Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Oceanic Constellations

Becky is a swimmer. She's lots of other things, too, of course--like small business owner, mother, triathlete etc...). But Becky has a particular love for swimming. As a child she liked the water. Swimming was a different thing. On Long Island, swimming was gross and involved slimey rocks. If it was a babysitter trying to get her to a swim lesson, she'd use that catch all, "I'm not feeling well," to avoid it.

Flash forward to college. Becky started thinking that maybe she'd like to do a triathlon. The catch--it meant she needed to really learn how to swim, not just paddle around, as she'd done as a child. She took a beginning swimming lesson and she fell in love. For Becky, swimming is something more than it is for most of the rest of us. Since birth she has had an eye condition called "strabismus." Her eyes work independently of one another. When she was born, one of her eyes was turned all the way in. For years she underwent different types of therapies to help her eyes understand how to work together. A patch over her good eye, for example, was used to force her bad eye to face forward and work properly. Still, she often sees double, she's been wearing bifocals since the age of 20, her depth perception is way off, and she has headaches more days than she doesn't. Swimming, it turns out, is the only time (except sleeping) when Becky can rest her eyes. "It's a total release."

Not one to do things halfway it seems, Becky zoomed past the usual swimming goals and into long distance swimming. Her first "real" long-distance open water swim was off St. Croix--5 miles in the open ocean. Swimmers are ferried out on boats to Buck Island (the first place to be designated an underwater national monument by JFK). When the conch shell blows, the swimmers head out across the ocean and back to St. Croix. The first time Becky did it she had a good case of butterflies as she started to swim. After about 500 yards the ocean floor drops away. Becky was awestruck by the sparkling starfish, hanging above the bottomless dark blue sea. "It looked like constellations." I was envious when she described this world upside down, the sky in the sea. Her next thought was, "I'm good. I can do this." She did. And she's since done the race a couple more times, including one year when she was stung by a Man of War early on (I won't even get into the excruiating pain she described and the systemic reaction she had the next day). Did it stop her? Of course not. Her most recent swim was a 10-miler in northern Vermont near the Canadian border--brrrr.

Becky has a special bracelet in the traditional St. Croix design. It's called the Cruzan knot. On days Becky has something challenging to do, she wears it. It reminds her that she can get through it, whatever "it" is. "I can swim 5 miles in the ocean," she thinks, "I can do this." In these economic times, running a small business, as she does, she needs that reminder more often than usual. Her Cruzan knot bracelet reminds her to be brave about new things. Even if something makes her very very nervous, and is way outside her comfort zone, she knows that the worst that can happen is that she doesn't succeed (whatever that means); at least she'll know she tried. And that's something she hopes she's passing on to her son..oh, and we can take inspiration from her, too! We all have our challenges. We all need our own Cruzan knot reminders.