Vince Cavaliere

It’s an early Saturday morning in mid-March, and Vince Cavaliere is halfway through a suffer grinder fest spin session. He’s hunched over an indoor trainer, pushing a big gear with a grimace on his face, pain in his eyes, and sweat dripping from his nose. His training partners, working right alongside him, see his relentless determination and shout out words of encouragement. His wife, seated on the bike next to him, calls out his increasing wattage numbers, and this only makes him work harder. You can see him feeding off the energy around him.
Standing at 6’1” with a looming athletic frame, dark Italian skin, and deliberately coiffed flowing locks, Vince carries a presence. He’s loud, outspoken, competitive, driven, and a man of business. He knows what he wants, and he’s calculated in his dreams. As an entrepreneur of a real estate company, Vince has built something from nothing, and he is no stranger to dedication, perseverance and hard work. Dreaming big and always searching for the next best thing is in his DNA.

“I’ve always been goal driven, I’ve always been motivated to be something – and I’m still wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up,” he admits. “My brother says that I’m never satisfied, and even when I get to where I’m going, it’s like, really is that it?”
It was perhaps this mindset that propelled Vince from casual jogging with the run club to the world of eating, sleeping and breathing the sport of long distance triathlon, and ultimately, chasing the dream of racing at Ironman. But, outside of who Vince is as a person, are the people he trains with day and day out – the people he affectionately calls his, “tribe.” They are there for every suffer grinder fest spin session, every pain cave tempo run, every back breaking 200 kilometre enduro ride. They are the ones calling out the encouragement and egging him on to push himself beyond his own limitations.

Since his training journey began, Vince says that finding his “tribe” and the camaraderie of the sport was something he least expected. While, swimming, biking and running are truly individual sports, Vince says he discovered the team in triathlon.
“I never expected to be as connected to people,” he admits. “This is as much an individual sport as you can find. I have to swim by myself, nobody pulls me, nobody pushes me, I have to jump on my bike, nobody pulls me, nobody pushes me, and then I have to run, and nobody pushes me and nobody pulls me. But at the end of the day, the tribe are indirectly pushing me and pulling me.”
Vince’s training partners ultimately became a source of inspiration for him, and played an integral role in helping him to overcome  one of his biggest hurdles, running.
“Running is my worst discipline,” he admits. “It’s the one I work the hardest at, it’s the one that intimidates me the most, and at the end of the day, it’s the one I love the most.”
Reflecting back on his first year of training, Vince says he ran scared. Notably, he remembers his first half marathon in Vegas. He crossed the finish line in just over three hours, and for the next three days, he says, he sat in his hotel room with ice packs on his shins to dull the pain. “It was ridiculous,” he says.
Once Vince made the determination in his own mind to improve on his run times, he looked to his tribe for support, in particular, his training partner Kate, who was a driving factor in pushing Vince outside his own comfort zone.

“She is one amazing runner,” he laughs. “And just watching her and realizing she took an hour off her Ironman time, from 2014 to 2015, and won and qualified for Kona. If I can take an hour off my time, that is unbelievable, and I will have won in my mind.”
After spending an entire season chasing after Kate during training sessions, Vince went from running a three hour half marathon, to a 3.5 hour full marathon. While Vince admits the support from his training partners played an integral role in his physical running transformation, he had to rely on himself to overcome the mental hurdle of running, and says, he has yet to find his own breaking point.
“The hardest part is probably understanding, truly, where your limitations are as a human being, and at what point will you truly break. I haven’t found that yet,” he says.
Outside of Vince’s accomplishments as an athlete, and overcoming his own personal hurdles in the sport, Vince says his greatest fulfillment throughout his Ironman journey has been the opportunity to train with his wife, Katrina.

“She’s super talented in her own right, she’s super strong, mentally one of the toughest people I know, and I draw from that,” he smiles.
As his Saturday morning spin session wraps, and he wipes the final droplet of sweat from his nose, you see a man who is driven by his passions, his fear of failure and the desire to be the best he can be, not only for himself, but for others around him.  “I think I’m a true domestique in many ways,” he admits. “I like to see other people do well around me, and in order for people to do well around me, I have to be doing really, really well. I have to lead by example.”

