Mile Swim

When I was younger, I was a boyscout. I’d go to camp every summer for a week and enjoy the time in nature and doing different activities like shooting rifles, swimming, learning new skills, and meeting new people. I remember one experience that I will never forget because it was the breaking point of me realizing that putting my mind to it, I can do anything I want.

One summer, I decided to do the mile swim. This is an award boy scouts get for simply swimming a mile. I figured at the time that it would be easy, and the badge would be mine without effort. Little did I know was the camp I was doing this at would have one obstacle that kids in the past have fallen to. The water in the lake I was going to swim in was anywhere between 36 and 42 degrees almost every day.

The first day I went to my training class, I got to feel how cold the water was. Let me tell you, it took my breath away. I wanted to just jump back out of the water and run back to the field where the sun could warm me up, but I didn’t. I remember doing our paddling lessons the instructor said that every year there would be at least fifteen people who would want to do the mile swim, but only 2-3 would actually go through with it. A lot of it was mostly scare talk because each day our class would get thinner. I remember hearing about some kids getting hypothermia, nosebleeds, and muscle cramps. I almost wanted to tap out just from all the stories I heard.

It is funny how much stories can influence us though. Yes, the water was cold and yes, there was health risks involved. Did that stop me from pushing myself to achieve a goal I had set for myself a few months before I went to the camp? No, it didn’t.

I remember the day before the mile swim, it was just me and another kid. We were the last two who would make the long trek around the cold lake. He wore a wetsuit because he was one of the kids who had a nosebleed and hypothermia the year before. I, on the other hand, had swim trunks on. I know I wasn’t prepared for what lied ahead, but I know my dad was there with me. If something happened, I know he would’ve been the first to dive into the water to get me. It’s funny because the only reason I really wanted to do this swim was because I didn’t want to be a quitter. I didn’t want to fall short of my goal because of the temperature of the water. I remember the night before a few of the guys in my patrol told me they were going to be watching me do it from the dock. It was a a confidence boost for myself to know I was doing something that a lot of these guys decided to bail on.

The day of the swim, it was freezing cold that morning. It was foggy, and I could almost see my breath in the air. I still can’t understand why it was so cold up there in the summer, but I guess some areas are just colder longer. I walked up to the dock and pulled my shirt off and felt the chill of a breeze brush my naked back and chest. The other kid next to me was doing a few stretches and he told me to do the say to keep the blood flowing. So I did.

My dad and scout leader hoped into one of the canoes with two cups of coffee in their hands. I shook my head only wishing I could be in their position with warm coffee and a boat to sit in. They paddled out a meters from us and I watched the other kid dive in first. He was following a boat with his own scout leaders. I proceeded a few seconds behind him and off I went into the cold water. My dad kept saying from the boat that there’s a cup of coffee waiting for me at the dock once I finished. Then, he sipped on his. I shook my head and dove underneath the water doing breast strokes. I wanted to conserve my energy and hopefully build up some heat because I eventually could not feel my feet.

I was swimming for about thirty to forty five minutes I think. I can’t remember how long. May have been longer. I remember on the right side of the lake it was very shady and extremely cold, but on the left side of the lake the sun gave me a little warmth. Occasionally, I would look up to see where the other swimmer was, but we were so far apart, it was almost useless trying to keep track of him. I can remember feeling weakness in my arms and legs near the end. The cold had made everything numb from my shoulders down. It was a frightening experience, but I knew I just needed to keep throwing my arms forward until I reached the end of the last lap around the lake.

I flopped onto the dock and rolled over. There were camp personnel  there with wool blankets and cups of hot chocolate. They had a medic check both of our temperatures. Mine had dropped to 86 degrees. They ended up hugging me tight to give off some body heat cause I was shivering. It was a long and cold trek, but I did it. Even if I was close to hypothermia.

My dad told me later that night that my mom called to camp  cause she was worried about me. She had a dream that my grandfather was holding me in his arms when I was a baby in a blanket. She thought something had happened to me that day from the swim. It was a little scary hearing that from that grueling experience, but I wonder if my grandfather was there. Especially since he was holding me in a blanket in my mother’s dream.

I don’t think I will ever forget this experience only because it taught me that to follow the examples of others because of certain elements or circumstances is not what we are here for. I did not want to give into the past stories about other kids, and I didn’t want to listen to the parents or kids who thought it was too cold. I only wanted to achieve something that I knew I could do. We all go through certain obstacles and giving up will only lead to the sidelines to your path. I may not have done anything great that day to show off and make money off of, but I was proud of what I did.

My mom told me the other day that success is not how much you make, or what awards you have achieved. Success is how you have made the people around you feel about the things you have done. Thanks for that reminder, Mom.

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