When I completed my first triathlon almost a decade ago, I was shocked. I had grown up swimming in the ocean. Every one of my three-day-a-week swims over a period of six months leading up to the race had been great.
I loved the water. I was ready. Except, I wasn’t. I stepped into the water in my wetsuit for the very first time, put my head down and took off. Without warning I found myself in a full panic.
When I tell this story to more experienced open-water swimmers they nod and smile.
“Yep,” they say. “That sounds about right.”
An organized open-water swim, whether it is as a leg of a triathlon or the Great Chesapeake Bay swim, is a whole other animal compared with pool swimming.
First the wetsuit takes a lot of getting used to. Second, you are swimming with at least 100 people you don’t know and everybody is just a little on edge. It is a situation that inspires panic.
Had I been a member of the Arundel Breakfast Club before that first open-water swim, I would have been warned. I would have been prepared. This group of swimmers, who call themselves a club in the very loosest of terms, prides itselves on helping prepare swimmers for the rigors of the open water swim.
Though the Arundel Breakfast Club maintains a roster of members, it does not have a charter. It does not have an official board. It doesn't take minutes at monthly meetings.
Instead it is a club that developed out of a need. The club began when two swimmers, Andrew Grannell and Richard Denise, stood on the deck of the Arundel Swim Center wondering what to do next and decided to team up and create workouts.
Over the years swimmers trickled in, joining the group and expanding the workouts from two days a week to five or more. The club has grown from two swimmers to a roster of 80.
Though they meet at the Arundel Olympic Swim center at 6 a.m. every morning, the club also arranges open-water swims for their members as soon as the water is warm enough.
One member of the club organizes the weekly swims and reminds other members that there may be new swimmers in the mix. The new swimmers are told what to expect and the veteran swimmers are asked to keep an eye on the new swimmers. It is an atmosphere of one athlete helping another.
The practice swims are only part of the ABC plan to prepare swimmers for an open-water swim. They also share their years of experience with each other. Al Gruber, a member for almost 14 years has gone so far as to write a detailed description of what a first time swimmer will experience when swimming the Bay Swim.
From the chaos they will find upon arrival to what to wear to what the water and tides will feel like, Al covers it all.
Most of the members have swum the bay. Many have swum it numerous times. One member who has asked not to be named has swum the bay swim 24 times.
In addition to the Bay Swim, many members of the group have ventured out of the area for open-water swims. As a group they have swum the St. Croix 5 mile swim twice, the Bermuda 10k, the Rhode Island Narragansett Bay Swim, and six of the members of ABC have completed a double English Channel Relay Swim, swimming from England to France and back again in just more than 21 hours.
For me at least, open-water swimming is never going to come easy. There will always be that small bit of fear lurking in the recesses of my mind. But it is nice to know that there is a community of swimmers who have been there, completed the courses and are here to share their experience with me.