There comes a time in every triathletes life when they dip their toe into open water. For the triathletes that train in the Chicagoland area we are blessed with “Ohio Street Beach” a sandy beach and marked swim along a breakwall on Lake Michigan. In the summer months, when the water temperature finally begins to rise about 60 degrees (which takes a while after our long cold Chicago winters) Ohio Street Beach becomes a mecca for triathletes. Every Saturday and Sunday morning you will find people squirming in and out of wetsuits and training at this site. It is a great place to practice swimming in the open water, there is a solid breakwall on one side, buoys to mark the ¼, ½, and ¾ mile swim and on a good day you can see the bottom of the lake below you.
For Kendrick, this was his first place to try open water swimming. It was yet another big step along his already epic journey. Not only was it the site of his first long swim, it was also the start location for his first three hour training session.
Kendrick’s very first open water swim was with Coach Keith. It was a Thursday evening and Kendrick and Keith met on their regular training night. When they got to Ohio Street Beach they were met by constant 3 foot waves that were swelling and breaking against the break wall. “Wavy conditions for his battle in the big pond” said Coach Keith when I asked him about their first swim. Coach Keith also reported that Kendrick’s most famous quote of that swim was “Hey! This is NOT like the pool!” All eventually went well on that Thursday night – and Kendrick completed his first open water swim with Coach Keith by his side.
When Kendrick and I met early on a Saturday morning a week later it was for his 2nd open water swim and his FIRST three hour workout. I had emailed Kendrick a few times during the week to reinforce that yes, we were swimming in Lake Michigan, yes, he did have to swim a ½ mile on his own while I walked alongside on the break wall and yes, it would be followed by a 1 hour bike along the busy lakefront path and a 1 ½ hour run along the same route.
Seeing Kendrick amongst the other triathletes was a great moment for me as a coach. He was ready to take yet another big step towards his goal and I was going to be there to witness it. He was already there with the other triathletes when I arrived, jumping and squirming into his wet suit (which he had already told me that he really did not want to wear; to which I replied “too bad.”). He quickly learned the value a good squirt of “suit juice” and once he got in after a bit of reassurance that the water would not be “that cold” I taught him the value of getting a good amount of water into his wetsuit so that he can shift it around and build a warm layer of warmth for his swim. Seeing him look up at me when I told him to dip into the water and let a bunch of water in was pretty funny. Apparently the water was “that cold” and he was not convinced that deliberately letting a rush of cold water into his suit would prove to be helpful. I got some pretty funny looks of doubt from him and maybe even one or two “are you kidding me?!” glances. (Funny, it was the same look when I took him on his first bike ride on a busy road and we encountered our first big hill – same look, same response from me “no I am not kidding” and same result from him – he got it done.)
Once settled into his newly adjusted wetsuit Kendrick set off on his swim. The ¼ mile buoy was his turn point and it took sometime to get settled into his rhythm. Kendrick has a great amount of power in his stroke and there were many times where he would go off strong for a bit then have to stop due to his arms fatiguing. We worked on pacing, we worked on sighting and we worked on not panicking as he got further and further into his ½ mile swim. At one point he stopped and yelled up to me “Mary Ann the bottom looks disgusting!” My answer, “It probably is, be happy you are not standing on it!”
Kendrick worked hard on his first open water swim. He kept going and when he made it to that buoy and we let out a collective “you made it!”. He turned around quickly for the journey back and continued to work to settle into this new reality of being a triathlete – the open water swim.
After the swim and more squirming out of the wetsuit we set off on a VERY crowded lakefront path for our bike. Filled with hundreds of runners, walkers, roller bladers and other cyclists, it was tough for Kendrick to settle into his ride. Being the ever present gentleman he was a bit shocked the first time that I yelled at two people meandering across the path. At the halfway point when we stopped to drink he told me that he was wondering if riding on this path was a good idea. I reminded him that he had managed to avoid every runner and walker and that he had not crashed yet. Alas, my “evil plan” to get him to practice his bike handling skills under stress was working!
We finally made it back to Ohio Street Beach and set out for our run. By this time of day, it was burning hot and there was no shade. We set off anyway to get this thing done. It was hot, Kendrick was tired, I was tired and together we walked/ran our 5 miles.
Kendrick did it – THREE hours of training.
Kendrick, like all of us who take on new things in life faced fears that day at Ohio Street Beach. He pushed, he dug deep and he persevered. At times he said that he didn’t want to go on, at times he joked about going back to his car when I turned my back and at times he got very quiet.
No matter what you take on in life new experiences will be challenging and scary at times. If we were magically good at everything we would all just go around doing everything well. We would not grow as individuals and we would have nothing to contribute to our society. Triathlons and any sport that we take on give us opportunities to PRACTICE how we chose to live. We train and we practice how to swim, bike and run but what comes along with it is that we practice how we fight our fears, persevere, work hard and we get to practice how it feels when we succeed.
If you are considering taking on a triathlon – DO IT! If it seems scary to look at the disgusting bottom of a lake below you – TOO BAD! Be happy that the water is dark and cold – you will be even prouder when you swim that first open water mile. If you are just plugging along in life – find a challenge and take it on. Step by step follow the path on YOUR journey.