In the quiet of a foggy morning practice, the search for self finds purchase.
The ping of the alarm rather than the pitter-patter of little feet or a babe’s cry jolts me out of a deep sleep. Drowsy, I turn off the alarm and glance at the clock: 5:25 a.m. I drag myself from the warm bed, pull on my swimsuit, and slip out of the house. Swim practice awaits. As I roll onto the pool deck 15 minutes later, there’s already a buzz in the air and steam rising from the pool. About 45 other swimmers are crazy enough to join me in this early morning venture.
I shiver as I sprint on my tiptoes across the icy pool deck. It’s a cool 39 degrees this morning. A booming hello and a “yip, yip, yeah” greets me from my coach. I can feel the energy enter my body. I plunge into the pool and I come to life.
What is big enough to pull a mom of two little sleeping kids from her bed? A search for me.
I swam competitively from age 6 until I was 20. Swimming was my life. It was where I made my best friends, where my personality formed, and what I identified with. In college, I lived, ate, and breathed swimming. By the time I graduated, I was ready for a change. I needed to find my identity beyond the pool. I swam intermittingly, off and on for the next 16 years, but never with much intensity. I focused on my career, creating a family, and squeezing in a workout when I could.
The past five years, since becoming a mother, I’ve felt a bit lost as an individual. It’s as if I’d lost my center, my grounding. I’m sure many mothers can relate to this feeling. You give all of yourself to your babies and at day’s end, you’re a bundle of mental and physical exhaustion. There’s nothing left to give. As the babies grow, you catch glimpses of the old you and bit by bit recapture some of what used to make you happy. Of course you have new fulfillments in your family, but it is critical to also be true to yourself and focus on what fuels you. For me, the gas tank’s needle was in the red.
For my 37th birthday last year, with kids aged 2 and 4, I gave myself the gift of a triathlon. The race was on my birthday and my family cheered me on at the finish. Not only did I feel a great sense of accomplishment, but also a deep joy. I had touched the core of me again and was surrounded by the people I loved most. As I raced, I kept telling myself, “This is for you, Abby. This is your race. Go for it!” While the joy was pure, the feeling was fleeting. I was quickly wrapped back up in the trials and celebrations of being a stay-at-home mom of two kids.
I carried on, got into road biking, and was slowly finding my way back to center. I always knew I would enter the water again at a serious level. I didn’t know when, but I knew the call would come. After all, it’s the core of me.
And then one day it happened. There was no major revelation or magic moment. One night at dinner I shared with my husband that I had found a team and I planned to get back into the water. That was that. I committed to him that I would make three workouts a week. And more importantly, he committed to me his support in helping make that happen.
Once I put something out there, I don’t generally back away. So there it was. Time to face the music. I was quite nervous, but getting back in the pool with a team of swimmers felt like coming home. These are my people. I understand these people I hardly know. I know what makes them tick.
A few months later, as I finished a grueling workout, I looked up at my coach and said, “That was a crazy hard workout.” He replied, “Well, it made you smile.” True. I had a huge grin on my beet-red face. And really, that’s the essence of it. I come home with a huge smile on my face, crazy tired, but happy. And that happiness is what matters.
In the water I am not a mom, a wife, a daughter, or a consultant. I am Abby. The same Abby I have always been, with her head down in the water, pouring every ounce of energy into her swim, in complete focus, with no distraction, and pure joy. And that’s why, as the alarm goes off at 5:25 a.m. in complete darkness, I get up.