In case you ever wondered, I’m here to tell you lake monsters are real. They may not be real by the physical definition of the word, but they are real by the psychological definition.
My 70.3 includes a 1.2 mile swim in the Tennessee River so at some point, I knew I’d need to practice swimming in open water rather than in a pool. That time finally came a couple of weeks ago when I put on a wetsuit to join a friend at a popular swimming hole in Percy Priest Lake.
Going into the swim, I was most anxious about the current and experiencing a low blood sugar while away from the shore. As I stood on the bank with my feet in the water, my fears of the current and a low disappeared and my mind was flooded with every image of a snake I’d ever seen. I stood on the shore for a while wondering how I was going to do this.
Once I mustered the courage to swim, I made it about halfway to the first buoy (about 90 yards) before I had a mild panic attack. I extended my legs down and couldn’t touch the bottom. The clear blue waters I’m used to swimming in were now dark and murky and I was unable to see my hand in front of my face, much less any creepy, scary or potentially flesh-eating creature.
As I floated in that place, every terrifying story I’d ever been told about snakes raced through my mind. As silly as it seems, when you’re a few hundred yards from shore and you begin to panic, that fear is crippling. You cannot move and there is no way to exit the water quickly. The nearest swimmer was 200 yards away, and even if they were nearby, what could they do to calm my fears. My breathing was exaggerated, and I couldn’t catch a good breath. Stranded in a lake is not the place to struggle with breathing.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to be anywhere in the world but in that lake at that moment. I knew I had to swim to get to shore, so I closed my eyes and headed back. As I put one hand in front of the other, I saw the most beautiful sunrise to my right each time I opened my eyes to take a breath. In that moment, Psalm 46:10 came to mind, “Be still and know that I am God.” Then I felt the Lord whisper, “I’ve got you.” That phrase is one I’ve heard countless times as I’ve trained and as I’ve prayed throughout the past few months of my life. To hear it in that moment, I knew I was going to be fine. My breathing leveled out, and I managed 500 yards before calling it a day.
The following Sunday afternoon, I tried again, but this time with dozens of other swimmers. I didn’t have any issues in the lake, and I swam 1.2 miles. Achieving my race distance was a tremendous mental victory for me. So many of my fears of the unknown disappeared with that swim.
Since then, I’ve mastered several open water swims—some in choppy waters and some in still, peaceful waters. When I swim, a calm and a peace comes over me now. I just pray and keep swimming. It turns out one of my friends was right… I find myself looking forward to open water swims now.
The truth about lakes is this: the monsters are real. But those monsters are merely mental monsters and only have the power you give them. Just keep breathing, just keep praying, just keep swimming.