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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thinking Survival In The Open Water

When we have discussed difficult open water swims with swimmers and triathletes, the number of different mental approaches is always interesting to hear.

One type of individual looks at their swims from the perspective of a hard-working, well-prepared athlete. Because they have trained hard and prepared well, they view the probability of success as somewhere between high and a given. They have sacrificed in training, improving their speed, stamina, strength and ability to acclimate.

Therefore, they will welcome the opportunity to face the difficulty of competition. They look forward to achievement because, frankly, it is their well-deserved due.

Another type of individual looks at their swims through goggles filled hopeful optimism. They may have not trained as much as they planned or as much as they inherently know is wise, but they enjoy a challenge and lace their effort with a combination of good cheer and resigned acceptance of the inevitable. Their definition of success is more likely to simply finish within a certain time frame rather than place highly and win medals.

Another type of individual looks at their swims with a glorified view of heroism. They know the endeavor is going to be difficult. They do not expect the swim to be easy, which is precisely why they are so motivated to achieve their goal. They realize the distance may be too far, the water may be too rough, and the temperature may be too low. They understand that they will fear failure during their swim; they will certainly experience discomfort and pain, and perhaps ultimately even failure. They know that hard training will not be enough to sustain them on their athlete sojourn. Sometimes at the depths of despair and discomfort during the swim, they rally themselves by prayer or memories of their spouse, children, friend or role model. Many times, they are buoyed by a belief that they can dig down deeper than most humans and rise to levels of athletic greatness.

A small percentage of these last types of athletes imagine scenarios that call to mind a survivor mentality. They place themselves on the edges of shore and vow not to get out until they finish or are pulled out. Whatever comes, they mentally create a scenario where they must survive the conditions they will face. In their minds, it is truly a do-or-die situation despite having safety personnel on the course or an escort boat on their side. They convince themselves that they will experience pain at inhumanly intense levels. They imagine no one is there to help them. They place themselves in a frame of mind that is unimaginable to most humans. They imagine a scenario where they must succeed if they want to see their loved ones again. They will never give up at least mentally. They may be forced out by tides, currents, hypothermia, or injury, but they will achieve their maximum physiological potential. As they take their last stroke either at the finish or before being pulled out, they vow to not have one more stroke left. They will max out. They will have no más. They will give 100% and no less.

Like a man swimming to safety due to being thrown overboard or due to an airplane crash, these individuals can vividly imagine swimming to safety on the opposite shore. Their very existence is dependent upon their swimming success. They place themselves within an epic adventure where they become the hero. This survivor mentality enables them to reach athletic heights that they instinctively know they are capable of, but they must face the ultimate challenges in order to elevate themselves to such heights.

Like heroes in the movies, they are the actors in these adventures and write their own scripts of success.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

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