Updated: Aug 31
How it Started
I realised I should learn to swim when I was 29 and in a kayak in the South China Sea. My friends quickly jumped out of their kayaks to swim in the beautiful lagoons along the coast of Vietnam. But unfortunately, my intense fear of the water paralysed me, and I was stuck watching them from inside the safety of my boat.
Surprisingly, I grew up on the water. Michigan is famous for its thousands of lakes, including Lake Huron, where I spent my childhood summers. My family had a boat and a jet ski, so we would spend every sunny weekend on the lake. Even so, my only formal swimming lessons were toddler swim classes with my mom.
As a child, I was not afraid of the water. One summer day, I was riding on a jet ski with my dad. Then, somehow, we hit a wave, and I was tossed from the back and into the cold water. Luckily, I had a life jacket on, which was good, apart from the intense fear I felt during the ordeal.
As I got older, I realised how unpredictable water can be and became increasingly uncomfortable. So I began to wear a life jacket when I would go on the boat to help me feel more relaxed. I also started skipping trips to swimming pools with my friends because I was too afraid.
After my trip to Vietnam, I realised my fear was causing me to miss out on great opportunities. So I decided it was time to start swimming lessons. I was terrified the first time I went to Podoli. The water was too deep and too cold for my liking. Thankfully, in my first few lessons, I could stay close to the pool's edge to grab the side when I was nervous.
During the first lessons, I swallowed a ton of water and always left the pool coughing and sneezing. I was utterly uncomfortable, but I could also feel myself progressing. I was quickly becoming less nervous, and after about 10 lessons, I could swim a basic crawl. I have now been swimming for almost two years.
Surfing on Bali
I had achieved many goals, including snorkelling and surfing for the first time when I was in Bali on holiday. I have also set a goal to swim in a 5K race. Accomplishing the 5K will help me feel more confident in an open water setting and my swimmer strength. Even after the race, I plan to continue my lessons to build up my courage and endurance in the water. I still have areas to improve, like holding my breath for over 10 seconds!
After training with Lukas for 1 year, I was confident swimming crawl and no longer had any nerves in the pool. Then, a friend told me about the Lake Balaton 5K race in Hungary every summer. The race seemed very well organised and popular with international swimmers. Lukas agreed that it was a great goal, and we started training towards it in the fall of 2016.
Of course, my main worry about the 5K was the distance. In my lessons with Lukas, we worked on increasing distance and building endurance. Some of our lessons were focused on swimming quick sprints, and other classes were focused on keeping my pace over longer distances.
We also worked on sighting in the water to prepare for lake swimming. One of the most helpful exercises was swimming laps with my eyes closed to prepare for the low visibility in the lake. The 5K was scheduled for 1 July 2017; however, due to poor weather, it was postponed twice. Luckily, I could still attend the race when it was finally held on 9 July 2017.
The race started in the town of Révfülöp and finished on the side at Balatonboglár, Platán Strand. The distance from the start point to the finish point was 5.2 kilometres. When arriving at the starting point, the race organisers arrange a medical check to ensure the participants are fit for the race. They also have excellent facilities to hold bags so that when the swimmers arrive at the other side of the lake, they can access their clothes, towels, etc. Since there were 8,277 participants, the organisers allowed swimmers to start swimming between 7 AM and 11:45 AM. The only rule is that the swimmers need to be finished by 4 PM at the latest.
The registration and medical check went quickly, so I was ready to start the race around 10 AM. There was quite a long line to the starting point, and I was in the water by 11 AM. I was nervous and uncomfortable during my first few strokes. The lake seemed deeper than I thought, and the visibility in the water was zero. Lukas warned me many times about the visibility. However, I was still shocked when I first looked under the water! There was also a lot of sand and seaweed. I realised quickly that lake swimming and pool swimming are very different. I took a few deep breaths and continued on.
Along the race route, there are boats every 100 meters. Swimmers can stop alongside the vessels for water or sugar cubes. I stopped after about 500 meters to rest and regroup. I was struggling to swim Freestyle as the water was quite wavy. Most other swimmers were swimming breaststroke, so I continued swimming, alternating between crawl and breaststroke. I was also very thankful for the sighting practice in the pool, as it was essential to see the other swimmers and keep myself swimming straight in the water.
Ultimately, I finished the 5.2K in 3 hours and 15 minutes. The race was very challenging but also extremely rewarding. I overcame my nerves during the first 1 kilometre and remembered my training which helped me finish. I am very proud of myself for overcoming my fear, sticking with my goal, and training hard over the last year. Even though the race is over, I will continue swimming and set new and challenging goals for myself!