I quit college swimming in 2002. I was burnt out, not enjoying the sport anymore, and ready to enjoy other university experiences. The first month was strange. I had way too much time on my hands. I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted without consequences. But I slowly adjusted to post-athletics life and moved on.
In May of 2007, I was rear ended while stopped at a red light, which left me with some back and neck injuries. It took awhile for me to heal, and not even fully, and my doctor mentioned at some point that if I had been in better shape, my injuries would have been less severe. This was perhaps the first time that I seriously considered joining Masters swimming and regaining some semblance of my former athletic self. I was inspired to get back in the water but not quite ready to return to a team environment. I decided to instead give myself a real challenge: Water World Swim’s 2009 Swim Around the Rock, a 5K swim from Hyde Street Pier to Alcatraz and back in the San Francisco Bay. And in true competitive swimmer spirit, I decided to go sans wetsuit. To prepare for my swim, I did a shorter 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz to Hyde Street Pier a couple of months before the big swim to check out the waters. Let me tell you, the Bay is freezing (especially in February!), its waters unpredictable, and kind of scary! But I was even more motivated to train and successfully complete the big swim.
Then, two months before my swim (and days before my oral defense of my graduate program!), I broke my foot at my restaurant job. Major setback. But I wasn’t going to prevent me from completing my swim. First, I survived crutches and managed to switch to a soft cast to walk across the stage for graduation. Then, I got back in the pool and prepared myself for one of the most physically enduring challenges of my life.
Up until my feet touched the water, I was feeling pretty confident about my swim. But as soon as we started counting down the seconds to the start of the swim, I felt my stomach tying in knots. When the horn blew, I saw everyone around me dive into the water and sprint towards Alcatraz while I rather slowly submerged myself under the water and found myself just trying to catch my breath as the cold water seemed to momentarily incapacitate me. At some point, I managed to find my rhythm and work my way to Alcatraz but, for most of the race, I wondered if I was making any progress. When I finally started to approach Alcatraz, I was elated! However, I soon found out that swimming around the island would be the most difficult part of the race although it was the shortest in distance. I thought of all the stories I had heard about Alcatraz, got scared of ghosts in the water, and swam backstroke or with my head out of the water for awhile. I was slightly disoriented and couldn’t tell which direction I was supposed go. And I got stuck in a current for at least 20 minutes towards the northwest corner of the island. Even though throughout most of the race I questioned if I would ever finish, I managed to enjoy the unique opportunity I was in. I saw a sea lion swim by only meters from where I was. While swimming backstroke, I was able to marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge from an entirely new vantage point. And I’m now one of a relatively small group of crazy swimmers who successfully attempted this swim! I placed third in the women’s non-wetsuit division and 15th overall. The best part? After my swim, I felt like I could do anything! (Even backpack through Ireland in my soft cast!) And when someone asks me to name something interesting about myself, I can actually say, “Oh, I swam around The Rock one time. Without a wetsuit.”
I should probably mention that before the surge in confidence, I finished the swim nearly in tears saying that I would never, EVER do this again. Well, two short years later, I’ve decided to up the ante by swimming Water World Swim’s Bridge to Bridge 10K Swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge. I was motivated to do this swim for two reasons. First, shortly after Swim Around the Rock, I had to go back and have two surgeries to correct my initial fracture. I was on crutches for months, miserable, and hardly getting any physical exercise. It would have made sense to start swimming again since I wasn’t able to walk, but I didn’t. Signing up for the 10K was a reason for me to finally take the plunge and start Masters swimming, so I did it. Plus, I told my friends about it so I couldn’t back out of it.
Secondly, inspired by the philanthropy of my fellow librarians, I decided to swim for a cause: Japan Library Relief. The American Library Association has set up a site to help solicit donations for the Japan Library Association, who is leading the effort in providing services and support. As a Japanese American with family in Japan, this cause is especially close to my heart and I’m more motivated than ever in finishing this 10K and raising money!
My initial goal was to raise at least $500. In two weeks, I had already surpassed the $1000 mark. In that moment I found myself crying, amazed at the generosity of my supporters. I’m not one to share my emotions so freely, so this is a pretty big deal! I’ve now set my goal for $2,500, so any help to make it happen is much appreciated!
Lastly, I owe UCSD Masters so much in helping me attain my fitness goals and in preparing me for this upcoming swim. While living on-campus for a fellowship at the UC San Diego Library, I knew I had to take advantage of my proximity to the pool and the opportunity to swim in a team environment again. Although my first swim was pretty painful (I was tired after the warm up!), I’m starting to feel like a real swimmer again two months later. Although my fellowship is over, I plan to continue Masters swimming in Orange County. Also, I plan to get back into swim competition and more open water swims. Starting the fundraiser for Japan Library Relief has also inspired me to pursue other fundraising efforts in the future. You might as well do what you do for a great cause!
If you’d like to donate to my Japan Library Relief cause, please visit my FirstGiving site and be sure to include “Japan Library Relief” in the comments section! Any little bit helps. Thanks, friends, for your support!