Just Keep Swimming - The ONE MILE SWIM

After two-weeks of pool sessions, participants of the WaSAR training by PRC will now face the main event of the course - the ONE MILE SWIM. 

1 Mile = 1.603Kilometers

The pool is 50meters, so one mile in the pool is equivalent to swimming from end to end 32 times. Calculating this in my mind, as soon as I heard the words One Mile Swim.. Before the start of the WaSAR training, I can't do a 100meter swim without desperately trying to step on the tiled floor or the gutter.


Two days before the end of the pool session, (on top of the treading for more than an hour drill) another task was added to the routine. We have to swim around the pool continuously any way we can without touching the gutter. Before that, the lead instructor - Sir Jun, already took notice of my off-sync breast stroke, and my freestyle is not so great either. Aside from gaining back confidence in water, correcting my stroke is another matter I wish to deal with in this training, and I feared I may not be in the right place. Because I feel fear every time we would start training. I dreaded plank diving because it hurts, deep diving because I can't sink well, treading because my legs are weak, breath-holding because I feel like suffocating, backstroke because water gets in my mouth, scissor kick because I can't get it right. I simply dreaded everything but thank G for Elementary Back, I finished the mile swim pool trial doing elementary back 90% of the time. By the end of the pool session, I doubted that two-weeks training has prepared me for the open water swim.

On the 26th of April, a jampacked bus headed to Nasugbu, Batangas for the PRC - One Mile Swim. During the trip, I was asking myself, "Am I ready?" I shrugged the negative thoughts in my mind and forced myself to sleep. When we arrived at our destination, some cooked dinner and the other guys started taking shots of rhum in between. Later, everyone was called in for the pairing. The batch have a strong pool of lifeguards, renewing their WaSAR certification. Because they are strong swimmers and are one-mile-swim veterans, they were paired with first-timers, like me. My buddy was Noel, and he was in for a tough swim this time because everything was at stake for him when he got me for a buddy. Sir Jun made it mandatory that he does everything to make me finish the swim, else his certification is at stake. So my buddy - Noel has everything to lose. 

That night I had trouble sleeping. The guys unbelievably drank till 3AM (call time is 4AM) taking turns at the videoke while us mortals try to sleep at the room 5meters away from them. Two beers I gulped didn't help much. Even my favorite songs in the Ipod couldn't lull me to sleep. The excitement, fear and anticipation of things to come kept my mind awake. I just closed my eyes, and for 10-15mins at least, i managed to doze off until the next loud song in the videoke plays. 

Before the break of dawn, Batch59 posed ready and able for the One Mile Swim.
Philippine Red Cross - Manila Chapter: One Mile Swim - MSSI Batch 59

Two motorized boats took us off the coast of Nasugbu. The church cross landmark became smaller and smaller as the boat head out to the sea, and soon the coast was but a strip of land by the horizon. I was silent as the boat's engine chuckled, but I'm certain if the engine halted, everyone would hear the drumming sound inside my chest. I am in deep focus communing myself with the sea. I have always been a mountain and wilderness person, open water is an unfamiliar territory. 

In love or One Mile Swim, the hardest part was letting go.

I heard someone yelling, that it was time to get off the boat. I looked at my buddy and I know he saw fear in my eyes. Everyone in the boat already jumped in the water, so I did too. My buddy began hovering beside me. I am in the water, but I still held on to the boat's bamboo rig. Noel, in his calm voice asked me to let go. I looked at him like he was the villain, but I knew I should start trusting him (and myself). From this point until I am safely back to shore, he was my lifeline. I released my hand from my tight grasp of the bamboo. My hands and feet started moving into a tread, and like I already knew, I am so buoyant at sea. Slowly, I drifted away from the boat, but fear began creeping on me again. Nothing to hold on to for the next hours, the bottom of the sea too deep to see. In a panicky voice, I told Noel I don't think I can do this. He assured me I can and he made me rest my hand on his shoulder. I could feel my heart racing, I closed my eyes and took three deep breaths. 

One Goal: Swim to the shore
One Rule: If you touch the boat (or lifesaving devices), it's over.

I reminded myself, I am never a quitter. So when I opened my eyes again, I knew I was ready and that I would do everything to finish the swim. No turning back, like Dory, my mantra was "Just keep swimming". And just like in the movie, there was a swim section flocked with jellyfish. I felt a mild sting on my upper lip, but then again I just kept swimming. When I am tired doing a robotic breastroke, I just lie on my back and float to rest. My buddy would tow me on my back while I'm resting, sensing he may be a bit impatient of our slow progress. We are in the middle of the pack, the strong pairs ahead of us, and a few slower pair trailing behind us. I was tempted to make my buddy tow me all the way to the shore to make things easy for me and for him. He's gonna swim harder to tow me, yet the swim time will be shorter. But my pride is stronger than me. Whether I finish it or not, I want to make sure I did my best,  so I refused to be towed for long periods of time. Only when I am afloat would he hold my wrist and swim with me lagging at his side. 

I barely spoke to my buddy during the swim. My mind is on my stroke, controlling my fear and my mantra. At one time, we got to the strong swimmers in front. All I heard was words of encouragement for everyone, and their voices were reassuring. Another lifeguard - Christian offered me candy but I refused, which I regret doing a few minutes later. The candy would have been bliss inside my salty, dry mouth. 

Pull - Kick - Glide! I repeated this a million times in my head, to make sure I am swimming efficiently. My goggles always fogged and I seldom fixed 'em, I just kept swimming. Then suddenly, I saw something below. I saw sand with ripples created by the gentle current. And when I raised my head and looked at the horizon, the structures by the shores took shape. The beach front with various colored flags, the cottages, the boats and people waving. "Last kick!" my buddy would say, turns out he used to paddle for dragonboat racing too. During that last kick, I felt stronger currents, exhausting me on that very important meters to the shore. As soon as its shallow enough, I reached my feet to the seabed. The feel of sand on my toes was heavenly after a little more than four hours of nothing but water. 

Everybody would hug everybody as they arrived by pair at the shore. It was the warmest form of congratulating a tired one mile swimmer. My legs are still wobbly when everybody   hugged me. I did it after all. I've never appreciated dry land until now. For a second, my eyes felt like back in seawater again as salty tears start to form. I did it after all. I still can't believe.

A few minutes more and everybody safely got back to shore. And so cameras were clicking everywhere.
Left side photos: Top to Bottom: With Noel - my Mile Swim buddy; With Leslyn - my pool buddy, and With Ava and Leslyn; Bottom two: Batch59 braving the open water; Top Right: Group Photo After the Mile Swim 
After this experience I know I have gained confidence in water again. Though I still have to practice some more to perfect my swim strokes, I know water will never intimidate me again. I will always remember to take a deep breath and Just Keep Swimming

Thank you Philippine Red Cross Manila Chapter. This is one of the best experiences of my life. Much gratitude to the instructors and everyone in MSSI Batch59.

I am in the right place and in the right company after all.

Photo Credit: Sancho D. Mark

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