Another year, another adventure

Getting back into the routine and grind of training can be a bittersweet journey. My mind and body have long been ready for structure and a break from being on a break. The off-season provided some much needed time to fly by the seat of my pants, indulge and otherwise float along free and without constraints. And while it was good for me, I also came to the realization that structure works in my favour. Without it my life is one giant zig-zagging swirl, much like a carefree child running after dandelions in the wind. It’s fun and freeing for a short while, but eventually I have to float back down to reality. So, here I am, looking ahead to the new year with a plan in my mind, challenges on the horizon and an uncharted path to carve out.  Despite being my second Ironman year, I have no doubt this one will become unique in its own way. There will be new milestones, new tests, new triumphs and new stories to tell.
On December 7, the start to the season was kicked off with a swim. As I do at the beginning of every year, I pulled my bathing suit off the back of the bathroom door for the first time in months. It’s the dreaded moment of putting back on a bathing suit that may or may not fit. As tradition goes, the straps felt tight and my ass seemed large.
Once at the pool, I shuffled half asleep onto the deck with my hoodie still on and looked through my half open eyes at the turquoise still water. As with every first day back, I pondered whether the pool was longer or not. Either way, it didn’t matter, if I procrastinated any longer my coach would have dropped kicked me in, so I eventually lowered myself into the cool water and kicked off the wall. Despite always being the last one in, the water is my favourite place. While some of our training sessions here can be gruelling hard work, it has also been a place of healing for me and I always look forward to the first day back at the pool.

In just the first few weeks of my new training schedule, I’ve already felt in familiar territory but I’ve also realized I’m starting in a different place. My mindset is more focused, my knowledge and experience base has broadened and with each start to the new season, I’m stronger than the last.
As 2016 begins, I’m at the beginning of another year of many unknowns and unchartered territory, but that’s the beauty of celebrating the start to a new year. I get a blank canvas, and I look forward to painting it with all the patterns and all the colours.  2016 will be my year of adventure – in work, in play, and in everything that comes my way.

Ironman Canada – July 26 – Whistler

The world is quiet at 3:30 in the morning. It feels dark and lonely and unchartered. As I sat across the breakfast table from my training partner, Tracy, we choked down our pre-race meals in silence.  There really wasn’t much to say between us, and we didn’t need to talk, we already knew what was going on in each other’s minds. Just being together side-by-side heading off into the battle field was all we needed.

As we descended onto Rainbow Park and into transition for final bike set-up, it felt like any other race morning. I went through my routines like clock work as I bobbed my head to pump-up ballads thumping through my headphones. I opted to drown out the voices around me – I had enough going through my own mind and I didn’t need outside distractions or further things to worry about. After meticulously putting on my wetsuit, I begrudgingly removed my headphones, dropped off my belongings at the morning clothes bag drop, and took the long way around to the water where I happened to find one of my other training partners, Kate. The two of us could hardly contain ourselves from embracing in a long, emotional hug. Together we decided there was no time like the present to get in the water.

With Kate on my toes we slowly swam our way out to the buoy line. We still had about 10 to 15 minutes until the start but it was more relaxing to be in the water. No more pacing, no more distracting music – just me, thousands of other Ironman hopefuls, and the cool lake water. Together we bobbed, floated, and anxiously awaited the start cannon. With a mere 30 seconds to go, as if in unison and without any prompts, we all started yelling good luck to one another, and then it began.

For the first 25 metres or so, I couldn’t even put my head in the water. There was a mass assault of body parts flying every which direction and with every stroke and kick I would collide with neoprene. It felt like a charge of seals flailing from an impending predator – we were swimming for our lives.  I kept thinking that if I stopped at any which point, I would be trampled from the herd and sink slowly into the dark depths of the lake. Finally, the mass settled out, and I was able to get into my pace and rhythm with mostly clear water around me. Every now and again for no rhyme or reason a body would swim directly across me, or an arm would slam on top of my head. Sometimes I yelled, other times I just grabbed onto that misguided body part and moved it out of my way. It was every man for themselves out there. Be aggressive, or be left behind.
The swim went on and on and on and on. One, two, sight, one, two, sight, repeat, repeat, repeat. I would count buoys, I would yell at other swimmers, I would sing songs, I would think of the finish line, I would think of land, I would think of the grey sky that looked the same every time I looked at it. The excitement only kicked up when I hit the turn buoys and masses of bodies would all converge together as if we were a giant magnet. Again, I would get my elbows up, yell and move people out of my way. Then it was back to one, two, sight and repeat. As I rounded the third buoy and headed out for my second lap, I turned my head to the right and breathed almost in unison with no one other than Kate. In that moment, I realized through all that chaos she had managed to stay on my toes for the entire first lap – incredible. We briefly smiled and acknowledged each other before heading off on our paths. Once I hit the second to last buoy on my last lap, I started to get tired. I was longing to be vertical and to be on my beloved bicycle and out of the water. The stretch from the last turn buoy to shore felt like the longest part of the swim. I kept thinking I would see land beneath me, but it just went on and on, until finally I was almost scraping my body against the sand and I stood up. As with every transition from the water to shore, I sauntered like a drunken pirate until my body remembered what walking felt like. I celebrated with a couple fist pumps before almost bulldozing over my competition on my way towards the change tent. It wasn’t until I ran out the other side that I realized the air was cold and the rain was coming down hard. It was going to be a freezing, wet miserable ride.

