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Binge Swim Training Bender: Part 1

posted May 21, 2007 @ 11:15 PM  |  Open Water Swimming category

Two Dynoswimmers, Sean Bean and Emily Nohner battle the elements.

~By Emily Nohner

How to Describe the Ocean Swims?

Saturday was my first time swimming in the ocean. I mean, I have cooled off in the ocean waves after tanning on the beach, but I have never thought to myself, "Man, I really want to go swim in those 10 foot waves." But, with the help of the team I realized that this sort of challenge was exactly what I needed in order to complete the 9-mile swim in Minnesota. Sure, the lake won't have salt-water or gigantic waves, but it will try everything I've got - the lake won't pity our swim team. I broke the experience down into what I took away as the five main lessons I learned as a beginner to open-water swimming.

Lesson 1: The ocean has an intensity that is ferocious, relentless, and deceiving. Strangely, this weekend was choppier than the typical conditions for Flagler Beach (Atlantic Ocean, right north of Daytona Beach). There were red flags up and down the way as the lifeguards are required to do, cautioning rough conditions and prohibiting beach swims. But that's not where we swim, Dynoswimmers have this great spot south from Flagler Beach, past all the ocean development. One side of the road is preservation brush, and the other is nothing but ocean.

We arrived for the first swim Saturday morning and I could tell that everyone was being cautious about these waves. Me, being a first timer, had nothing to compare the waves to - so I figured if they feel comfortable going in, then I will follow. The first 10 minutes were spent getting sunscreen on, drinking last gulps of Gatorade, and saying hellos. The friendships on the team are easy to pick up on; everyone hugged as if they hadn't seen each other in ages (when they swim together 4-5 times a week and often compete in triathlons and swim meets in their spare time)! But Judi told me, that when Coach Dean says, "Let's go!" then it is game time, and there is no talking, swim caps on, goggles tightened, onward to the sea!

Lesson 2: We don't just use the buddy system, we live it.

Ok, you know when you hear those stories about people finding the strength to lift cars off the ground to rescue someone caught underneath?

As we raced into the crashing waves I prayed to God that my adrenaline and whatever muscle mass I have would be enough to carry me through and beyond the breakers. I felt safer knowing that we were on a buddy system - I had at least two strong swimmers on each side of me making sure I was making it through each wave. But, even though I had buddies, it was still up to me to kick and pull my way through the tumultuous water. There was no time for fear or panic, I just knew I had to keep swimming. If I stopped, the waves would carry me backwards and all of the past 5 minutes would be wasted. After face fulls of water I realized I was not timing the waves correctly. There is a science to dodging the waves, and I had to learn it quickly. Finally I told Sean and Doug (my buddies) to shout at me "Duck!" when I needed to dive under the wave and wait it out, or shout "Over!" when I needed to keep swimming. Once I got that part down, I was making progress. All seemed well when the Dynoswimmers gathered in the middle of the waves toward a calm spot. This was a gap in between the breakers. It was really bizarre, I thought, it was like being in a dirty hot tub - the surface was nothing but foam, and the current was going every which way. But it wasn't safe to swim in this zone; we had to pass one more breaker to get to calmer and deeper water.

Now that I knew my buddies were going to tell me when to duck I felt a bit better before round two of the battle. Once we made it out past the second breaker Coach Dean decided the waves were still too rough: it was time to head in. Now we had to swim looking backwards over our shoulders to watch out for the waves. If you time it right you can use the momentum of the wave to push you forward; if you mis-time it though (or don't see the wave cresting) you get a lovely crash of water that can face plant you 15-20 feet to the bottom which knocks you a bit and reminds you mockingly to watch your back. We made it back to shore, just in time for our pool training!

Lesson 3: Everyone, regardless of how skilled and experienced a swimmer, has a different background in the open water - and this makes a huge difference!

It clearly would be wasted time if people tried to compare their strengths and weaknesses to one another on the team. As Judi said, she grew up on water, and not just water - but open water in New Jersey pulling her sailboat a mile or more through the water home by herself. Others have been experienced pool swimmers only, and are new to the ocean. Together, as a team though, everyone brings an incredible amount of knowledge. Instead of worrying about what I can't do, I had to remind myself that everyone is my teacher. The ocean is a neutralizing force, no matter how many muscles you've got, how many races you've won, once the group is swimming together and out in the ocean it is all the same playing field.

