By Jennifer Hyde
I started swimming competitively in the 5th grade. My dad was a swimmer (and still is) and decided I should follow in his footsteps. We swam laps together in the evenings after school and on the weekends. Even before I officially joined a team, I was a water rat. I would spend hours in the water at the beach, the lake, the pool. My parents used to drag me out of the water, telling me I was going to get too cold. “I’m not cold!” I would tell them as I was shaking and my lips were turning blue. In high school, I wasn’t as fast as some of the girls on my team but I could swim forever. My coach started putting me in the distance races. I hated it at first. Swimming 20 laps in a race was extremely daunting when you’re 14. But the more I did it, the more I liked it. I swam non-competitively through college and then took a hiatus from it after I graduated.
Upon starting the DPT program, I got back into swimming. It can be hard to balance exercise with studying while in graduate school. I thought that if I entered a race I would be more motivated to stay on stop of an exercise program. I decided to enter the Lake Tahoe sprint triathlon. The swim was an easy 500 meters which was the distance I used to race in high school. The bike was only 10 miles and the race ended with a 2 mile run. All of these things are pretty doable on their own, or even in sequence; but, Lake Tahoe sits at 6,500 feet of elevation. So, I started training like I was doing double the distance. I worked on getting my 500 time down to get ahead in the swim. I am not a strong runner, so the swim was going to be my saving grace. I also trained on the bike and trail running. I just trying to train enough so I survive the bike ride, get off, and run 2 miles without dying. I thought if I over-trained the distances, when I was at altitude everything would go smoothly…right?
Race day was the Saturday after finals. I rushed up to Tahoe on Wednesday after my last test to acclimate to the altitude. Saturday morning rolled around. After I set up my transition station, I walked down to the water. The lake temperature was a cool 65°F, made even cooler by the 47°F air temperature. The sun was rising on the east shore. We couldn’t even see the first buoy due to the glare, but it was only 500 meters. Piece of cake – I got this.
The men’s group was first to go, we watched them run into the freezing water. Two people had to be rescued about 25 meters offshore. Still, no problem, swimming is my thing. The start gun goes off and I run into the water. Immediately, the wind is knocked out of me by the cold. I can’t see anything because we are swimming right into the rising sun. I can’t even see the people around me. I think, “I can’t breathe, its choppy, what’s happening?” I try to swim faster to get warm, but it only makes everything worse. I’m freaking out. Finally, I round the first buoy and I can see again, I’m warm and the oxygen is properly exchanging in my lungs again. I start sprinting. I probably did the second half of the swim faster than any race I have ever done. But my time had doubled, given my miniature panic attack at the start. The rest of the race went smoothly, and I finished feeling confident.
Overall, it was an incredible experience. The sprint triathlon was a short enough distance where I enjoyed myself the whole time. I would love to try again, knowing what I know now. It was extremely humbling to be challenged by something that I thought I had mastered. I think it is something that will relate throughout my career as a PT as well. I will probably get in a groove with my treatment techniques and at times feel overly comfortable. However, as PTs we need to constantly remind ourselves to get out of our comfort zones and keep finding those challenges that make us better clinicians. This race was just one of life’s tiny little reminders of that sentiment.