Age 34
Aspiration: Open water marathon swimming across the English Channel

Every time I enter the ocean, the swim is different. The marks on land may be the same. But everything else is constantly changing. As I wade into the cold, open water, I am literally washed over by the unknown. Open water marathon swimming is not for the faint of heart or the weak of mind.

The quiet isolation can be very depressing. Haunting. Every stoke has me head down into the dark, cold water. There is no light underwater. Only darkness. But I have mentally trained myself to accept and embrace this secret, isolating world. Open water marathon swimming is where strength battles toughness. I love the psychological game that I race when I get pushed around out there. You see, the challenge is far more mental than physical. It can be frustrating, battling the cold and the fatigue in my muscles. But that is when I start off my inner monologue by telling myself that I am ok.

I am ok.

It develops from there, but I always start with those same three words. It is the only thing familiar when surrounded by the unknown. Any droplet of comfort that I can squeeze out of those strokes, I take and hold onto. They keep me afloat. It amazes me- every open water marathon- that the same, three simple words can provide so much power.

They say this happens in the English Channel, when the current pushes you off the coast of France. They say that the physical challenge of the push-and-pull of the current mimics the push-an-pull of the mental toughness that ebbs and flows.

The land comes close. Then backs away. The markers on your open water race come into focus, and then disappear. Am I lost? No. I am ok.

I am tired. I am ok. I am cold. I am ok.

The open water is where you really get to know what you are made of. There is no place to hide.

So I just put my head down and swim.

When open water marathon swimming, it’s my time to reflect.

And let go.

It’s my time to surrender completely to the elements and to my thoughts. I take captive, each thought that enters my head, and ensure that they stay positive.

5 minutes in the cold can feel like an hour. When you are swimming in an open water marathon swim, panic and confusion creep in quickly. So I tell myself that I am ok. I can do this. Panic only blinds me further. Chanel the energy of the panic and use it to fuel my stroke.

To power through the race, I have to dig deep. I have to go to a place where I find peace. Constantly training my mental toughness, I hit dark patches and have to fight through and say my three words. I am ok.

Because no matter how many times I go out, no matter how many open water races I compete in, it never gets easier.