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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Take the noodle!

This is my Sunday confession.  I am a competitive perfectionist.  Generally not in sporty or public ways.  People who know me casually would have no idea.  Those who know me well will tell you otherwise!  Ask my mother about the time I tried, at age 5, to break the birthday gift I got her because I thought she liked the one from my sister better.  Or my best friend, to whom I lied about my SAT score because I did not want her to know that I scored lower.  Not very good examples of being okay with being 'just only Judy'.  As I said in my intro, that's a battle I have won and lost many times. My earliest memories often contain tendencies toward perfectionism and competitiveness.  Perhaps that's why the message in that children's book, Just Only John, stuck with me ..."be yourself, because somebody has to, and you're the closest".  It is still a message that I need to remind myself of often. 
But back to the competitive streak. One of the things I can't condone is cheating. If you cheat, then you have completely lost! There's no victory if you cheat. Unless you are playing Cash Cab the rules usually don't allow others to help. Asking for help could equal cheating. 10 years ago I fairly risked my life (or an awkward scene at least!) trying to prove that I will not cheat.
For at least two years leading up to my diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis I had been experiencing odd physical happenings in my body.  I was often sick, tired or in pain. In 2001 I made a decision, after many fruitless doctor visits, that the problem was in my head (oh the irony). I, having never been particularly athletic, determined that if I declared myself an "athlete" and acted accordingly, then all would be well.  Inspired by my best friend I decided to begin training for the Danskin 'sprint' triathalon the following summer.  Let me tell you- I took this seriously!  I trained- swimming, hiking, jogging, yoga, biking...I did it all! I bought a new bike, a Speedo swimsuit, and an array of sporty attire and accessories.
The big day arrived and there I stood with hundreds of other women, the 5th 'wave' to dive into mucky Lake Washington and begin the race! In my excitement, and distress over the unexpected creeping, grabbing plants near shore, I forgot to pull down my goggles as the swim began.  With dozens of thrashing arms and legs around me, I slowed to a tread and adjusted my goggles, but the panic had set in.  Luckily the 1/2 mile swim route is lined with kayaks, canoes and friendly volunteers.  The only way I could complete the swim was to go in a zig-zag pattern from one boat to the next.  Effectively swimming twice the distance of everyone else. For those that haven't done one of these events, each 'wave' of participants is given different color swim caps.  Mine was fluorescent yellow. As the yellow caps moved on ahead, I was passed by a school of pink, blue, neon orange, green and purple...a rainbow of caps, until I was quite obviously the lone fluorescent yellow left in the water.  I could see friendly smiles turn to looks of concern as I approached the boats and grabbed the side to brace myself for the next zag. As time went on, the looks of concern changed to questions.."Are you doing all right?" , "Are you okay?"  I feel confident that no one else engaged with as many volunteers that day as I did!
As the finish line came into view I realized that there was a rather lengthy stretch from the last boat to the shore. By this time I had been in the water over 30 minutes (average swim time 19 minutes or something). I had long given up on the crawlstroke and had predominantly done a slow and steady backstroke or breaststroke.  As I launched into my much-practiced breaststroke for this final stretch something strange happened.  I did not seem to be getting any closer to the shore.  Other people seemed to be doing fine. In fact, I think they had gone through all the colors and a second round of fluorescent yellow caps were swimming by me.  It did not occur to my exhausted brain that my breaststroke had unknowingly turned into treading water and my survival instinct was kicking in.  My brainstem knew that I just might drown, even if I did not have a clue.  Lucky for me one of the volunteer lifeguards also knew.  Out she swam with a baby blue swim noodle in tow.  Yep.  Those things kids play with at the pool. "Take this!" she said.  I looked at her. My head bobbed low in the water. I looked at the noodle and bobbed low again. As I pushed myself up again I found the breath to ask the all important question that was preventing my reaching out for this life-saving device.  "Is it allowed?" Yes, that's what I asked. "Is it allowed?"
She looked very confused but somehow managed to convey to me that I would not be breaking a rule if I chose to take the baby blue noodle, rather than drown.
Noodle under arms I finished the swim, wobbled on jelly legs to my bike and carried on.  I did finish the race that day. I may have set a record for longest time in the water! But the real victory came later, when I realized that sometimes it is okay to break the rules. Sometimes the rules are only in your own head. Some of us need swim noodles in this life and that is okay! Moral~ If someone offers you a noodle, you probably need it. Take it and carry on.

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