When it’s time to NOT swim.

Right now, I am not on an airplane.

As I write, I should be getting ready to land in Chicago, preparing to board my second flight and head to Portland, Oregon for the Portland Bridge Swim. Instead, I am sitting at my kitchen table. I am drinking coffee, wondering what I will do with the rest of my day as other athletes head to Portland and I stay here.

After training for it, making my reservations, and thinking about it constantly, I am not going to the Portland Bridge Swim this year.

And it’s totally okay with me.

There were many things telling me it wasn’t right, a list of things and voices I should have listened to earlier.

I should have known something was up from the very beginning.

I am the person who starts obsessing about packing weeks before a trip. And yet this time, I could barely put together my list of “must-haves.” I started organizing, but it was half-hearted at best.

I didn’t reach out to as many Portland friends as I should have, and I kept feeling guilty about that.

I couldn’t nail down my nutrition, and basically stopped trying to figure it out after a few weeks. After throwing up Carbopro for my entire Italy swim last summer, I don’t really want to try it again, and I’ve yet to find the right replacement.

Despite the hours of training I was putting in, something was off.

I think there are many stressors playing a part here.

Last year was a tough year for our family, for many reasons. Illness, job change, hand surgery for my husband, and a lot of adjustments that were, frankly, really tiring.

My husband switched jobs, to what is essentially his dream job, but he travels a lot, and it means that our time as a family is precious. When I signed up for the Portland swim, it was assumed that we would go as a family unit. We went to college in Oregon, and it’s where I learned to swim. My little dream was that we would bore our child  to tears by showing him all of our old haunts and by dragging him through our memories of meeting, falling in love, getting married, and ultimately, deciding to leave Oregon for Massachusetts.

But airfares being what they are, that proved impossible and suddenly, I was going on my own. My family was staying behind, and I was to spend two full days of travel, there and back, for a shorter trip that would be, well, kind of lonely. That didn’t feel fun in quite the same way.

The water temperature was never quite getting to where I wanted it to be, and I watched it rather obsessively, refreshing and refreshing the river temp website, watching it climb, and then drop, and them climb a little, but not enough for my admittedly warm water loving body.

I got a low-grade ear infection, a by-product of my coaching job and 5-8 hours spent in the water each day, and my ear felt painful. The lymph nodes behind my ear were swollen and I had a sinus headache that wouldn’t seem to go away.

This was not me at my best self.

But that wasn’t everything that made me say this was not the time for me to go. There’s something else at work right now, something that I think is impacting many in this country.

As I said to a friend yesterday,  I feel as if many of us are suffering from a low-grade national depression, where another element that requires competition feels overwhelming and exhausting. My clients are coming to me feeling stressed and tired and concerned about the future under an administration that already feels as if it’s been a part of our lives forever and yet, there is so much more of it left to go.  I work with many immigrants, and many people of color, who are, quite literally, afraid for their future. I also work with many who have complicated medical needs and who fear further erosion of their physical health in the wake of the possible repeal of the ACA. (Sigh. #RESIST! #IMPEACH!)

Many of us are working hard to say NO to the agenda of this administration and dang, it’s exhausting! So many of us are fighting every single day, missing opportunities for simple joys, that adding more “competition” seems like too much.

In the past week, I’ve spoken with 4 different athletes, in a variety of sports, all considering NOT doing their BIG events of the summer, or feeling like even though they are going to do it, their heart wasn’t in it in the same way. One is contemplating not doing the Ironman he’s been training for, another considering opting out of a different multi-sport event.

Another friend talked about how he was feeling the importance of sticking close to home. And another talked about the realization that her child is getting older, that the time is slipping away, and that soon, her child will move on to the next and more independent stage of his life. With a 16-year-old, I know this feeling all too well, and I know that while it is vital to maintain the things that are just for me, and to have a sense of self outside of my child, there is the knowledge that each moment is precious and a desire to hold those moments close.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to swim in my happy place, Culebra, Puerto Rico.

I got up early, usually while others were still sleeping, and I swam for hours every day. Truly. Hours and hours. Sometimes 2, sometimes 4, sometimes in between, but always as short or as long as I wanted to.

There was no time limit, no start or finish line, no one to know how much or how little I had done on any given day, and no accurate measure of my distance. Alone and happy, it was the most wonderful swimming I have done yet this year.

Obviously, it’s different when you are on vacation and not fitting your swimming around your job and the carpool/food/attention needs of your family, and the fact that you have to walk the dogs and wash the dishes, and return to that mess of overdue email replies that seems to keep getting longer and longer and longer.

And while that was part of the beauty of my swims there, it was also just remembering the magic of the water, a feeling similar to what I had swimming in Turkey two years ago.

That is the swimming I want more of. The swimming that is about the water and me and my body moving through it in a way that feels like we were made to be together. I want swimming where I give myself permission to stop and look around, to watch a turtle pass by without worrying about my time, or to look up at the trees and the woods at a local swimming hole. (It doesn’t mean I never do that when it’s an organized event, but as many of you know, it is fundamentally different when you are competing and in a swim with other people.)

Today, and for the rest of this weekend, instead of traveling to swim the river in Portland, I’m going to spend the day enjoying my HERE.

I’ve made a plan of sorts for tomorrow, a series of lakes and ponds I will drive to over the course of the day, going for a swim in each, and hoping to match the number of miles of the Portland swim, relishing the fact that swimming is still there for me. My family had already made plans for the day, based upon the idea that I would be gone, and that’s okay. I will spend my day in the water. Because no matter what, that’s still my happy place.

It may take another form, and it may not have the rewards of a simple medal or t-shirt or checked box on the list of swim accomplishments. No one will know if I’ve been in the water or not, or be able to track my results or my finish time. And I love that.

Someday, I will do the Portland swim. It will happen, just like my stage of the 8-Bridges swim happened when it was time, a few years after I initially planned it to. And on Sunday, when I know the other swimmers are hitting the water, I may have a moment of sadness or jealousy.

For now, I am content with my decision, still sitting at my kitchen table while it rains outside, waiting for the rain to stop so I can go for a run. Or not.

Because sometimes, it’s okay NOT to DO.

Have a great weekend everyone.

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