By Contributor Susan Kasimer
I found my love for open water swimming on May 27th, 2001. I was a pool swimmer for my whole life, but ready for a new experience. Now 19 years old, I was eligible for US Masters Swimming events and was intrigued by an annual lake swim in Reston, VA that my dad (“Daddy-o”), his teammates, and my sister (Lauren) had participated in for years. What would it be like to swim two miles without lane lines, ability to follow black lines on the bottom, or even know how deep the water was?
The course that year was a “cable” swim, where a half-mile line of heavy-duty rope connected through various floats—swim up on one side of the cable, back on the other, and repeat, for two miles in all. I was educated beforehand of the concept of “sighting” during an open water swim (because you cannot see where you are going from the lack of visibility underwater), which involves lifting your eyes out of the water to make sure you are still on the right path.
I remember being slightly nervous that morning, mostly because I did not know what to expect from an open water race. Upon arrival to Lake Audubon, I was met with friendly people and a relaxed atmosphere, which helped ease my nerves. When it came time for my heat, we entered water that was much colder than most pools I had been in recently. Our race began and we were soon swimming towards the far end of the lake. I tried to stay as close to the course line as I could, which often resulted in my hand hitting the cable and floats (not a good thing). But despite the bruises beginning to form on the back of my hands, I was really enjoying myself. The dark water did not frighten me (as it does to many), and I felt free from the constraints of walls and lane lines (except for that silly cable that kept getting in my way of my hand). As used to the excitement of pool competition as I was, this was far more exhilarating. The unknown of open water swimming and its murky water began to feel more like a friend than a stranger.
In the end, I placed first in my Women’s 19-24 age group, which was quite exciting, especially because I was awarded a neat piece of glassware that was etched with the name of the race and a picture of two dolphins. The icing on the cake was a second piece of glassware, won by the Mixed 19+ relay of my Daddy-o, Lauren, and me!
I left that day feeling quite accomplished and wanting more of what open water swimming had to offer. Little did I know how important open water would become to my future well-being and psyche. Stay tuned…