Daytona Beach, FL –
An hour before sunrise the sound from the parking lot was of an angry ocean – waves crashing, wind screaming – mother nature roaring its displeasure at the coming of the sun.
We were here from our home in South Carolina to compete in our first Sprint Triathlon and were still too inexperienced to realize that the overnight rain would have the ocean churning with a deadly undertow.
I’d arrived on the beach in time to see a last shiver of pre-dawn moonlight dance atop an enormous white-capped wave, catching it for a moment at the peak of its power, before cresting in its headlong journey across the sand bar before smashing into the beach.
A shudder of fear came over me as I thought out loud, “How are we going to swim in this?”
The more experienced racers were gathered in small groups talking in hushed, excited voices, “It looks bad,” they agreed.
Race organizers gather away from the waters edge, debating whether they should cancel the half mile swim and alter the race. In then end, it was decided that the conditions were not optimal, but that the race would go continue on.
The elite racers were happy. This was a sanctioned event with prize money for the winners. For some, a season-long points race hung in the balance.
But some of us weren’t so sure. During all my months of training I hadn’t allowed myself to obsess about the weather on race day. I was too focused on my miles.
But now, as the first rays of morning shone above the horizon and 8-10 foot waves were crashing onto shore, this life and death thing had become very, very real.
Soon the whistle blew and they ran into the sea. And the struggle was real and the fight was intense. And I emerged victorious. Not in numbers, but in self-awareness.
Three and a half years later, when the nightmares come I imagine myself caught in a struggle against a giant sea monster.
More nights than I’d care to admit I’ve woken drenched in sweat, trapped in my blanket, having spun over and over until I’d wrapped myself into a cocoon.
Even today, during my visit to the beach, I walk slowly to the waters edge and try not to think about the savage sea monster lurking off shore waiting to lash out at me and wrestle me into the deep.