Near death experience – what I learnt and have taught ever since

April four years ago, I had signed up to compete (or in my case hopefully complete) a triathlon.

I had completed some in previous years, but this one was different, I would be swimming in open water.

Cue trying to squeeze lake swimming practice in to an already overflowing schedule.

I had finished work and raced over to the local lake to squeeze in 45mins open water swim. Only swimming 750m that should be easy enough before sunset.

I arrived. Signed in and suited up.

I approached the edge of the lake and braced myself for the 13degrees Celsius water I was about the slowly walk out in to.

Taking deep controlled breaths of fresh earthy scented air the black shimmering water inched up my body. As it passed my waist I felt the familiar pin prick of cold water entering the wet suit through the rear zip. Another small gasp.

Edging further still, I brace myself for the inevitable rush that hits when the cold water covers your face and enters your ears. I dunk under telling myself ‘this is exhilarating’ pushing out the thoughts that maybe golf or bowls might be a better past time.

I emerge and feel glad that the worst is behind me. Now I just have to swim out to the tiny floating bouy, hang a left and swim back round the perimeter to the jetty.

And we’re off.

It was all going, well swimmingly: my pace was good, breathing was on track, my sighting a little ropey leading to multiple course corrections which gave a zigzag path out to the mid lake marker. Round the buoy now back toward the bank.

Face in the water, face out the water, breath: “remember not to panic if you swim through weeds – you don’t want to get tangled”

Face in the water, face out the water, breath: “don’t think about sharks”

Face in the water, face out the water, breath “was that a big fish or small shark?”

Finally I hit the bank -hang a left and we’re home straight back to the jetty, job jobbed.

I swam, swam and tried not to think about sharks, swam some more. Still no jetty.

I was getting cold and tired, and it was getting dark. And I couldn’t find my way out of the lake. This was dangerous, the more I swam the darker it got and panic started to set in.

My breathing was all over the place, my swim stroke was getting worse and worse. I couldn’t climb out where I was due to thick trees and branches poking out like beach fortifications reminiscent of a world war beach landing scene.

Panic. Shortness of breath and more panic. This was very dangerous.

Don’t panic. How do you not panic, especially when you’re mid-panic.

I needed to get my breathing under control, get my heart rate down.

The benefit of a wet suit is its buoyancy. You can just lay back and float and breathe and calm, and breathe more slowly.

Regain control.

When you are anxious or nervous, your breathing can become shallower, panic sets in due to a lack of sufficient oxygen and you just can’t think straight- it all goes to pot.

Get your breath under control, deep slow breath.

Now you can think straight and firing on all cylinders you are much better equipped to deal with whatever your faced with.

Remember to breathe.

As I bobbed and flailed and bobbed – I thought and reviewed my options – I spotted a small orange box the other side of the lake glowing in the diminishing light of the day.

I set off, tired and putting out the negative self talk telling me “I have swum longer and further that I ever have this evening …and I’m now swimming diagonally across a lake, in darkness, toward what I hope is a life ring and jetty”.

As I approached the orange glow grew and grew in size – it was actually the door to the reception where I had set off.

If I had not taken a moment, to breathe and and regain control of my thought, I fear I would not have climbed out at all.

What did I learn?

Remember to breathe.

Before you give that presentation, step in to that interview room, ask that girl or guy out, play the first note at that massive gig. Breathe, get your brain firing on all cylinders and increase your odds of success ten fold.

The first thing I remind every student to do before they perform that piece of music they’ve been working so hard to perfect…

Remember to breathe.


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