Saturday, April 25, 2015

A return to form

Those who know me or this blog will know I am a relentlessly positive person. This is a deliberate choice on my part. Twice I've stood at the fork between bitter cynicism and upbeat optimism and deliberately chose optimism because no-one is born cynical. (I'll also always chose the path less traveled, for it makes all the difference). This may make me a Pollyanna. But it's better than being an Eyeore /  Blackboard from Mr Squiggle. It takes quite a bit of faith to tackle to a paralysing fear head on and even more optimism to turn your greatest fear into your greatest joy.

That optimism has been sorely tested in recent weeks.

For the third time, as I started to consolidate my base and build towards a goal swim I was felled by fate. With Bondi to Watson's and Rottnest it was flu. This time it was being a complete gumby with boards. Ironically, I did also cop a hit to the head from someone else's rescue board during training in the lead up to Bondi to Watson's last year, but after a quick clearance from the hospital I was in the pool days later. So my expectations around time frames were similar. With each passing day it appeared I would have to let go of certain goals. I've grieved a bit for some of those goals.

I have started this post so many times, and abandoned the attempt, as the bitter grief in having a goal and a dream holiday taken from me by such a seemingly innocuous event meant I couldn't write in a style I recognised as my own. I wanted to whinge, not look for silver linings. There are so many posts on FB that I have deleted or locked down to myself because they were not fit for public consumption, being so out of step with my ordinary outlook. I have to thank my amazing paddler, Pia for being so philosophical about her dream holiday being cancelled as a result and for being such a positive influence in my life.

But after almost 10 weeks of almost unrecognisable levels of lethargy I am returning to my regularly scheduled bundle of enthusiastic, optimistic energy. And perhaps most importantly, I'm hopefully using the credit with Qantas from my Broome flights to book flights to San Francisco to hang out with some of my favourite swimmers on the planet, to fly to Hawaii with my beloved 4Seasons and (please don't let this be an act of hubris) Perth for Rottnest. Let us not dwell upon the fact that for 2 people to fly from Sydney to Broome covers almost all of these costs for a solo flyer and tarry forth, dear reader.

What happened?
Rescue Boards and I have never gotten on. At my first crack at the Bronze exam I passed all components despite a shocking head cold, except for the boards. They are big, heavy, hard to handle, leave me battered and bruised and are responsible for (at last count) 17 draft resignation letters. But they are an essential skill as a surf lifesaver so I've kept turning up to training, taking boards out to do additional training and even doing my first ever board race in recent weeks (on a board ironically named Katie).

It was a completely flat day, except for the occasional shore dump so we were using it to practice skimming: run out holding your board, hop over the wave, jump on and use your momentum to skim over the remaining waves. I badly mistimed it and plowed into a second shore dump with zero momentum, my board was turned to the point where it was parallel with the wave and together we rolled into the sand. My head hit the sand as the water was about a foot deep and I don't remember what happened next. I'm told I let go of the board, it got taken back out to sea by a wave, brought in, smashed my head (again) and went back out which is when I surfaced and remember again. My first thought was for my board and not taking anyone else out. My second thought was Ow! My head!

Apart from the pain, all seemed okay. Until I started uncontrollably dry retching but once that subsided the Lifeguards cleared me, I managed a shower and breakfast and one of those unbelievably kind fellow lifesavers drove me to work. Where my vision blurred to the point where I couldn't see. At which point it was off to hospital for a cervical collar and a CT scan, which was mercifully clear.

Most concussions and post concussive syndrome clears within days, which is why footballers are often back on the field the following week. So called difficult concussions take months not weeks. In keeping with my own character my concussion is difficult and the symptoms, although so significantly lessened to bear no resemblance to their original onset, continue to date.

This has meant 4 weeks and 2 days out of the water completely, 9 weeks and 1 day off squad and at least 10 weeks out of the open water.

This is a death sentence for a water baby. My gills dried out. But surprisingly, it's been okay. For the first month at least I was completely incapable of almost anything. Getting out of bed was a really big deal. Walking around the block even bigger. So swimming was right off the cards. But as I've improved I've returned to the pool and I happen to live walking distance from the most beautiful ocean pools in the known universe.

It could have been so much worse. And it is for so many others.

The whole experience has given me so much empathy for those who suffer from conditions which I've just received the tinniest and most temporary of insights into: memory loss, chronic pain, consistent headaches, anything less than perfect vision, the devastation of being completely disoriented in familiar surrounds and having to rely upon others.

My friends and family, have, as always, been stellar stalwarts throughout this process. Thank you.

What's next?
Yesterday I returned to Friday 50's with Vladswim as interval sessions are the fastest way to build fitness and endurance. Second best birthday present ever. Despite all the injuries caused by the combination of someone who is challenged in the co-ordination stakes and an intensely physical calling, my membership of Bondi Surf Bathers' Life Saving Club is still the best present I've given myself.

The ever fun / frustrating rebuilding phase. Swimming is so much about form that it means I can still hop back in the pool and lap people much to their frustration. But to my frustration, I'm being routinely lapped by the leader of the lane whom I had managed to haul myself up onto a pace with before being injured. So I can see where I am, where I want to be and the path to get there. But it is not the world's most inviting route.

In the meantime, it's just about sucking it up (Princess) and doing the hard yards of smart training, whilst listening to my body as it continues to recover from a traumatic brain injury.

On Monday I'll hopefully be cleared to resume cycling / driving and open water swimming.

In July I'm heading to San Francisco with the Icebergs contingent as planned. Although not to swim Lake Tahoe which was a possible plan depending on the outcome of Lake Argyle but just to hang with two of my favourite swimmers: Simon Dominguez and Kimberely Chambers who are about to undertake, along with a team of Yanks, a roundtrip relay to the Farallons. Meeting these guys was the highlight of last year's Alcatraz excursion - they were training for the English Channel and Tsugaru Channel respectively, whilst I was training to swim the 3km from Alcatraz back to Aquatic Park. Their generosity of spirit in helping me with that goal was exceptional. The inspiration they have provided since is unquantifiable. Perhaps, more importantly, the way we all took to each other like ducks to water was the most significant affirmation that those path choices mentioned at the start of the blog were the right ones. My other favourite San Fran swimmer, Alice Boxhall, got me through my first two Can Too programs. Not to mention the 4Seasons outpost in San Francisco: Nina and Chen.

Safety Third in San Fran

It's only within the last few days that I've felt sufficiently like myself again to be able to commit to that plan.

Then in September 4Seasons are headed to Hawaii for a couple of swims: the Waikiki Roughwater and the 5km North Shore Swim the following week. I have to admit I've never wanted to visit Hawaii, until they told me I could swim there! And in fact a Molokai Channel duo swim appeals to me far more than the English Channel. I might also have to work on that hardest of all possible tasks: relaxing and doing nothing.

And in February 2016, all going to plan, I'll head west, for life is peaceful there. Also because the utterly gorgeous Courtney lives there. In January 2014 I did my first 5km swim at Scarborough with Courtney's support (the next day I did my second also with Courtney's support to drive the 400km south to Albany). It was on the start line of that swim chatting to a fellow swimmer I first started to consider longer swims, including Rotto.  And I'll finally knock that 20km swim off my bucket list.

And perhaps my most significant goal, in May 2016 I'll swim through the heads of Sydney Harbour and successfully swim from Bondi to Watson's Bay. Solo.

With the exception of Coogee to Bondi, no swim has proven so relentless elusive. One day that goal will be mine. And all the sweeter for all the things that have gotten in the way in the meantime. She shall overcome.