Within the first 1o minutes I felt like an icicle. My sunglasses were too wet and foggy to wear, so I opted to tuck them in my back pocket, forcing me to squint as I avoided the huge droplets of rain flying into my exposed eyeballs. Rooster tails of water would fly up from bikes ahead of me, and I did what I could to pass them without skidding in the pooling water. At every descent, I would remember the wise words of Jeff Symonds, “you can crash and run a good marathon, but the recovery afterwards is brutal.” I would be damned if a crash would end my race

As we headed for the climb up into the Callahan I felt slightly warmer, but really still quite frozen. With only my dripping, wet tri kit and arm warmers clinging to my body I was exposed to whatever Mother Nature had in store for us that day, and on this day she was a bitch. From the top of the Callahan, all the way down into Pemberton my teeth chattered incessantly against one another, as I kept saying to myself, it can’t be like this all day, it can’t be like this all day. My fingers were getting numb and I struggled to shift gears. At each aid station I could see athletes unable to grasp water bottles, while others were huddled in cars and wrapped in blankets. It was brutal. My only saving grace was seeing the spectators and my friends and family all lined up against the road cheering as if I was a rock star. At one of the bridges, I even raised my arm as if to encourage more cheering and they went wild. I had to hold onto every ounce of their positive energy, inside I was falling apart.

Once I had finished one of the sketchiest descents of my life into Pemberton I started to warm again and the rain subsided. For the first time in awhile, I started to feel good.  I knew this bike course like the back of my hand. I knew each corner, each turn, each bump, and I was so grateful for all the time we had spent training here just a few weeks ago. At this point in the race, I was able to settle into a solid pace and began ticking off the competition. I was nailing my pacing and feeling incredible – and then I made an error. 
I could see an aid station approaching on the horizon and I knew I needed to pick something up but in the chaos of my mind I couldn’t decide whether I needed a Gatorade or a water. I kept thinking – Gatorade, water, Gatorade water? With a few metres to go, my brain sorted itself out, decided on a Gatorade, and then realized I hadn’t slowed down. I was coming in hot. Aid stations go by a lot faster when you forget to apply your brakes, so I had a split second to stick my hand out, grab a bottle and maybe slow down. Without thinking, I reached across my bike with my left hand, grabbed the bottle, and without even a second to realize my mistake, I had cranked my front wheel completely sideways and my head and shoulder slammed down hard against the concrete. I thought my race was over. Frantically, I hopped back up, shaking, still straddling my bike, and trying to play it off like nothing had happened. Instantly I had volunteers descending on me. I could hear them saying over and over that I had hit my head really hard. They were right, I had double vision and my head was pounding. In a panic, I tried to make it seem like I was good to go; I could almost feel tears welling up in my eyes, as I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue. The sound of my dad’s voice rang through my head, “how could you be so stupid?” Eventually they convinced me to sit on the curb for a time out and quick evaluation. Fortunately a medic was nearby and was able to bandage up the road rash on my shoulder and check me for any signs of a concussion. It didn’t take her long to give me the green light. She said my pupils looked fine and I was making sense, so it was up to me if I wanted to continue. I almost interrupted her as I blurted out that this is my first time, I’m was going to be an Ironman. So, they handed me that Gatorade, wished me luck and off I went for the last, long 30 kilometres of hill climbing back up into Whistler. My legs were tired and heavy, my head woozy and all I could do was count each stroke of the pedal – 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3.
As with every race, as much as I love my bike, once I hit transition, I am ready to let it go. I flew in feeling slightly wobbly and drunken, but with a huge bright smile on my face. I hopped off that bike almost faster than the volunteers could grab it, thanked the universe I was still alive, and bolted into the change tent to get ready for the run.
After a quick transition, I ran out the other side with more fist pumping and celebration as I ran past my friends and family. Once again, I felt like a rock star. As the cheers faded into the distance,  I settled into my run pace and focused on how the hell I was going to run a marathon. Previous to that day, the furthest I had ever run was 23 kilometres, so I literally didn’t know if I was going to make it. By about the 15 kilometre mark, I had to start to thinking of survival mode and how I would get through this. I opted to stop looking for kilometre markers and start looking for people markers. There were the beer drinkers and my friends at the golf course, the lady giving out free hugs on the corner of the trail, my mom waiting on the corner of Lorimer and Blackcomb and the long crowds of people near the village – those were all markers along the course I remembered and longed to see again. They were my lift and I relied on them to bring out my smile.

