We always have a choice, regardless of what we tell ourselves.
When my alarm went off before 8 A.M. on Thanksgiving morning, my choice seemed to be clear—hit the snooze button and forget about all else.
That, however, is not how the day unfolded.
I dragged myself out of bed and by 8:30 A.M. was already on my way to the Aquatic Park to join other cold-water enthusiasts for the annual Thanksgiving swim.
“Are you crazy?!” a Lyft driver loudly exclaimed after I answered his question of “Where the hell?” am I going so early on a holiday. He nearly lost control of the wheel as he turned in his seat to glance at this obviously insane person—me—sitting behind him.
When I go for a swim, I am eager to see the water surface since it often foretells the experience I am about to have. It is never the same. That morning, I knew from the first glance that this was not going to be an easy swim.
It was windy and cold.
The wind felt merciless and the ocean looked quite rough. The only thing that made it all hopeful was the crowd of swimmers—wrapped in their long parkas, savoring the last few moments of warmth—determined to go in. I detected no hesitation. Discomfort? Maybe, but it was overtaken by the enthusiasm of each person who showed up that morning on a holiday.
We are doing this!
After some initial hesitation, we finally jumped in. The water was 56 F that day and I felt determined to do my usual 20 minutes swim, regardless of the anticipated struggle. Struggle—meaning not just from the weather conditions, but also from maneuvering in a space filled with more swimmers than usual, causing unforeseen traffic.
Finding a rhythm, a flow, and being in a zone while you are in the ocean are some of the most rewarding aspects of swimming. It’s rewarding because it doesn’t always happen in open water—at least not for me. I call those experiences ‘powerful swims”. They allow me to feel my strength and make me aware of my constantly improving ability to not drown—which, in a nutshell, is what swimming really is.
When I was nearing the 15th minute mark of my swim routine, something unexpected happened. I ended up on a receiving end of a powerful stroke of a determined swimmer who came from behind me, unaware of his surroundings.
I was punched in the face.
It sure caught me off guard, since I do not anticipate the need for self-defense while swimming. I paused while spitting out the water I unavoidably gulped during the crash. Half of my face was buzzing and so were my teeth. I was convinced of the visible damage this clash likely left on my face.
I was glad to get out of the water and rushed up the bleachers to change as fast as I could. I generally have about 1 minute before my afterdrop kicks in and I start to shiver uncontrollably. Having a small torso and little fat insulation are not the best assets for cold emergence and to avoid hypothermia from creeping in.
The struggle is real after cold exposure.
Unlike the summertime, when folks stay around to socialize after a swim, the bleachers cleared out fairly quickly. The vision of a hot shower and the warm indoors was a clear priority for everyone that day.
It took a few extra steps to recover from this swim including—hanging onto a hot-water bottle that my friend Robin gave me, a 20-minute hot shower, half a liter of hot tea and then a full day of rest. Luckily, I had no place to be other than in the kitchen cooking delicious meal.
I earned it.
The group spirit really fueled that challenging Thanksgiving swim. The enthusiasm to share the experience overpowered the fact that this was an ‘awful’ swim—as nicknamed by many of those who participated in it.
Taking on a rough ocean once in a while—whatever that might be for you—is well worth it. It makes the days in which everything falls into place just right, even more precious than they already are.
Thanksgiving takeaway? Bruises do not form when you are punched in a frozen face.
The perks of cold water swimming…