Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Sport or Fitness (02/15/07)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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These goggles are the greatest! I can see the outline of the boat just fifteen feet away… even with foggy lenses. And there’s the black inner tube skimming along behind, tied to that short length of rope. Not that I will need it! All those weeks of training have paid off. I’m going to succeed at this long-distance swim - the whole three miles from one end of the lake to the other!
Air moves in, out … in, out … as my face turns to inhale quickly near my left shoulder, and then toward the inky depths of the lake to exhale. In, out … in, out … my breathing perfectly matches my crawl strokes. I must remember to completely expel each breath into the water every time in order to benefit from the oxygen in the next one.
Scissor kick, then flutter … reach, pull … my appendages work in harmony to propel me forward with synchronized ease.
My mother, clad in a sleeveless blue sundress and wide-brimmed straw hat, patiently monitors the ten horsepower motor on the back of the wooden fishing boat so it idles at a speed to match my pace. My sister, eleven years my junior and a cheerleader type, periodically calls out encouragement from the bow: “Keep going! You can do it!”
Intuitively I sense my heart beating in my chest with a steady, comforting rhythm. This is no more stressful than walking; surely I will go the distance.
In, out … in, out. I wonder about being a foreigner. Is this what it feels like to be a fish – or perhaps a waterfowl that swims effortlessly and then flies through the air without encumbrance or resistance? Or, is this the kind of tranquil union with surroundings that is felt at death when the afterlife comes to encompass the spirit of a person?
The noisy green boat motor, which is almost fifteen years old, faithfully chugs along - and yet I can hardly hear it because of my earplugs. Every once in a while I glimpse sunlight reflecting like brazen diamonds on the choppy surface of the water. Ah, I am cutting through diamonds! Scooping them with my hands – flinging them through the water with each kick. They lie behind me, floating on the surface – or is that a trail of bubbles? My breath - has it been converted into sparkling dots?
I wonder: how long will it take to complete this marathon, at my current pace?
Pent-up pain and frustration purge outward with each breath, each stroke, and each kick. Chronic issues evaporate: my less-that-feminine appearance, social inadequacy, poor organizational skills, fear of leaving home for college. None of that matters … here.
Oddly, I feel myself relax in some deep, inner spot. This is like being in another dimension. I can be completely honest with myself, and open to the experience.
In, out … in, out … in, out.
My muscles work; away go the anger and fear. My lungs breathe; in comes energy and confidence.
I’m free! I skim through the water … FREE!
Maybe Mother and sis are talking over there in the boat. I wonder what they think; if they’re proud of me; if they believe I can do this?
It doesn’t matter. I know I can. I can and I will. I AM doing this!
In, out … what’s that? My own heart is speaking? What … ?
“You are so much more than you know - more than a young woman who struggles to measure up to expectations. Today you are learning how situations cannot trap you because … you are more than your circumstances! Today you will discover the truth. Today you will find yourself.”
Oh! My heart … my soul! I can’t afford to cry now – no. Keep steady. In, out … in, out … in, out. Trust myself; trust my heart, trust my breath. Keep going.
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I can envision all the details of that marathon swim, even though it happened almost fifty years ago. I blossomed after that day – emotionally as well as physically. I sense I am there again, right now … fit, trim, starting over … even as I lay in intensive care, connected to a respirator, ready to release my breath … and go … Home.
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