, you can find out here:
PPS: The photo was taken on day 2 of the training with my new swim buddy Eleanor.