The First Step is the Coldest

American’s health stagnation parallels increasing TV channels and wireless access.  Our brains accept the illusion of watching action packed sports and drama while actually doing nothing but sitting.  We’re idling from a never ending chair position to permanent rest position.  For six months I’ve given food and activity a gentle look, joined a gym, cut back on bad foods, but have remained kind to myself, afraid I’d quit if I got over zealous: isn’t that what always happens with exercise plans and diets?  Then I attended a wake for a 48 year old over sitter and over eater.  He was a good man in denial and part of his legacy was to alter my ambition.

I’m an overweight-56-year-old-knee-aching-women who’s ‘let it go’ for about, oh 23 years.  My goal is to “compete” (translation complete) an Iron Lady triathlon; a 600 meter swim, 30 mile bike ride and a 5K run.  Compared with many 60-85 year olds signing up for the grueling Iron Man; 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon 26.2-mile run this is a reasonable goal.  I’m allowing two years of training: that’s how out of shape I am, but it may take less.  Who knows?

The long swim is the most daunting to me:  I’ve run/walked a few 5Ks and I’m thinking, how bad can a 30 mile bike ride be?  You’re sitting on a seat – isn’t that what Americans do best these days?  So slowly building up my swim strength was Challenge One. I headed to West Meadow Beach on Memorial Day Monday with the proper swimsuit and hoping for a water temperature out of the Titanic range.

The north shore of Long Island is continental rocks left by a state-sized glacier cruising past 60,000 years ago leaving debris before its final surf in the Atlantic .  Soft toe squishing sand is not the experience.  Barnacled stones of multifarious sizes welcome your virgin soles.  You can choose to pick and pinch and stumble your way to a dip or you can wear water shoes.  Long Island dates Spring for about two weeks, followed by breath catching heat and humidity and air condition repairs.  The deceit is the water hasn’t caught up with the air temperature.  You’re sweaty and psyched and naïve as you get into your steamy car and head out to the beach.

There are two public bathing rules if you’re fat to limit ridicule and humiliation.

a)      Show as little flesh as possible while not wearing what looks like a short dress, which adds more smirks than less.

b)      Don’t make eye contact with anyone until you get into the water and up to your neck.  There’s an equalizing effect when just your head  peeks above the water: people aren’t as judgmental; less likely to turn their eyes elsewhere.   I suppose this is true for ‘little people’, amputees, and others whose bodies don’t fit the perfect pleasing public bathing criteria.

I followed the above fat girl beach rules then scanned the rockscape to get an idea of the water temperature.  None of the children were deeper than a few inches; a chilling foreshadow.  Less than a handful of beachers were in up to their knees or over.  My lips tightened with determination as I threw down my beach bag, modestly removed my over dress and marched into battle.

The water was actually not bad the first few inches and then the cold hit, a stunning undercurrent of winter memory under the relative warmth of the top of the water.  As a child I was always the first one in: as the youngest of five this was the only competition I could win in the family.  Now it was challenging to put one leg in front of the other.

There are certain blocks of immersion:  first you’ve got to get up to your knees and for some reason that is never the hard part.  Knees to just below the waist brings the commitment and realization you are going to have to dunk your head in that ice bucket.  The journey from waist to shoulder begins with the splash thing where you take a teaspoon of water and splash it on your neck and upper arms to prepare them, telling them this is what you’re going to plunge into.  Then the millisecond baptismal dunk, a head blessing that forces an involuntary “Yaio!”.  Finally accepting your fate you brave a little crawl. After a few minutes you wonder, why aren’t their more people swimming?

I did a lot of floating, back stroking and standing in between the stroke-stroke-stroke-stroke-blowout/breath! Eventually I’ll need to figure out what 600 meters looks like on West Meadow Beach and in the University Pool.  For now I need to be able to go a few feet without getting winded.  I made sure my feet could touch the entire time, in case Something Bad happened.

“Hey!  This isn’t impossible,” I said back in the now wetter steaming car.  The bonus was I was cool enough into the evening: the reward of a chilling dunk.