Written by: Beth Hudson, LBKA
INSPIRE: to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. The CAF (Challenged Athletes Foundation) Community Challenge is a “triathlon” that allows adaptive athletes to swim, ride, and/or run a triathlon. The great thing is that an athlete can choose to do whichever parts of the triathlon they want. The Community Challenge is in its 29th year. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that Melissa DeChellis, founder of Adaptively Abled Amputees, has, in the true definition of the word (above), inspired me in many ways. Melissa participated in the CAF Community Challenge in San Diego in 2021. She decided to do the swim portion, got herself a coach, and trained. She touched down in sunny San Diego the third week in October, ready for her one-mile open water swim, and she nailed it! She had so much fun, met so many great folks, and recorded a personal best - Win! Win! Win! Well, she inspired me to set my 2022 goal to do the same, and to that end, I began training for the 2022 swim portion of the Challenge. Living in a fairly rural area, finding a coach was not easy, and it wasn’t until May of 2022 before I began training with a coach. The pool was an hour away, ninety minutes of swim, hour home - for six straight weeks. I had to unlearn so much; I thought I was a good swimmer. And I am, but swimming in open water is so different from just swimming laps. First, stamina. Second, lots of relearning bad habits (mostly because I was a synchronized swimmer in college). I was constantly crossing my arms over to the other side of my body when returning them into the water in front of me. My third problem was trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to swim in a straight line, as I don’t use my left leg at all. Fourth was attempting to get a bit of power out of my sound leg. But most of my swimming is from my upper body. There’s a fifth, six, and seventh, but you get the gist! In the fall I did two open water training swims - both in lakes with kayak support from Jay (also known as Better Half). The second one was actually measured, and I finished in exactly one hour. My goal at CAF was to shave a few minutes off that time. But I was not able to do any ocean swimming in my training, and I had no idea how I would fare in salt water. Certain equipment is also necessary. Thanks to Cinnamon Rainbows in Hampton, NH for perfectly fitting me with a wetsuit. Swimming in a wetsuit is very different from a normal swimsuit - glad I trained in it! I also bought a swim bubble, which is a large balloon you blow up and tie around your waist. If you need to stop and rest, you can use it as a buoy. It is also very bright so you don’t get hit by a boat! Goggles, swim cap, and a shrinker for my residual limb rounded out my ensemble. My nerves started to get to me as we readied for the weekend. Better Half and I packed and flew to San Diego on Thursday. Friday morning I attended a swim clinic in Mission Bay - the venue for the swim. Al and Amy were fantastic coaches - learned a great deal in those two hours as well as got a feel for salt water swimming. The water was a balmy 65. Saturday had me feeling a bit under the weather - although I think most of it was a combination of anxiety and excitement. Sunday was a 5 a.m. wake up, as we had to be at the venue by 6:45. Things were a bit chaotic for this first timer, as I didn’t know where to go or what the procedures were. The schedule I had been given was not what they actually followed, but Better Half and I figured it out. At 8 a.m. I was at the start with my stomach full of butterflies. I was in the first (and slowest) group - didn’t care - all I wanted to do was finish. Still had a problem with swimming straight - thank goodness there were volunteers on the outskirts of the course to keep me on the course! It was really weird swimming between moored boats. I was hoping to see a stingray or two, but due to rain the night before, the water was quite mirky. Arriving at the half-way point was glorious - all I had to do was swim back! Lots of cheering at the finish line! It was a blast! Thanks to all the volunteers who helped me both get in and out of the water! Tired? Yes! - Elated? Yes! My time? 47.09 - almost thirteen minutes off my last training time. And since it was my first race, it’s also my Personal Best! The great thing about the CAF Challenge is that you are only competing against yourself. I didn’t care if I came in last (came close!) because that wasn’t the point. And If I hadn’t finished, there wouldn’t have been any shame in that either because either way, I had set a goal and had done my best - that’s what it’s all about! If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I am big on setting goals. I am definitely going to find other open water swims in which to compete. As for the CAF Challenge next year, I may do the bike portion - we’ll see. Set a goal and adjust as necessary. Eat the setbacks for breakfast. Don’t worry about others - do it for yourself - your personal reward is enough - at least it was for me. Thanks to Melissa, my Adaptively Abled Tribe, my FB group “Lap Swimmers of the World,” Merrimack (NH) YMCA, Better Half, and my family - I couldn’t have done this without your continued support and encouragement! And remember: You never know how much strength you have until you are called upon to use it.