From Fear to Endurance Swimmer

From Fear to Endurance Swimmer

By Hilary JM Topper, MPA

I always had a love hate relationship with the open water. I loved looking at it. It mesmerized me in ways that nothing else could. Yet, it scared the living day lights out of me.

You see, when I was young, my mother used to tell me that the ocean would eat me up and the rip currents would take me to places where I couldn’t escape. So, for me, going into the open water wasn’t something I wanted to do.

When I started training for a triathlon back in 2014, I had no choice but to buy a wetsuit and dive into the open water.

My first experience was horrible. I had a panic attack and couldn’t even swim. I had learned how to swim earlier that year but when I went into the open water all I kept thinking about was whether a shark would get me or that the fish would attack me. I couldn’t see anything in the murky waters of Long Island and that scared me. What’s really in the water?

After having some amazing swim coaches, I finally got comfortable, and the water became my savior. It was my happy place. All my problems from work, life and family disappeared in the water. Nothing else gave me that stress relief.

Last summer, I signed up for a race called, Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay Swim. It was a swim I had heard about when I first started back in 2014. But it seemed all too daunting. It was a 5.5-mile swim across the bay from Fire Island to Bayshore. It was the route of the ferry.

My new book, From Couch Potato to Endurance Athlete – A Portrait of a Non-Athletic Triathlete, talks about the whole process in detail, but for the purpose of this blog, I will say that I asked my son to kayak for me. He was to be my support crew. I told him that every 30 minutes I wanted to suck on a gel and drink a little hydration mix.

My son was the perfect person to ask. He was excited about the task at hand. The only problem – he was not an experienced kayaker. As a matter of fact, he never really kayaked before, especially in the open water. So, I was at a disadvantage from the get-go.

The day of the event, we jumped in the water and when the horn blew, we were off. The current was strong. It pulled my son way off course and since I was following him, we were both way off course.

A volunteer found us and told us to follow him. He told us we were more than a mile off course. We complied.

The waves were high at this point and the water was extremely choppy. I didn’t know if I would make it to the land. All the boats around me were bouncing up and down. My son kept getting pulled out. I was worried.

The volunteer said, “don’t worry about your son. He’s okay. Worry about yourself. You still have a long way to go.”

The time limit on the race was 4 hours. In practice, I figured I would be close, but I thought I may spare a few minutes.

As I was swimming, I could see my son smiling at me. That smile was infectious. I started to hurt. My shoulder felt as if it stopped working. I was about a mile or so from the shore.

“Do you want a gel,” my son asked.

“No, you don’t want a gel,” the volunteer said. “You won’t make it in if you do.”

I told my son, “No.” And, I kept swimming.

Inside my head, I was screaming in pain. It was so hard between the wakes; the distance and I couldn’t see anything in front of me.

When I finally got to shore, I learned that I was the last one in and received the Endurance Award.

I was a non-swimmer when I started this sport and through my journey, I became a distance swimmer. It just goes to show that you can do anything you set your mind to do. And, my new book, From Couch Potato to Endurance Athlete, will show you that that is all too true.

You can pre-order the book on Barnes & Noble or Amazon in the US or UK.

From Couch Potato to Endurance Athlete

For those who have ever thought they were too old or too unfit to compete in a triathlon, From Couch Potato to Endurance Athlete will prove that it is never too late to compete!

This is a story about overcoming life’s obstacles — from injury and business trouble to grief and loss and everything in between.

Decade Long Journey

This book will take you on my decade-long journey as I train for and run my first 5K, swim the aqua-blue waters of the Caribbean, cycle a hilly course in Milwaukee, learn how to run-walk through the New York City Marathon, and compete in my first triathlon in Sanibel, Florida. You will be right with me as I narrate each experience — even a 5.5-mile swim in the murky waters of Long Island.

Hilary JM Topper
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