Lesson 4: The last lesson, (for now) is trust.

Not only did I have to trust my body as being capable of enduring the swim, but I also had to trust the team members to be my eyes, ears, and brain! If it wasn't for Doug and Sean yelling, "Duck!" I would have been washed up on shore and still cussing up a storm about the relentless waves. I learned to trust that the team was going to push me and support me. When I shouted, "I CAN'T DO THIS!" during the first attempt at the ocean swim, Sean immediately appeared and coached me through the hurdles. Trust can only be built by honesty. When Coach Dean asked us all how we were doing, I knew I better pipe up if I knew I couldn't hack it anymore. A couple of times I said I was doing fine, but a bit nauseous. I wasn't going to push myself to such an extreme that I injured myself or was lying about pain or being tired; but I knew I couldn't wimp out either although by Sunday everything in me wanted to!

So Sunday morning we were swimming and I knew that the motion sickness was going to be the end of me. I hadn't realized how bad it was until we got past the breakers. I puked a bit and shouted that I was good to go. I figured that it was out of my system, a little motion sickness is all. Coach "Dean O." laughed and asked if there was a baby-Dynoswimmer on the way (as if I was expecting). Motion sickness, not morning sickness thank you very much!

Anyway, after the next "set" I was done for. When my name came up in roll call I just told my swim buddies to steer clear of me, but it was too late. Suffice it to say that puke happens, and I did a fine job earning whatever nickname may come my way. Immediately the team swam me in, which was awesome because most could have stayed out there beyond the breakers. Instead they all made the trek and swam me in only to turn around and swim back out again for the rest of their swim, which by the way I heard was no easy set - butterfly across the current!

Anytime one Dynoswimmer can puke on another Dynoswimmer, the trust is pretty much forged. After some Dramamine, and an hours rest, Coach Dean O. said that I had to get back in the water as scheduled. In my head I thought, "No way in hell!" But my body knew that if I didn't attempt it again I would be scared to try it again next (Memorial Day) Weekend. Dean O. said, "You say the word - and we'll come back to shore, even if it's in 10 minutes." I astounded myself and made it a lot longer than 10 minutes.

I just had to keep going or else the motion would get to me. Again, it was important to be honest about how I was doing. I knew that as soon as I said I was done, that would be it for the day. And then I heard the words, "Hey Dean, did you see those fins?" Doug had spotted fins in the distance and did the right thing by asking Dean. Judi had seen them too, but was sure they were dolphins. Dean had seen them and was keeping an eye on the situation. Me? I was oblivious, but now I had a new thing to worry about - what type of fin is out there?! Again, I had to trust that the sea savvy Dynoswimmers knew the difference between shark fins and dolphin fins. I think that was the scariest part, because the mind plays tricks on you out there and there is nothing but deep salty water below, to the right and to the left of you.

Lesson 5: We made it, I made it.

Four ocean swims in two days, and rough waters at that. I lost a training fin and goggles in massive waves, and my breakfast in another. But I kept looking at the bright side - no limbs were lost! After the last swim I stood on the beach trying to calm my stomach and get back to normal. Then I see Dean body surfing the waves. He comes back and shouts, "I just bitch-slapped the waves for you and told them to get it out of their system so we can have calm waters for next weekend!" Ha, thanks Dean.

It was an experience of a lifetime, something that I had never imagined I would try, and I know that I would and could never have done it without the entire Dynoswim team. It took every single smile and high-five to make me feel like I could accomplish those swims.

And, I can accomplish those swims!


As humans we always underestimate what we are truly capable of. Great job, Emily!

Posted by AMY on May 25, 2007 @ 5:54 AM

It always amazes me what can be done when you set your mind to it. As it's said, "There aren't extraordinary people, just ordinary people that do extraodinary things." And you're one of them!

You did awesome.

Posted by Judi on June 1, 2007 @ 11:54 PM


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