Saturday, I went to the ocean. It had been a very long time since I spent a day lazing on the sand, soaking up the sun and swimming in the cool Atlantic water. It was wonderful.
I grew up at the ocean. My father was a lifeguard when I was a little girl, and I learned to swim admist the rolling waves and breakers. As we got older, my father, a teacher, always had summer jobs managing town beaches and we spent many of our summer days and weekends covered in sand and salt water. It was a great way to grow up.
As I got older, my friends and I worked as lifeguards at the town pool, but spent every chance we got back at the ocean. I was a strong swimmer and was never afraid of the water. While I had a healthy respect and knew what to watch for and when to stay on shore, I was always drawn to those rolling swells.
When I had kids, I wanted them to have an appreciation for the ocean too. We had a pool in our backyard though, and because we now lived on the North Shore of Long Island, the Sound beaches (calmer waters) were where we ended up most of the time. Ocean trips were a little bit more involved and required time and planning. We didn’t get there as much as I would have liked. Add to that, that when my children were small, I was in the worst shape of my life. I was uncomfortable in a bathing suit and while I was still an efficient swimmer, I had nowhere near the stamina and strength I had when I was younger.
When my daughter was 11 (12 years ago), I took my children (my son was 9) and two of their friends to Robert Moses to spend a day at the ocean. My son was never comfortable swimming in the ocean so he and his friend stayed on the shore, playing in the sand. My daughter, on the other hand, had no fear, loved the water and jumping the waves. She even enjoyed it when the breakers grabbed her and sent her tumbling. She always came up smiling and ready for more.
On this day though, there was a storm offshore and the ocean was angrier than usual. The waves were larger than what we normally get on Long Island and the currents were powerful, including areas of rip tides. Kate, her friend and I were jumping waves about chest deep in the water (waist deep for me) when suddenly my daughter was being sucked out to sea. I snapped at her friend to get to shore, and I swam into the rip tide after my child. I caught up with her quickly and grabbed hold, but she was scared. I know that you need to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the rip and we were close to the edge, but she wasn’t having any of it and kept trying to swim toward shore.
And then I heard two whistles blow. I knew the lifeguards were coming for us and I was able to calm her that way. While I was a bit embarrassed (who ever heard of a former lifeguard having to be rescued) I was never happier than to hear that sound. I could probably have gotten myself out of the situation, but I was out of shape and I was tired. With ropes and buoys, we were towed safely to shore. It should have been my wakeup call that it was time to do something about my weight and physical condition, but it wasn’t.
Instead, I stayed away from the ocean. Not that I never went to the beach again, but I never went back to really swimming in the ocean after that. Until yesterday. Yesterday, the ocean was relatively calm, clean and comfortable, so I walked in, dove under the breakers and swam out a ways past most of the people. From there, I swam parallel to the shore for a while and then back, laid on my back and just let the rolling waves slide underneath me. I came out of the water refreshed and invigorated.
For my training, I swim all the time. I can log 1000-1200 meters in a training swim…in a pool. And that feels great.
But nothing felt quite as good as swimming in the ocean, my old friend, on Saturday. I felt confident and strong in that water. And that alone has made all of this hard work worthwhile.