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Ever Panicked on a 3.5-mile Swim?

What Does Not Kill Us Truly Makes Us Stronger!!! 

A year ago I practiced what I preach by “pulling the trigger and riding the bullet” when I told my USAFA classmate I’d do the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim with him this past Sunday.

It was for a good cause. It was a challenge. It was something new for me.

And there was never any doubt I’d make it…until I entered the water at 8:40 am Eastern on January 11, 2015.

The day before, another classmate who lives in Tampa took me out on his boat to see the route…and it was long. That’s when a few “pre-game jitters” hit me, but they passed.

I took pictures and sent them to my wife, who asked, “Are you scared?” I replied, “No.”

In reality, I was concerned. Not that I’d get hurt or even drown because it was a well-monitored event. But I was afraid I wouldn’t make it.

However, I kept those doubts buried and did not let them take root. That is until I got in the water.

Those doubts blossomed into a full-on orchard as soon as the starter yelled, “GO!”

You see, for six months, I had been swimming 6,000 to 10,500 meters a week…IN A POOL! 

So I knew I had the stamina to make it, but swimming in open water is DIFFERENT!

The chop. The cooler temperatures. Not being able to reach the bottom. And especially not being able to SEE the bottom all combine to make it a vastly different experience. It was rough. And anxiety kicked in.

When we started, our kayak escorts were behind us. We had color-coded swim caps based on our wave, which were numbered.

It took maybe 7-10 minutes for Dave to find me, and I might as well have been in a coffin.

I was floundering. My form was off. I was having trouble breathing. I couldn’t see the navigational buoys. And I was literally telling myself…


(And those are the NICE things I can print.)

Once Dave found me, I thought, “Okay. Maybe I won’t drown,” but I was still struggling.

He got out in front of me to guide me, but it was too hard to look straight ahead, so I told him to get to my left so I could see him with every breath.

I was only breathing on my left side despite six months of practicing three strokes and alternating breaths. (This mess of a stroke continued for at least 30 minutes. Maybe 45.)

Resting on my back was no better.

The slight chop, combined with my poor stroke and intense anxiety, actually made me a tad bit nauseous, and I KNEW that if I got seasick, I was toast.

So I kept swimming and just told myself,

One more breath. One more breath. One more breath.”

Me on my first open-water swim

In a way, that’s how I had prepared for the swim.

Many days during my training, I didn’t feel like swimming for 60 or 80 minutes, but I knew I had to.

During those days, I’d tell myself,

Just push off the wall. One more push. One more lap.”

On Saturday before the swim, I was having a couple of beers with my classmate who is still in the SEAL community, and we were discussing the BUD/S training he endured, and they approached each challenge as a “check-up from the neck up.”

That motto kept me going. I would be as tough mentally as I had to be to finish.

Around the halfway point, the route took us over a wide sandbar that enabled me to not only see the bottom but actually touch it. So I stood up, and for the first time in close to an hour, I could breathe.

I was getting sore because of my poor form. I was winded. I was frustrated.

But then I could breathe.

I could see how far I had come, and I could see the finish. But it was still far away, and I knew I was being a wimp, and it was time to do what I had trained to do.

So after that rest and the “check-up from the neck up,” things clicked.

I found my stroke and went close to a mile without stopping, and I was elated. The next time I stopped to get my bearings and talk to Dave, the finish line was within sight, and we kicked it into high gear to finish strong.

My father, another friend, and my SEAL buddy were front and center at the finish line, and he’s the one who snapped that photo you see above.

A family member of a fallen SEAL was there to place the completion medal around my neck and to shake my hand, which brought the reason for the swim home to bear.

LESSONS LEARNED: When your “why” is big enough, the “how” will become self-evident and bearable. (What’s your “why” this year? In five years? In life?)

Set goals bigger than you and watch how neatly things fall into place.

Get an accountability partner to help you stay the course when things get tough.

State your WHY publicly so your pride can also help you stay the course when things get tough, which they will.

Train the way you’re going to compete. Practice your presentation. Practice your prospecting calls. Practice your networking skills BEFORE you get in front of your clients and prospects. (I’ll be doing more open-water swimming!)

Bite off more than you can chew and live a little closer to the edge. The adrenaline will bring everything into focus, especially your goals, and it’s then you’ll finally realize how much farther your envelope really is.

We’re barely two weeks into the new year, and you may have either already gotten off course or not even plotted a course for the year yet.

You may feel like you’re in a coffin. You may be doubting yourself. You may be exhausted.

Welcome to the human race. Welcome to the world of capitalism, “the worst form of economics, except for all the others.” Welcome to pushing the envelope.

Just keep moving ahead. If you cannot see the finish line, pick a navigational buoy that is in the right direction and move in that direction. The next one will become visible as soon as you reach the first one, and soon, you’ll find your groove.

It’s time for your “check-up from the neck up.” You can do it.

Good selling, and Happy New Year.