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jueves, 7 de abril de 2011

· Nadandolibre · Beyond the horizon, stories and poetry open water ·

Laura Lopez-Bonilla

Swimming in the English Channel unfinished

As the summer draws to a close, I'm trying to balance the sheets. I have been to Dover beach this morning for a swim, and have felt and seen the agony of defeat in three channel swimmers.

I am a two time Channel Swimmer, but I have also suffered the pain of being short of my goal a few times. It is all in the preparation, some will say. True, I say, but sometimes, you can be prepared and the outcome may still not match your expectations.

Some successful swimmers shrug off with disdain a mental block. What do you mean by that? Well, you won't know unless you have experienced one yourself. Sometimes you are out there swimming and your spirit falters, for whatever reason, it doesn't matter, your mind just feels out of sync on that particular day, and everything becomes dark, and you go to a place you have never been to before. You fight on, and on, and on, but the tools you have prepared to deal with this possible scenario are malfunctioning on the day. 

Then you suffer what I call, a mental injury. You climb up the ladder, defeated and broken hearted. Immediately, as you seat on the boat shivering, blankets and clothes get put on and thrown onto you by your crew, you start analysing, going through your own mental scrutiny, trying to find answers. And as long as you can find the reason, you know you will be ok; you know that you can recoup, recover and retry.

It's only an undesired outcome, something you didn't plan, you say to yourself, because if you have planned for not making it, you wouldn't have got in the water in the first place. But, mental blocks or mental injuries (in channel swimming terms) are different for everybody.

I know swimmers who, like me, have succeeded on their first attempt. Others have tried several times before succeeding the first time; many have made it the first time, never to go back to it. A wise decision. Others try once and never go back to it. Unfinished business. Many don't know what defeat is or feels like.

The mental side is supposed to make up for 80% of the equation. But there are other possible permutations that may interfere with your desired outcome. The boat breaks down (this can happen), the tide turns, the forecast is not accurate and the weather worsens. 
These are things outside your control that don't come into the 80% mental - 20 physical % channel success equation. Yet, if any of these happen to you, the agony of defeat is equally as excruciating.

We have now got the 20% physical side remaining. Things can also not go according to plan in this area. On the day of your swim, you feel fine, you are determined, your stroke is good, you are feeding like your normally feed, no changes, no surprises. But things don’t work according to plan and you run out of energy, you go on a calorie deficit, you use your calorie credit and the overdraft, you swim yourself to empty, or to an injury, or you get agonising cramps and are at the onset of hypothermia. 
But you keep swimming, you look at your crew, at the people on the boat, you perceive their worried faces. You want to let them know that you are ok, and you pretend for a bit, to see if you can get through the dip. On the next feed, it takes all of your effort to get closer to the boat, to hold your feed, to drink it. They have made the drink stronger and you notice that. Half an hour later, the boat stops, you get pulled out, you've given it your best effort, and you couldn't have done any more. Were you unprepared? No. Did you do all you could to fight on? Yes. Would the outcome have been different if you had done this or that, you wonder? Possibly, but you'll never know.
Then the pain starts, deeply, fully, it overcomes you like a sort of bereavement. 
Perhaps because if feels like you have lost part of your identity, because, somehow, you don't feel like a swimmer anymore, because most of the friends you thought you had don't know how to deal with your defeat, with a fallen hero.
 So you feel isolated, surrounded by the solitude of the waves, of the coldness, of the salty taste in your mouth of the non victory. But, somehow, you find your inner strength, a piece of driftwood that helps you to float ashore, where you start counting the days to swim the Channel again.

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