I’ve written before about how I admire The Fast and the Furious’ Dom Toretto, and his ability to live his life a quarter mile at a time. And so we come to the last quarter of 2016, a year in which, by my account, it’s been easier to focus on each day, or quarter mile, as it comes. Because expectations any further out are likely to be blown out the water.
Water is a theme, here. In that Vin Diesel-y post from April, I wrote how I awoke at the stroke of midnight on April 1, 2016, the dawn of the second quarter. Oddly enough, the same thing happened on October 1, 2016, the dawn of the fourth quarter. While it seemed noteworthy that my phone read 12:00 on the nose the first time I awoke, it was not so unusual that I woke up several more times that night. Because I had pre-race jitters. I was due in the Gulf of Mexico in a few hours, as part of a triathlon relay team.
As much as I would love to write that the swim ahead of me was a quarter mile, 600 yards is actually closer to a third of a mile. Sure, I could take some literary license, but I tend to agonize over details, and it doesn’t feel right to fudge this one.
It was not my first time doing this race, the Santa Rosa Island Triathlon in Pensacola. I had done it once before, with the same team, four years ago. Or sixteen quarters ago.
I was excited—open water swims are a pretty big deal to me. I swim frequently, but not in open water. The stakes and the risks are too high. It’s a little like trick-or-treating.
Let me explain. As a kid, I wouldn’t go around on some random night soliciting candy. That’s almost asking for a trick. Instead, the activity is saved for a special occasion—Halloween—when everyone else is dressed up funny, hitting the streets, and begging for treats. Stakes lessened, risks mitigated.
Same for open water races. Everyone else is dressed funny, hitting the water, scaring away the man-eating sea creatures. And there are plenty of folks on jet skis and paddleboards to watch over you, and come to your rescue if needed.
All signs pointed to my swim being trick-free the day before the race. The water was clear and calm, and the flags were green. But then this happened the morning of the race, as I walked to the start:
A race volunteer, standing at the water’s edge, told me there were a lot of “moon jellyfish” in the water.
“What’s a moon jellyfish?” I asked.
“Really big, round, jellyfish. But they have short tentacles, so you should be fine,” he answered.
Great… I thought. Hope I’m not allergic to jellyfish stings.
Turns out, I’m not. I’m pretty sure I avoided the big ones, but I did finish the swim feeling itchy from the trillions of other tiny living things in the water.
So that’s the trick part. But there’s a treat, too. The best way for me to describe it is with a movie quote. At the end of The Hunt for Red October, Sean Connery’s Captain Marko Ramius quotes a poem:
And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.
(A side note—Captain Ramius credits Christopher Columbus with the quote. But that’s a fiction—the Internet tells me the screenwriter, Larry Ferguson, wrote it for the movie). Anyway, whoever came up with it, it’s memorable and rings true. Because I come away with a sense of renewal every time I emerge from the surf; snotty and salty and covered with microscopic primordial creatures.
Renewal ain’t always pretty.
That feeling is the reason why I’ll do another open water race, hopefully sooner rather than later. I may attempt to live my life a quarter mile (or third mile, or even a full mile) at a time. But some quarter miles are more meaningful, more engaging, than others. Those are the ones I’m seeking.
P.S. – my time improved from the last time I did this race, and my team members crushed their ride and run, respectively. We placed 3rd in Coed teams! And yes, there were more than three Coed teams. 🙂