Facing My Demons

Facing My Demons

by Drew R.

On August 12, 2007 at the Naperville Triathlon ET athlete and webmaster Drew R completes his year long journey toward becoming a swimmer and triathlete.  It was an emotional day for Drew and the ET family as we cheered our friend into the water and across the finish line.  Congrats Drew!!

Six weeks before the Naperville Sprint Triathlon, I knew I was in trouble.  Yessiree, no doubt about it, I was in a pickle.  Less than two months to go before my first ever triathlon, and I still couldn’t swim in the deep end of the pool.    I sank like a stone, and I was helpless to improve.  How in the world was I going to finish this triathlon?

Let me back up just a bit.  Well, maybe more than a bit.  A year, in fact.  It had been almost one year to the day since I finally went to Coach Joe and asked him to help me learn to swim.  I’d been forced to do some swimming as a Boy Scout more years ago than I care to think about, but I’d never been able to get into water that was over my head.  Forget diving – I couldn’t even descend a ladder into water I thought might be too deep!  The years went by, and I told myself it didn’t matter.  I just avoided water and didn’t think about it, and led a happy, albeit waterpark-free, life.

And then I started hanging around with triathletes.  I don’t really know why.  I honestly thought I was hanging out with runners!  Then, they started inviting me on bike rides, and I got a bike and went along, and it was fun.  Then they started inviting me to swim, and I made my usual excuses and avoided that, and all was well up to a point.  That point being Coach Joe, of course.  Now, give my wife credit – she had tried for years to get me into the pool, but she eventually gave up when she saw how totally irrational I got near the water.  But after she and I signed on with ExperienceTriathlon (strictly to improve my running and biking!), I met more and more of these triathletes.  And they seemed to have so much fun training in three different disciplines.  At that point I really started to feel left out, and I began to re-examine my situation.  Finally, I went to Coach Joe and asked for his help.

I still remember the first lesson.  Coach told me to stick my face in the water and blow bubbles.  I think I held my face in the water for all of a half-second or so, expelled all the air in my lungs, jumped up and said “Nope, I don’t think so”.  I should point out that this was in only a few feet of water in the lap pool at Life Time Fitness.  Not exactly an auspicious beginning…

Months went by, as Coach Joe walked me through the Total Immersion swim routine.   He built up the various part of my swim stroke, not to mention my confidence, bit by bit.  He was very patient and always encouraging, and I slowly started putting the bits and pieces together into something that almost vaguely resembled a swimming human, as opposed to a drowning orangutan having a nervous breakdown.  I finally reached the point where I could toss the flippers aside and actually swim freestyle from one end of the lap pool to the other.  I was almost there!  Or, maybe not.

Back to six weeks before the tri, when I was displaying all of the swimming acumen of your average boat anchor, minus the handy winch to drag my sorry butt back out of the depths.  What happened?  Well, if you’ve ever raced at all, you probably already know.  The demons had me.  Those mental demons we all face eventually when we try to push ourselves past our comfort zone.  They had me by the neck and were shaking me like a puppy with a new chew toy.  Despite all of my work in the lap pool, when I headed down to Centennial Beach for the first time, I was still afraid to go into the deep end!  How was I going to complete a triathlon if I couldn’t get through the swim route?

This is where the coaches at ET really came through for me in my darkest hour.  Coach Steve and Coach Patty, and especially Coach Joe, saw the mental train wreck I was becoming, and they put together a game plan to get me to race day.  They got me into that deep end, swimming with me and helping me to gain confidence.  Coach Joe spent a full hour with me just showing me the right way to tread water, to float on my back, and other ways to get my wind back in the deep water.  I had never realized that I could relax and get some energy back, without automatically sinking to the bottom!  That one extra hour with Joe was the turning point in my battle with the demons, but I still had work to do.  But with the help of the Monday night coached swim sessions at Centennial, I became much more comfortable swimming with other people in the deep end, getting bumped in the water, and taking the occasional wave in the face without feeling the urge to panic.

Race day was almost anti-climactic, in terms of nerves.  I couldn’t believe how calm I was approaching the water.  Perhaps that group of a dozen or so ET athletes chanting my name at the water’s edge had something to do with it?  Not one of them was competing in this race (the always popular Pleasant Prairie race was the following weekend), and yet here they were, cheering me on.  That was a special moment for me.  Embarrassing as hell, yes, but also special.  The ET family was out in full force, as usual, showing support to the team members doing the race.  Rich K and Jen M were also competing, and also as usual they had spectacular races.  And even they managed to cheer me on as I started the run course, and were there at the end to congratulate me on my first triathlon.  It seemed like I heard people cheering for me at every stage of the event, and that really helped me to get through it (at one point, I wondered how the heck I could still hear Patty cheering from the far end of the pool, but I did!).  As I sprinted for the finish line, I had only two thoughts in my head:  1) don’t puke on the girl removing my timing chip, and 2) I am so glad I did this!  I am finally one of those triathletes, but even better, I finally faced my demons and won.

Congrats also to ET athletes Rich K and Jen M on a great day and to all the ET athletes and friends that we saw smiling across the finish line.  Check out the pictures of our fun at ET Photo.

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