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  • Writer's pictureNadine Bennett

A privilege to start

“It is a privilege to start.”

I sat up a little straighter in the driver’s seat, struck suddenly by these words. I was listening to Justine’s recent interview on the Marathon Swim Stories podcast, she was explaining how disappointment over a cancelled swim gave her the important realization that it is a privilege just to start and there's no point in getting worried sick over something that is a privilege.

Hearing those words was the final piece of a puzzle I had been struggling with for days. Earlier that week, I found myself standing in the dark on the edge of Lake Memphremagog, a few minutes before midnight on a calm moonlit night, waiting for the start of my longest swim ever, 40km to reach the other end of the lake in Magog, Quebec. I remember a gentle breeze moving across my shoulders, and feeling perfectly calm, relaxed, centered. And looking back at it, I couldn’t explain it, this was a kind of calm unknown to me until now.

This swim had been years in the making. The first year got put off to the next because I realized I wasn’t ready yet, then 2 years of covid lockdowns meant we couldn’t cross the border on the lake, then a stumble and fall accident in my kitchen the year after that put me out of commission for yet another year, and then finally here I was...ready.

The week leading up to the swim was a flurry of packing and double-checking things, but as days passed and the closer I got to standing on the edge of the lake that night, the more my sense of calm deepened. On the drive back home, I started to examine it...

  • I was confident in the technique work and endurance training we'd done in the months leading up to that day, I knew what I needed and followed through

  • I trained for the worst, all of it - waves, chop, cold, dark, nausea, boredom, fatigue

  • I planned out mitigations and strategies for various possible fail points in the swim, and made sure we had different tools to use if things were to go sideways

  • I worked on strengthening my mindset, talked openly about my struggles with confidence, and found myself with a deeper resolve to carry on no matter what

  • I learned to compartmentalize and put aside my feelings of grief, I miss my mom and many days wished she'd still been here to see me accomplish this swim, but I needed to be focused on joyful things only for the time

  • I had accepted that there was no guarantee I'd finish, anything could happen, and that I'd share my adventure with others knowing that I might not succeed

All of these things made sense to me, but there was something more I hadn't been able to put my finger on. Until I heard Justine say, "It is a privilege to start."

And it really fucking is, it's a privilege to start, no matter what happens afterwards. The past year has been one of transformation for me, not just in my swimming, but also in myself on a personal level. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my life, what I want and need from it. I've come to realize that at some point, I had made a decision to work on being fully present for myself, to put aside things that don't serve me well anymore, to be silent and observant and take in only those things that move me, enrich me, give me peace, joy and calm. This means having to move past any bad stuff that pulls me down. And I think the deep calm I felt just wasn't willing to give way to fear, I had none. You wouldn't have been able to see it in the dark, but I had a huge grin on my face when the boat finally pulled up...

The thing that I hadn't been able to put my finger on until now - how I was able to be so very calm standing on the edge of the lake in the dark - was simply that I had allowed myself to let go of all the work, to put it aside, and be present in that moment feeling proud for having coming this far. And realizing this, while listening to Justine's words and barreling down Highway 15 on the way back home, was the first time I let myself cry after the swim. I had been struggling with my emotions ever since I stepped out of the lake triumphant, but here I was, quickly wiping away tears with my sleeve to make sure I was still driving in my own lane.

What an epic feeling.

Life is short people, find your calm and be radiant wherever the fuck you can...

Yeah yeah yeah I'll do a proper write up soon about feeds and stroke rate and such.

For now though, music played a role in my prep, I'd listen to certain songs when visualizing how the swim would play out, hummed refrains as I swam one stroke at a time. I picked this one special for you all - those of you who have found your calm, and those of you still struggling to get there. Trust me on this: turn the lights down low, pour yourself something special to sip on, turn the volume way up loud, here are the lyrics so you can sing along.

Love Survive, Michael Nau 2016

this is my conquering song this is my thankful song played on a wave so strong for all that has been and gone pulled the broke-down ride for far too long for the spirit of the eternal drum this is my conquering song this is my thankful song where only my love survive where only my love survive the long crawl to the tide the long crawl to the tide all else at the door be denied all else at the door be denied only my love survive only my love survive

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