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FlowSwimmer Threw Down the Ironman Gauntlet

2020 has been unlike any other, especially for us swimmers locked out of pools. Early on, back in May, Mark Johnston of lovely Polson, Montana and founder of FlowSwimmers came up with the fantastic idea of the Open Water Virtual Grand Slam ... a four distance, four month long global event designed perfectly for the pandemic times in which we live ...

  • Many swimmers were coming off months of pool closures, but starting to see their nearby lakes, seas and oceans warm up to the point where they were swimmable ... but what to do once we got there??

  • Due to physicial/social distancing requirements, many of us adult swimmers who were used to training with others had to learn to swim by ourselves ... and needed a bit of extra motivation to do so

  • While some swimmers have competed in open water events, many of us had never 'trained' in open water ... some of us (yours truly included) needed a nudge to get us out there

  • The months being out of the pool left our swimming muscles out of shape ... we needed a gradual way to build into this

The structure of the event ...

  • 800 meters in May ("Sprint")

  • 1500 meters in June ("Olympic")

  • 1930 meters in July ("Half-Ironman")

  • 3860 meters in August ("Ironman")

  • Wear a wetsuit or go in "skins" (e.g., regular swimsuit only)

  • Use your favorite GPS-enabled swim watch (like my favorite)

... was brilliant enough and perfect for the times.

But, then, something even more magical happened, something good and truly community-building on Facebook: Mark create a group for this event and then people started posting photos, stories of their swim efforts, where they swim and (when possible) who they swam with. The community went global quickly so we got to ...

  • see cool shots like a guy swimming in the shadows of Dutch windmills,

  • read about a swimmer rescuing and helping to save a non-responsive individual from a lake,

  • a mother's pride as her teenaged daughter gained confidence swimming these events, accomplishing distances she'd never done before

  • have fun trying to make pretty pictures with our 'GPS map track' of our swims

  • trade ideas, share tips and make each other stronger, better swimmers

  • ... and add hundreds of places to our 'swim bucket list' once we can all travel again!

As a lifelong swimmer (~45 years or so now since I started summer league when I was 7 or 8) and a committed competitor, I was drawn to this event initially for the competition, but it quickly became less about that ... and more about the community ,,, until it kind of became about both.

You see, I've been struggling to will myself this month to do the full Ironman distance. I don't know why. I had certainly raced that distance a number of times and the distance was less than I'd actually go in a lot of my pool practices. I even have a beautiful swim course in Barrie, Ontario in which to do this:

But, I was hitting a mental roadblock. I think it was the thought of doing it alone.

But, then I wasn't doing it alone, thanks to Mark throwing out a friendly challenge this Tuesday in the comment section in the Facebook group ...

Now, in all candor, I backed down from the challenge at first. That mental roadblock was still there and I didn't commit... but when I got to the lake on Thursday with a different swim plan in mind, I felt a motivation rise in me. I felt the swim community there urging me on (and maybe a bit of the competitive drive).

When I got a bit over halfway through and my motivation was flagging, I felt the community behind me. It's funny, because I knew intellectually that the community wasn't really there, wasn't really sitting around behind each of their computers urging me on to finish this swim in this little corner of Ontario ... but I felt them nonetheless.

I finished the swim and even managed to go slightly under my goal time. I was tired ... too tired to really smile for this in-water photo looking towards downtown Barrie ... but, trust me, my head and heart were aglow.

Thanks, Mark, King of the Flowswimmers!

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