By Lucy Watson
You’re probably aware that more than half of the new year’s resolutions people make end up being broken, but you might not know that it doesn’t matter if you break your new year’s resolution.
A few years ago, I made a new year’s resolution to complete the ocean swim around Wedding Cake Island, off Coogee Beach. The race was in April. The course was 2.4 kilometres, further than I’d ever swum before. I knew I could swim 30 laps of a 50-metre pool without too much of a struggle, so the equivalent of 48 laps didn’t seem totally unachievable. It was a realistic goal in the time frame.
The first thing to do was to get back in the pool. My exercise regimen always wanes over the holiday period (how surprising!), so it’d been a while since I’d moved my body anywhere other than on the dance floor.
As I built up to 30, then 40 laps, my confidence grew. This wasn’t so hard!
Then, I hurt myself at a casual soccer game. My physio said it was the worst groin tear she’d ever seen, but I could still swim. In fact, I should keep swimming, she said.
While still on crutches, I stuck a pull buoy between my legs and just swam with my arms. The flotation device kept my legs from being too much of a dead weight. Surprisingly, I completed my 40 laps in about the same time I would have if I’d been kicking.
Through all of this regular training, there was one thing missing. A friend who’d swum Wedding Cake Island before and had agreed to do it again with me asked me one day in February: ‘Have you ever done an ocean swim?’
I shook my head. I figured it’d be harder than swimming in the pool, sure, but not too different. The salty water is more buoyant, for one thing. My friend grinned and suggested it was time we started training in the ocean.
So, on one of the first days I no longer needed my crutches, we drove to the beach and jumped in the water. The plan was to do a few laps from the sand to the edge of the bay, a nice, safe, lifeguard-supervised ocean swim practice run. I still had my pull buoy between my legs, but hey, it hadn’t slowed me down in the pool; it should be fine.
It was not fine.
I thrashed my way through unbroken waves, my chest feeling tight as I swallowed water that was much colder than the constant 24 degrees of the pool.
The greeny-black watery nothingness stretched out before me. I could see my own arms, just, and that was about it. When I took a breath and looked up, it seemed I hadn’t moved at all. The tide was working against me, and without my legs, I was going nowhere. (Let’s be honest: even using my legs I’d probably have gone nowhere.)
I’m afraid of a lot of things, and especially of many living things. Sea life is slimy, and unpredictably fast moving; some of it can kill you, some of it sucks on your toes weirdly. I’m not into it. The murky water concealed all manner of things I might accidentally touch as I swam through it. The thought was horrifying.
I thrashed for a few more strokes. I was still not getting anywhere. Still swallowing water from a wave every time I tried to take a breath. Still at risk of touching something slimy. The tight feeling in my chest, a combination of fear and cold, just got tighter.
Nope. Not for me, thank you very much.
I got out and waited on the sand for my friend. When she joined me, she laughed at my fear of touching a fish. (Apparently, they’re too fast for my clumsy hands.) But my time spent waiting on the beach had clarified some things for me.
I’d been struggling to make headway in the open ocean, when what I loved about swimming was the endless predictability of the black line. I love staring at that line as every stroke pushes me the same distance forward, breathing every third stroke, turning around after 50 metres, and doing it all over again.
For me, swimming has always been a way to release stress. Putting myself in the path of slimy sea creatures and unpredictable ocean waves was a way to ruin all the things I loved about swimming – and apparently needed.
So, I ‘failed’ my new year’s resolution. But happily, because I realised the real value that swimming has for me. And along the way, by training for an ocean swim I never attempted, I got back into a regular routine in the pool, which helped my head and my body. And that’s what matters most.
Laps for Life is a much better new year’s resolution for me: it has the same potential to set up a routine of swimming regularly early in the year, making it easier to maintain it for the rest of 2021, and I’ll be supporting young people in Australia with mental health problems while I’m at it.