Wednesday 13 June 2012

A set back…ARRRRGH!!!

“Pretty good” is how I would describe my training so far. I feel stronger then ever on the bike, my running is progressing, and my pool swims have been fabulous. I am up to 4km-plus swims, multiple times a week. Everything is falling into place…right? Uh, not exactly. I had a major set back. I am still a little in shock, and sorting out how serious this is.  I have begun to question whether or not I will be able to complete my training and compete in Louisville.

Last night my friend Marc and I met up at Lake Wilcox for a 2k swim. We have done a few 2kers together, but all were last year. This was my first lake swim of the season, I was excited about getting into my wetsuit again – it makes me feel like an athlete. I struggled to pull the neoprene rubber over my body because the day was very hot, and my skin was sticky, it was hard to do. I pulled, and tugged and finally said “good enough”. I had a few butterflies in my stomach but that was to be expected. This was my first lake swim of the season, after all. As we walked to the lake’s edge I kept pulling on my suit trying to get more movement in my shoulders.

We entered the water and I dove under. It felt great. As we headed out, my wetsuit tightened across my chest and around my neck. I stopped and, as I treaded water, I tried to pull it up to get more slack. I told Marc that I was fine, I was just getting used to the suit. We started swimming again, and again I stopped. The suit’s constricting nature was beginning to affect my breathing. I apologized to Marc. His typically good natured reply and reassuring comments seemed to give me confidence. The fact that I had swam this lake before also kept me going, as we headed out further and further.

We were now in the middle of the lake, and my heart rate was getting out of control. I told Marc, “I’ve had it. I’m heading back”. I didn’t tell him that fear had started to set in. At this point, I was completely unable to control my breathing and panic was beginning to consume me. The shore looked very far away in every direction. Every time I put my face in the water I could feel a pounding in my chest. I could hear funny sounds as I exhaled – gurgling sounds. The winds were picking up and the waves were getting bigger.

I began to think about the hours and hours I had spent in the pool over the past many months. “I am strong,” I kept telling myself. “You can do this, just stay calm.” Every effort to slow my breathing down had failed, so I decided to roll onto my back. I was totally embarrassed and felt like a loser, but figured I could do the backstoke all the way back to shore if I had to. The waves were splashing over my open mouth and I began to choke on the water. Coughing, I stopped again. “CALM DOWN CARMEN,” I screamed in my head over and over, but nothing was working. I felt like I was choking, and I couldn’t breathe. The next thing I knew, I was yelling at Marc: “HELP ME, HELP ME, GET THIS SUIT OFF”. Marc raced over and grabbed the pull cord that was attached to my zipper and pulled.

Cold water filled the space between my wetsuit and my bathing suit, and then my heart went up even higher. “Oh shit,” were the first words in my head. “Hypothermia”, was the next. I dismissed the thought, happy to expand my lungs, even if it was just a little. I was able to pull out my arms and wiggle the suit off to my hips. I figured I shouldn’t take it all off, I just wanted to get more air. With one half of the wetsuit hanging off my hips, I tried again. This time I tried the front crawl, but the weight and drag of the suit made any effort even harder than before, so my heart rate soared. At that moment I knew I had run out of options. Then, in the distance I saw a small buoy. I told Marc that I could make it.

The buoy was only a foot and half square, so I grabbed onto one side while Marc grabbed onto the other.  “Marc, I can’t do this, I can’t control my breathing”.  I had now started coughing from the water I had ingested, and the shore looked like it was million miles away.  A few moments passed and, as we hung on, my heart rate finally slowed down. I decided I was confidant enough to start out again. I also felt like I had little choice, it was raining and the lake was virtually empty.  We swam for a few minutes and I stopped again.

There is really nothing in life that could have prepared me for the feeling that was coming over me. I was now in full panic mode. I finally understand why people who can swim, drown. The thought of drowning was now a seed that had taken root in my head.  I looked back at the buoy and it felt too far away. I looked at the shore and it felt impossible. I was hyperventilating, and the thought of dying was in my head. 

At that moment, I saw a small motorboat headed in our general direction. I waved and scream as loudly as I could: “HELP!”. He kept going, so I screamed again with everything I had. Then Marc started screaming: “HELP… STOP… OVER HERE!”.

I am not sure what would have happened if that boy in the motorboat hadn’t finally heard us and stopped. I know that I never want to feel that helpless again. The mind is a strange and powerful thing. I am physically capable of swimming that lake at least twice over, but I guess my brain had missed the memo.

So, it is back to the therapist – back to baby steps. I just hope I that there is enough time between now and August to let my brain catch up to my body.

P.S. Thanks Marc, you literally saved me last night!