Open Water

I swam in open water for the first time this week. I joke with people that the 120-acre lake in Shawnee Mission Park is more like water left slightly ajar. In the slight breeze, the only chop was generated by the swimmers; the 200-meter triangle buoy course never takes you more than 10 or so long strokes from chest-deep water.

I was nervous anyway, with the kind of nerves generated when you want something to turn out to be wonderful but feel you have little say in whether that happens.

It turned out to be wonderful.

In the lake, there's no chlorine to scorch my nose and throat; no need for flip turns. Instead, a person can just swim and swim, feeling her body slip forward near the surface of the water.

In a pool, I understand my effort relative to the box I swim in. I judge by stripe, wall, rafters. I understand my body's movements dismembered: my elbow does this. My shoulder does that. My hand enters so. The water there is brilliant and sharp.

Lake water is brown and silky. It passes over me, beneath me. I know where I am only by feel: water, body, air. I lie out long and understand for the first time what the water wants to do with my hand, my arm, my head, with my entire body. I feel touch against my entire body. I feel everything relax and it's as though the water tells me how best to move. The water is warm near the surface and cold where my forearm passes deep.

The community's triathletes, beginners and elites, come out for open water practice. At least a hundred people stand, tread, swim. On the course, hands and feet bump and brush other swimmers' hands and feet. Rounding the buoys, we bump hips, shoulders. We can scarcely see one another in the brown water with the sun low in the sky. Standing in the sandy shallows, we introduce ourselves, tell what we're training for. All of us smile a lot.

I don't want to try hard open water — the ocean's vast and strong, and I get creeps thinking of large invisible animals swimming below me — but I'll be looking forward to these lake swims as much as I do my drills in the pool. The company's great and the water's blissful.

And yes — if there were any doubt that triathlon is a good sport for me — I do love swimming drills. I know it's odd. We'll get to that.

(Cross-posted from A Sunny Hello.)


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful way to describe the open water in a calm lake. Just once though I think you should try a bigger lake in the early morning, the water is glass-like you hear the birds waking and the campers begin to stir. The feeling of early morning swimming at a Lake is wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I'm going out tonight to SM Park for a swim. Thanks for the encouragement.