Swim Angels In The Open Water

Swim Angels In The Open Water

Swim Free, a preferred charity of NYC Swim, helps improve the health of children and adults through learn-to-swim, water safety and water cleanliness programs.

Swim Free recently started an innovative Swim Free Angel initiative.

The Swim Free Angels, always outfitted in differently colored blue caps, program helps comfort people of all ages who are anxious in and around the water by providing shore-side and in-the-water support, offering encouragement and coping mechanisms to help people overcome their fears.

Swim Free launched its new program at the 2010 Governors Island Swim in New York City where Angels took anxious swimmers under their wings and helped them achieve their initial open water swimming goals.

It was an outstanding success,” reported Marjorie Spitz, Executive Director of Swim Free.

As part of this Swim Free Angel program, Dr. Stacey Rosenfeld, Chief Psychologist of the NYC Triathlon, provides the following advice to anxious and new open water swimmers to help them overcome their fears:

If you’re feeling anxious:
• Take some deep, diaphragmatic breaths
• Scan your body for tense muscle groups and try to relax those that are tense
• Close your eyes and picture yourself in a relaxing place (i.e., the beach, the woods); focus on all your senses in this place—what do you see, smell, hear, feel, taste?
• Remind yourself of all your training and hard work
• Focus on what you need to do during your race, rather than the actual outcome
• Try distracting yourself with pleasant thoughts about family, friends, or events
• Talk about what you’re feeling
• See if you can challenge some of your anxiety-related thoughts
o For instance, what’s your greatest fear? What’s the worse case scenario?
o How would you cope with this scenario?

What to do if you feel anxious or fatigued during the swim:
• Tread water, or float on your back
• Switch to an easier stroke (elementary back stroke, side stroke, doggy paddle, or anything that allows you more breathing time than the crawl)
• Remind yourself of your training and understand that getting all worked up will not help you in this situation—instead, try to take a few deep breaths (don’t worry about wasting time) and then continue on with your swim

Dr. Rosenfeld advises that if you find yourself with muscle cramps, breathing difficulties, etc., follow the instructions above, while doing a visual search for the nearest rescue boat. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself before the swim with where the rescue workers are.

She continues, “Many of the principles that are discussed with racing are applicable to other areas of life (e.g., work, relationships, etc).”

• Accept where you are: Remember, even professional athletes have good and bad days. Expecting the best out of yourself at all times is a dangerous proposition. Familiarize yourself with the art of radical acceptance.

• Practice, practice, practice: With anything, the more you do it, the better you’ll become. Similarly, you will develop self-efficacy (confidence in that particular task), which can only serve to improve performance.

• Set goals of variable levels and continue to adjust them as you compete and as you see improvements in some areas and identify others that may need work.

• Recognize self-defeating patterns: Be aware of how you might catastrophize or plan for negative events with little to no evidence. Thinking in this way can actually cause negative events to occur (e.g., panicking about not being able to swim will negatively impact your swimming) and certainly results in anxiety and depression. Try to challenge negative thoughts with more realistic, evidence-driven ideas.

• Focus on the process, rather than the outcome. A good race is one in which you challenge and enjoy yourself, not one in which you beat out your biggest rival.

• Plan ahead: Survey the course beforehand. Know what you’re up against, and strategize before the fact in order to increase your chances of success.

• Envision where you want to be: If we can imagine ourselves performing successfully, there’s a better chance this will occur. Take time each day to do so.


Having Swim Free Angel on the course is practical, useful and creative.

Copyright © 2010 by Open Water Source