Once they faded from sight, I would stare at the ground in front of me and just keep trudging one foot in front of the other. Even as I passed the 23k mark, I didn’t feel like celebrating the distance – I still had so far to go. The final 7 kilometres was when everything started to hurt. My toes were tingling as blisters started to form, my knees would scream out in pain with each pounding step, and I was fading. As I crossed the road and looked up, I saw my dad. He seemed to be beaming with pride as he asked how I was doing. All I could muster out was that I was in pain. In a sympathetic yet encouraging tone, he told me he knew how I felt but I was almost home. It has hard to hold back a warm stream of tears. I was so grateful for his words and his company in that brief moment.

As I hit the final two kilometres and rounded the Lorimer and Blackcomb corner one final time I saw all my training partners, some who had already finished and some who had just come to cheer us on. They were yelling my name, and again, the tears almost started to stream – I was overwhelmed. Leaving them in the distance, I continued on the longest 2 kilometres of my life. I could hear the announcer proclaiming Ironman finishers, yet my journey was not quite done. At one point I thought I saw my turn into the finish chute, but I looked up to see my brother, waving at me to keep going around the other corner – I was still not there. My feet have never felt so heavy, and they were barely willing to move one step further.
Finally, as I rounded back to that corner, that actual final corner, I knew I was home free. To summarize what that finish chute symbolized to me would almost be another story in itself. I was re-energized, free, happy, and overjoyed. I took that neon trucker hat off my head, turned it backwards and fired off towards the awaiting finish line. I was overcome with emotion and overwhelmed by the crowd of strangers cheering for me as I spread my arms like a bird and flew down the chute. I yelled, I high fived awaiting hands of my friends and family hanging over the fence, and I celebrated with whatever ounce of energy I had left.

Finally with my foot over the finish line, I heard the words I had be longing to hear for the past two years, the words that I had worked so god damned hard to hear, and the words that would bring this journey to end – you are an Ironman. I almost stumbled into a volunteer as she guided me to a chair – finally I could stop moving. With an uncomfortable foil blanket draped over my shoulders I sat there unsure of what to do next. But in less time than I could sigh a breath of relief I heard the screams of my name and looked over my shoulder to see my friends and family anxiously awaiting congratulations hugs. It was exactly what I needed – that, a hot bath and some new legs.
It’s been almost three weeks since race day, and I still struggle to reflect on exactly what that day meant to me. It’s an adventure full of ups and downs, and one I will never forget. I claimed my title and no one can ever take that away from me. I poured my heart and soul into crossing that line, and even when there were days I never thought I would, I did. I’ll never be able to duplicate that feeling of crossing the Ironman finish line for the first time, but I will forever cherish it, learn from it and take it with me on whatever journey life has for me next.
aly and mom (1) aly random

