Scott: On Facing My Fear

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Today was a big day for me. This is not the story of overcoming a life-threatening illness, nor is it the story of beating the odds and an impossible disability. It’s much simpler, more of an everyday thing. Something most folks can relate to.

I went swimming. No big deal. Well … OK, it was a pretty big deal. For me.

I took swimming lessons at a young age like most people I guess. Never did do very well with the whole breathing thing. You know, three strokes, head in the water, one stroke to breathe, repeat. I couldn’t do it. I always seemed to swallow as much water as air. Silly right? No Olympic medals in my future. Tried again in Jr High School. Same result. No water polo for me. No big deal. I could swim. You know, paddle out. Play in the pool. Paddle back. Etc. I was living in Northern California at that time.  We would go “swimming” in the American River on a regular basis. I could do it. I did it.

Then, we moved to SoCal. Ocean. Waves. Undertow.

The first few times with my high school buddies were an education. They were all pretty good swimmers. I didn’t get the whole “diving under the waves” thing and was getting hammered to the point where I became increasingly anxious about swimming in the ocean. To the point where I would get panicky. Like heavy breathing, tight-chested panic. Eventually, I learned the routine but, to this day, when a larger set starts coming in, I get that feeling.

Fast forward to around February of this year. One of my High School buddies informed me that we would be competing in this year’s Malibu Triathlon in September, 2012. Cycling? No problem. 24 miles I can do in a Tuxedo and blindfolded. I’m a Cyclist. Running? Also no problem. I started running again, after years of only cycling, about three years ago. I’m not very fast, but 4 miles is the least I do on my average run. I’ve done several 10k runs and two half-marathons. No problemo. Swimming?


Just the thought of it made my chest tight and my pulse quicken. But I told myself .. promised myself .. that I could do this. I found a Masters group that meets every day at the SCV Aquatics Center and joined up. I can DO this. So I showed up on a Tuesday morning this week after warning the coach of my lack of talent but my abundance of enthusiasm.

That has always been my strong suit. Enthusiasm. I never had talent in sports. Not in High School. Not as an adult. But I’ve always had an attitude.  #HardenTheFuckUp There’s a reason I had no hesitation in getting that tattooed on my forearm. It is how I’ve lived my sporting life. I may not win. But the other guy is going to know he was in a fight. I have never believed in the attitude that “Winners Win” .. period. I’ve always believed its more important to make the effort. It’s what I’ve taught my kids. Sure, winning is fun. Winning is what you try to do, no question. But you can’t always win. Sometimes, you can never win. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth making the effort. Losers quit. Winners, if they don’t win today, keep coming back.

That first morning. 5:30AM. I lost. Badly. I spent 45 minutes reinforcing my old fear. It was seriously torture. I couldn’t do it. Worse, I misunderstood one of the coach’s instructions and was holding my breath instead of actively breathing out when my head was under water. If you know how to swim, you know how bad that mistake is. It multiplied my anxiety into the red zone. At the end of that single workout, I had serious doubts about my ability to be able to get to the point where swimming a half mile in the ocean would even be safe. Swimming no longer caused me anxiety. It was now giving me full-blown fear. I actually got up and went to two more workouts .. but never got out of my car. Afraid.

Who am I? Harden the fuck up dude!

So I talked to people. I found some informative Internet sites and realized my mistake on the breathing. They all said that the breathing was the toughest skill to master, especially for, ahem, older swimmers. I bought some swim goggles which, apparently, make it a little easier (actually, they do). I got a 3 day visitor pass to LA Fitness thinking that, a little workout on my own, practicing my newly acquired information, would get me past my .. aversion.

This morning, after about, oh I would say, six lengths .. I relaxed. I breathed out and I breathed in. A few more laps. More breathing. In. Out. 24 lengths of a 25 meter pool. 600 meters total. Not in a row. Actually, one by one. But I did it. And I learned something that I didn’t know before today. I can do this. I will do this.

Now you may say, “Well, that struggle only lasted a week. What are you all pumped up about?” No. That struggle has been going on for 40 years. Sometimes more actively than others. But 40 years nonetheless.

I faced that fear and got-er-done. I’m going again tomorrow morning .. and the morning after that. I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to it because I know I’m going to get better. That I’ll be able to continue the effort. That’s winning.

– by @inkgigolo

6 Responses

  1. Oscar says:

    This was inspiring. We all have our fears large and small. For you to face one we taken for granted for so many years is commendable. Good luck in September Scott!