Sometimes I look at marathon swimming from an outsider’s perspective, and I begin to understand why marathon swimmers are considered by most to be utter nutcases.
Swimming in cold water without the use of a wetsuit. Swimming in deep water with unnamed marine life. Swimming through chop, against currents. Swimming for long hours – 5, 6, 7, more – what on earth do they THINK about during that time? Sometimes even swimming at night. And all of this is done willingly. By choice. But why?
The thing is, the why’s behind marathon swimming are only truly understood if you are – you guessed it – a marathon swimmer. There seems to be an unspoken bond between all marathon swimmers, for there are few experiences in the world that even begin to compare to that of marathon swimming. The long hours. The psychological challenges. The impossible highs, and the all-consuming lows. The adrenaline rushes. The sense of adventure. The intense desire to push yourself, to see what your body and mind are truly capable of. The idea of your fate being completely in the hands of Mother Nature.
But as a marathon swimmer, I’m constantly being asked: why do you do it? And while there are so many different ways to answer that question, and every marathon swimmer will likely have a different answer, I wanted to take some time to shed some light on what marathon swimming means to me.
For my entire life, the ocean has always been the place I go when I’m feeling down. When I’m stressed, sad, lonely, scared – I’ve always found that immersing myself in the waves not only makes me feel better, but also almost always gives me a new perspective on whatever I’m feeling down about. For me, being in the ocean has always been a time for self-reflection, for solving problems, for truly living in the present without worrying about the past or the future.
A few years ago, I was in a pretty bad place in my life. I no longer wanted to go to swim practices, or hang out with my friends, or go to the ocean, or really even leave my room. I won’t go into the details but this period lasted a while. It seemed like it would never end. And then one day, I read something that inspired me to go to the beach. It must have been my first time going to the beach in months. And it sounds crazy and cliche, but when I was in the ocean that day, that was when I finally realized that everything was going to be okay. It would be a rocky ride, sure, but I knew that I could always go to the ocean and it would always help me feel better when I’m feeling down.
From then on, ocean swimming became something that I not only wanted to do, but something I needed to do. I found a group of swimmers that trained every morning at Leadbetter, and I joined them as often as I possibly could. Ocean swimming was an essential part of my recovery. Since then ocean swimming has taken on entirely different meanings for me, but it will always be something that I do for my emotional wellbeing. I am now in a much better place in my life and I know I don’t need ocean swimming, but it is something that I will continue to do because it gives me immense joy.
There is something so exciting and so motivating about being able to look across a stretch of water, see the shore on the other side, and say, hey, maybe I can swim that. It is the nature of a marathon swimmer to want to push yourself, to want to see what you’re truly capable of. And that’s one of the things that captured me about marathon swimming: the fact that our bodies and our minds are capable of SO MUCH MORE than we think. For most, marathon swimming is much more of a mental and a spiritual journey than a physical journey. When we are pushing our bodies and our minds to their limit, we discover so much about who we are as people.
There is so much more I could say about this incredible sport, but I’m going to leave it at that because it’s already getting long. I hope this post inspires someone to try out swimming, or to simply start spending more time outside. Marathon swimming is something that has completely changed my life for the better, and I know I’m not the only one.