For me, one of the best things about the warmer weather over summer is the opportunity to go swimming almost every day. There is something wonderful about being immersed in cool water on a hot day that I find both relaxing and invigorating. My summer days often consist of a trip to our local pool and swimming a few laps or enjoying the waves at one of Wollongong’s great beaches.
While I love the pool and the beach, I have to admit that I don’t enjoy swimming in open water. For me the pool is a safe place. The water is clear, the depth is known and as I do my laps, the strategically placed lane ropes and the straight black lines at the bottom of the pool help me feel confident that I am staying on the right course. While the beach is not as predictable, my proximity to the shoreline whilst swimming within the flags is reassuring as I enjoy the gentle surge of the waves.
Yet despite being a strong swimmer, I find swimming in open water such as the ocean, bays or lakes to be overwhelming. The depth constantly changes, the vast expanse of water is often murky and littered with obstacles like rocks, seaweed and various unidentifiable creatures. There are no lane ropes to keep me on course and I find it very difficult to navigate a straight path. This combined with my unspoken fear of being swept out to sea or eaten by a shark have also contributed to my reluctance to swim any further than a few metres from the shore line in open water.
This summer however, I set myself a challenge – to overcome my fear of swimming in open water. I chose a relatively safe beach with plenty of other people about, hoping this would at least reduce the odds of me being taken by a shark. Even though I was scared, and my heart was racing and everything in me did not want to do it, I literally took the plunge and began swimming out into the open water until I was beyond the breaking waves about 40 metres from the shore line. I then began to swim parallel to the beach for about a hundred metres then turned back and repeated this path over and over before returning to shore.
As I walked back onto the beach after my swim I felt an immediate surge of pride in my achievement. I felt brave and strong. Even though there was no one there to cheer, applaud me or acknowledge this personal milestone I didn’t care – this was a personal challenge that I had taken on and conquered. The next day I returned to the same beach and even though I was still hesitant I found the swim a lot easier than the previous day and as the weeks continued, although I still prefer the pool, I have begun to enjoy my ocean swims.
It was Nelson Mandella who first said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave person is not someone who does not feel afraid, but someone who conquers that fear. In other words – you can’t be brave if you aren’t first of all scared.
As we begin a new year at Cedars each one of us will undoubtedly be confronted with situations where we feel scared, overwhelmed or intimidated by the task before us. We can take confidence in recognising that these feelings are absolutely normal. However, the challenge is for us not to shy away from everything that seems difficult or scary. Whether it is giving a speech or oral presentation in class, entering a race in the School Swimming Carnival, abseiling on camp or finishing the grueling Duke of Edinburgh Hike, if we allow these challenges to pass us by without having the courage to have a go, we will also rob ourselves of the opportunity to feel the sense of pride and personal satisfaction that comes with our achievements.
Realistically, I will never be a champion open water swimmer and swimming across the English Channel is certainly not the next thing on my “to do” list. But I have learned that success is relative and that my personal achievements are just as significant as my public ones.
Let’s make sure that 2017 is a year where we challenge ourselves to do something beyond the current scope of our ability and enjoy the sense of achievement that comes when we do.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”