And the day is here…

To sit down and try to summarize all my thoughts, emotions, and retrospects from the past two years is a challenging task. For the first time in this journey, I’m finding myself at a loss for words. Part of the problem is that my emotions jump from one to the next in mere minutes – smiles to tears, laughter to screams – so it’s hard to say what I’m thinking. The butterflies come and go, so does the anxiety, fears, and even some excitement. I’m still not sure that I’ve quite grasped the magnitude of what I’m about to tackle tomorrow – swim 3.8K, bike 180, then run a marathon- it sounds like a bit like insanity, even to me. But what has been reiterated to me time and time again, is that the work is done. All I can do from here until race start is rest, shut off the brain and trust in the journey I’ve been on. Trust that everything I went through was a part of the bigger plan to get me here. The meningitis that delayed my first half ironman, the knee injury that threatened to end the dream, the popped out ribs, the colds, the heat stroke, bleeding toes, blisters, sun burns, and all the other cuts, scrapes, bruises and obstacles, were all a part of growing me into the person I needed to be to do this thing.
I still remember when I first told people I would do an Ironman. My dad looked at me with suspicion and said, “that is a really big race.” Some of my friends also gave me the same looks of suspicions, yet they smiled and nodded that I could do it. So, off I went – like an eager kid, hopping in with both feet and never looking back. Now here I am, less than 12 hours from hearing that start cannon – it’s a bit surreal.
Over the past few days, with all the buzzing of energy, sleepless nights, and unpredictable emotions, there has been one constant in my life – the support and it’s been that way since day one. Triathlon may be an individual sport, and on race day I have only myself to rely on to get me from point A to point B, but there is no denying that there are many people who have been by my side, believing, even when I doubted myself, that I could and would do this thing.
First and foremost, I would not have even stepped foot into this sport if it wasn’t for the three most important role models in my life, my mom, dad and big brother. My love for sport and competition, and relentless determination and stubbornness comes from one of three places and I have them to thank for telling me I could do whatever I set my heart out to do, even if it was Ironman. Through the journey they have been on the other end of the line to hear it all, to cheer me on, and to build me up when I was down. I also couldn’t forget the love of my sister-in-law who, despite not understanding anything about the sport, would often send me text messages full of Ironman related questions and words of encouragement. Her curiosity of my insanity oftentimes made me smile and I loved sharing my stories with her.

Then there have been my friends, who may never truly understand why I do what I do, but have been every step of the way. Whether it was coming to cheer me on at one of the world’s worst spectator sports, randomly volunteering at my races just to get closer to the action, talking to me about my training for hours on phone, or tracking me online – knowing you were there rooting for me every step of the way meant the world. I am especially grateful to those who made the journey to Whistler to sport a neon yellow ‘Team Couch’ support crew shirt and cheer me on for however many hours of the day this thing will take me.

I also can’t look back on these past two years and not think about my training partners, who have not only become friends, but my second family. I couldn’t possibly single any of them out because each of them has offered me something unique and priceless – from many words of wisdom, to shared tools, bike parts, tires and wheels, to shared homes, food, drinks, laughs, cries, dinners, hotel rooms, trips to Kona, chats in the hot tub, chats on the curb, and so much love. Their support over the past two years has been nothing short of incredible and inspiring. I will be thinking of each of them on race day and everything they taught me leading up to tomorrow. I could not have found a better group to go through this roller coaster with me.

Then there is coach. Before Maurice, I learned what I could from online videos, blogs and books, but his knowledge, expertise and ‘rain man’ way of looking at this sport was truly special and it’s because of him and his training program that I got to this day. Although he often said things I could only smile and nod at, he was able to look at my journey in a way I could never have comprehended. There were also times when I cursed his name. But in the end, he cared about us as athletes, and he went through every up and down with me, making damn sure I got here in one piece. I couldn’t possibly thank him enough for his patience when I chose to do keg stands instead of bike rides, for playing hockey or ball when I should have been resting, and for allowing me to ask all the dumb questions in the world. He has been one hell of a coach.
And speaking of coaches, I’ll never forget the woman who would teach me all the fundamentals I needed to know about swimming. Teresa was the one who helped get me from one end the pool to the other, and eventually into my very first open water swim. You never forget those moments or how they contributed to the overall success of my swimming.
In one last shout out, I couldn’t forget all the medical professionals I encountered along the road. From my massage therapist, to chiropractors, my athletic trainer, and hospital staff in Victoria – I saw some of them more than I had wanted, but they played an integral role in making sure I got here alive and in one piece.
As I turn off the light and try to shut off the buzz that invades my head, I will take one final thought with me, “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”

Swimming with the fishes in the deep blue sea

The ocean air breezed gently across my skin and I soaked in the radiance of the warm sun as Tracy and I walked along the rock wall of Alli’i Drive. On this morning, as I glanced out along the horizon, the ocean appeared incredibly vast and exceptionally grand. It was like a serene, turquoise mass of rippling water gently swaying in tune to the calm morning winds. I closed by eyes tightly as I embraced the salty air and the feeling of freedom and revitalization. I am a water baby, born to love the water, and a west coast girl, born to love the ocean. The crashing sound of waves, the rush of the tides moving over tiny pebbles, the bright colours of starfish, jellyfish and shells, the smells of changing tides, and the feeling of wet, soft sand between your toes, reminds me of a childhood of memories frolicking along shorelines.

