Three weeks ago I was approached with an offer to be a part of a relay team to swim across the English Channel. I will swim three to four 1-hour blocks in choppy 59/60 degree water without a wetsuit. Here’s the caveat – I only had 3 weeks to train. The swim is for a spectacular cause. Three widows are swimming in memory of their husbands, Navy SEALs killed in war. Unfortunately, a member of their 5-person relay had to drop out last minute for medical reasons, so I am taking his spot. We are swimming for the Travis Manion Foundation, whose motto is “If not me, than who?” So my answer was – “if not me, than who?”
Since agreeing to be a part of this challenge I have realized how much I needed exactly this opportunity for the following reasons:
1. To realize that CrossFit really helps you not suck at life. I am able to show up for this incredible adventure because CrossFit has helped me maintain a solid level of fitness and strength. It helps that I swam in college, but I haven’t been swimming seriously for 10 years. It took only a few days in the water to be able to swim 4 miles unbroken at a pretty respectable clip. There is no way I could have picked it right back up without the conditioning CrossFit has provided. I was able to say yes to the call in large part because of CrossFit.
2. Do something that scares you every so often – because it reminds you that you are absolutely in control of your fear! YOU CREATE YOUR LIMITATIONS and they often cause you to miss out on life! This ocean is dark, cold and scary, especially before the sun is out. It’s also kind of scary to swim in waters the day after a Great White sighting (which I recently did). Moving forward in spite of the chaos in my mind has reminded me that I am absolutely in control of how I respond to the stories in my head and how much power I give to them. I started obsessing about every crazy thing that could happen to me, how it might happen, and what that might look like. All the most insane ways my leg could get ripped off or that I would be pulled to depths of the sea (you have a lot of time to think during a 4-mile swim). The first time I saw the fin of a dolphin next to me I panicked instead of embracing the awesome opportunity. I even shrieked a little and scared the poor thing away. As soon as I relaxed and started seeing all of the awesomeness around me, I realized how incredibly lucky I was to wake up in the ocean with nature and all of its splendor. I completely missed life all around me the first few mornings because I was consumed by my fear.
3. Challenge your definition of comfort often to expand your range in life. I realized that a different perspective equated to greater flexibility in my life. I challenged my perspective of how I labeled things. Preparing to wake up at 4:20am made me dread bedtime knowing dark, cold water awaited me just a few hours away. I hated being cold more than anything in life. It was depressing to wake up and pull myself away from a warm cozy bed the first morning. I lied to myself about the water feeling warm as I ran into the ocean but my lungs brought me to reality as I gasped for the first few minutes of the swim. I got slapped in the face with seaweed and freaked out because I couldn’t see anything before I swam into it, my legs and arms tingled and I felt miserable and cold. “Why am I doing this again??” It took me a few days of discomfort and responding habitually to realize that I was focused on all of the wrong things. I was an active participant in my own misery. I chose to change my perspective. It took about 8 days for my body to grow more accustomed to the cold. I even swam in a 60 degree lake, and yes my extremities went numb, but I reminded myself that it was just a sensation and I was just fine; I had a new norm. I did not experience a visceral or emotional response like I had in the past. I have grown accustomed to the kelp, the sounds of the ocean, and the sea life swarming just a few feet below me. It took eight days to conquer my fears of the dark, scary, cold, ominous, ocean. Eight days to shift my perspective.
Thanks to a simple challenge I have been forced to re-calibrate how I look at everything. It has been a fantastic reminder to push myself every so often, to challenge my complacency, continue to expand the definition of my limitations, and challenge my habits. I am looking forward to the challenge of swimming across the English Channel in this relay on July 10th. The rewards of the challenge for me personally have already been reaped. I am grateful; grateful for the challenge, grateful for the support of an awesome community, and grateful for the health to be a part of something like this. Life is pretty unbelievable, and I am grateful to CrossFit for allowing me to enjoy it to the fullest.
Updates on the event and progress as we swim can be found at www.athenapassage.org. Thanks for all the support Sea of Green – I’ll be sending mine to all of you athletes in the Games from across the pond!
(Editor’s Note – If you would like to support Heidi and widows of the fallen Navy SEALs who are participating in this channel crossing, please make a donation here. A small contribution means a lot to this amazing cause, and to these amazing women.)