Why I’m Terrified To Escape From Alcatraz

Alcatraz

I’m struggling.

To find the words. To form the sentences. To capture the thoughts. To get underneath the feelings, and plumb the deep salty waters I am swimming in.

I am struggling.

To separate the excitement from the nerves, the adrenaline from the dread, the determination from the apprehension.

I am struggling to harness the power and strength, my power, to pull it away from the fear, the worry, the panic. Even as my legs propel me forward, and my hands slice neat and even strokes through the cold, choppy water, my heart beats an unsteady rhythm: Won’t make it. Can’t make it. What if I don’t make it?

I am struggling to write it all down.

In one month I hope to swim from Alcatraz – that Alcatraz, the once-upon-a-time prison, the iconic Rock way out there in the middle of the Bay – to San Francisco. I will join 100 swimmers, some of them visually impaired, to raise funds and awareness for That Man May See, the support foundation for UCSF’s Department of Ophthalmology.

I am inspired, determined, excited. And terrified.

I’m not quite sure why.

I mean, for all the reasons one would think: it’s cold, there are sharks in the Bay (not great whites, I’m told, but little ones), the weather, the distance. These are all legitimate reasons to make my heart pump a little more erratically, to cause me to swallow hard a few times, to feel queasy and constricted even when I’m not wearing a wetsuit.

But that’s not it.

I talk about this swim with my family and friends. I truthfully say I am nervous and also excited, energized and really scared. I think about it all the time. I plan my days, my meals, my sleep around training sessions in the pool and in the Bay. But I am struggling to write it all down.

So. This is my attempt to name my fears, here on the page, in the hope that when I stand on the boat anchored at Alcatraz in 31 days and look across the water toward my favorite City by the Bay, I will know what I am swimming through to get there:

  1. It’s far. The freezing temperature (it’s not quite freezing and the impending El Niño promises water that is warmer-than-usual), the sharks, the dirty waters (my swimming partner came face to face with a dead bird last week)… these are not the things that have my swimsuit in a knot. I swim in a wetsuit, I haven’t heard of a shark attack during an Alacatraz swim (maybe I’m naïve), and I’ll take a shower afterwards. But when I look at that island standing stoically in the middle of the Bay, it seems very very far from anywhere. I know it’s a perceived distance. The actual distance is less than a mile and a half. But I am someone who tracks each mile, each step, each stroke. I watch the tiny airplane inch its way across the satellite map on flights, I check my Google Maps continuously whenever we drive somewhere, carefully noting how much further, how much longer till we reach our destination. On November 1, I will be in the map with no way of measuring how far I’ve come and how much longer till I get there. I will have to pace myself, track myself, trust myself.
  1. There are great big invisible forces in that Bay. Nature is strong, powerful, much larger than any life, and I will be floating somewhere between the unseen wind above and the hidden currents below. What if, what if, what if? I watch my hands slice through that murky green water, I hear myself count the strokes in my head, one two breathe, one two three four breathe. I realize it’s not only the wild elements that have power. There is force in those hands, that breath, that body too. And if I focus on my own strength and power, I will move forward.
  1. I’m a crappy swimmer. This is the one that stops me mid-stroke, the niggling thought that I’m not a good enough swimmer to take on this challenge. I’m not fit enough, strong enough, fast enough. It’s a version of the insecurity that often lurks just beyond my reach: I’m a shitty mom, an uncaring friend, an insensitive wife, a lazy volunteer. And if I let it come closer, close enough that I can touch it and feel its tentacles creep up my arms and around my neck and squeeze my heart, I will be paralyzed right there in the water. I’m not a terrible swimmer. I am an okay swimmer. I can kick my legs and move my arms in rhythmic strokes and keep myself afloat and breathe when I need to breathe.

These are my fears. To write through them is to name them and own them, and to know that this is what I will be swimming through to get from Alcatraz back to shore. So. I will trust myself, believe in my own power… and know that I can do it.

If you’d like to support my swim and That Man May See, please click here.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers gather together to share their versions of a completed sentence. This week’s prompt was, “I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Ivy Walker from uncharted, and Roshni from Indian American Mom.

25 thoughts on “Why I’m Terrified To Escape From Alcatraz

  1. I completely understand your doubts and fears, but I am absolutely positive that you can do this. I hope writing down your fears helped, and took away some of their power. And you have power in all of us, your friends and family who support you, and will be virtually kicking their legs to help you reach your goal. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nick you are one of the strongest people I know and you’re South African… 🙂 we are made of strong stuff and you have tough roots…remember? You’ve already done yourself and all of us proud. The rest is the easy-ish stuff. The result is going to be phenomenal. Love you to the moon and back. Sterkte my kind – we’ll be ‘swimming’ with you, every step of the way. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh wow. I stood and took in the amazing sight of Alcatraz and the bay while up on some peak during my first visit to San Francisco last March. My kids were mesmerized by the stories told by our trolley driver but were too scared out of their wits to actually want to take the boat/ferry ride out to it. So, as I read this, that’s where I was watching you swim, from up there on the peak, you down there a tiny spec gliding through those waters to reach your goal. This is so inspiring. It doesn’t necessarily make me want to swim to Alcatraz. But it lights a fire to try something different, to make the most of this life, so thank you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re going to do it!! I can’t wait to hear all about the actual swim. Kudos to you for writing it all down here. Getting it onto the page always seems to help me. I hope it did for you too. Cheering you on from Chicago!! xoxo

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  5. Pingback: Current Status: | Red Boots

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