As we passed the end of the rock wall we reached the top of the stairs to the small sandy beach, where we began to remove our shoes and put on our goggles and caps. Despite the warmth in the air, my teeth began to incessantly chatter, a sign of my body’s first reaction to nervousness. Although I feel like my soul is innately connected to the ocean, I prefer to feel that connection from a distance. For as deeply as I love it, I am also deeply afraid of it, particularly what lies beneath it – fish, octopi, crevasses, caves, sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, turtles, especially whales and anything that moves, sits still, barely lives or even floats.  In fact, when I first started triathlons I swore I would never do an open ocean water swim, unless I qualified for Kona.  Well I lied to myself, because here I was about to swim 1.2 miles into the open ocean where I would be an insignificant dot amongst all the things that moved and floated, including sharks, stingrays, turtles and whatever else lurked in the bay that morning.
As I hobbled down the rocky steps to the wet, sandy beach, I found a spot to sit where I could pull on my “legs.” Before I left, my coach gave me the bottom half of of his wetsuit, cut into two single legs. It would help keep my injured knee stable and afloat so I wouldn’t need to kick. They would also provide some slight flotation, which was reassuring at the time. Given there were no lane ropes or deck to grab onto, it was nice to know my legs were a little bit more floaty than usual. Although, it did briefly enter my mind that from the view below, I now slightly resembled a seal, which was prime bait for large, carnivorous sea creatures. Looking back on it now though, I should have been more concerned about walking around with the the not-so-fashionable look of cut off wet suit legs over my tri shorts, which as I recalled was how my coach told me not to wear them.

Looking out over the horizon of the Kailua-Kona bay I took one deep breath and plunged myself into a hesitant head-first dive forward and just started swimming.

For the first 150 metres, the water was amazingly clear, and we were surrounded by vibrant colours of darting tropical fish and a bursting array of coral. Every few metres I would I lose  sight of where I was going as I was more enthralled with the happenings beneath me. Here in the bay, I felt safe and relaxed. The water was deep enough for swimming, but shallow enough to prevent any large unwanted sea creatures from disrupting the peace. The waves gently rocked me back and forth as the tide pulled in, then out, but it didn’t bother me; I just kind of rolled with it.
As we moved past the 150 metre swim marker, the coral slowly disappeared into white sand and the depths grew deeper and deeper, and suddenly I felt much more vulnerable and my mind started to run wild. I kept telling myself to calm down, relax, be one with the water, but I couldn’t keep the word “shark” out of my head and my eyes darted at every shadow. With every fourth stroke I would pop my head up slightly to navigate my way through the waters and every time I would realize just how exposed we were out in the middle of the open ocean. The horizon was dotted with various boats, buoys, a titanic sized cruise ship and occasionally other swimmers. I couldn’t decide in that moment whether it was a breathtaking sight or simply terrifying. So, I shut out the dark fears of large looking sea creatures and tried to focus on the small, harmless fish. With just metres to go before hitting the marker, a large haunting looking shape swept over the ocean floor. It was a Manta Ray, calmly floating along. This creature wasn’t terrifying, in fact, it was quite peaceful.
As I continued on and bobbed my head up to sight I saw Tracy pull up; we had hit the 1.2 mile marker. The two of us floated there in the middle of the open ocean, just two insignificant dots, surrounded by a mysterious underwater world, and exchanging high-fives as we celebrated our triumph. We turned to head back, and a local swimmer popped up beside us. “Beautiful morning for swim,” she exclaimed in a calm almost namaste-like greeting. Tracy and I smiled at each other. For the first time, I was completely  relaxed and the dark thoughts of terror in the great, deep sea were gone. The journey back was much more comfortable, and my eyes no longer darted in all directions. I was calm, yet straddling the edge between fight or flight. I was guarded, yet open.
Once back on shore, we stumbled along the soft sand like drunken sailors touching land for the first time and laughed in spite of ourselves. I looked back over the horizon to see the marker off in the distance and smiled. I will forever be grateful for my first open ocean water swim, yet I don’t know if it’s something I am intent on repeating anytime too soon. I will always respect the ocean and what lies beneath it, and I don’t think I’ll truly ever lose that fear, but for now I am just happy to have survived and happy to have experienced the beauties of the great blue Pacific.

*A couple days later there was a shark attack on one of the nearby beaches and a Grey Whale sighting just off the marker in the bay. I counted my lucky stars for the peaceful adventure we experienced, and didn’t swim much further that the buoy line for the rest of the week.