The ping of the alarm, not the pitter patter of little feet or a babe’s cry, jolts me out of a deep sleep. As I drowsily turn off the alarm I glance at the clock. 5:25 am. I quietly drag myself from the warm bed, pull on my swim suit and slip out of the house. Swim practice awaits. As I roll onto the pool deck 15 minutes later there is already a buzz in the air and steam rising from the pool. 40-50 others are crazy enough to join me in this early morning venture. I shiver as I sprint on my tip toes across the icy pool deck. It’s a cool 39 degrees this morning. A booming hello and a “yip, yip, yeah” greets me from my coach. I can feel the energy enter my body. I plunge into the pool and my body comes to life.
What is great enough to pull a mom of two little sleeping kids from her bed? A search for me.
I swam competitively from age 6 to 20. It was my life. It was where my best friends were made, where my personality was formed and what I identified with. In college I lived, ate and breathed swimming. By the time I graduated, I was ready for a change. I needed to find my identity beyond the pool. I swam intermittingly, on and off for the next 16 years, but never with much intensity. I focused on my career, creating a family, and squeezing in a workout when I could.
Over the past 5 years, since becoming a mother, I’ve felt a bit lost as an individual. It’s as if I had lost my center, my grounding. I’m sure many relate to this feeling. When you transition into motherhood you give all of yourself to your babies. At day’s end, you are a bundle of mental and physical exhaustion. There is nothing left to give. As the babies grow, you catch glimpses of the old you and bit by bit recapture some of what used to make you happy. Of course you have new fulfillments in your family, but it is critical to also be true to yourself and focus on what fuels you. For me, the gas tank was in the red.
For my 37th birthday last year, with kids ages 2 and 4, I gave myself the gift of a triathlon. The race was on my birthday and as my family cheered me on at the finish, not only did I feel a great sense of accomplishment, but a deep joy. I had touched the core of me again and was surrounded by the people I loved most. As I raced I kept telling myself, “This is for you Abby. This is your race. Go for it!” While the joy was pure, the feeling was fleeting. I quickly was wrapped back up in the trials and celebrations of being a stay at home mom of two kids.
I carried on, got into road biking, and slowly was finding my way back to center. I always knew the day I would enter the water again at a serious level would come. I did not know when, but I knew the call would come. After all, it is the core of me. And then one day it happened. There was no major revelation or magic moment. One night at dinner I shared with my husband that I had found a team and I planned to get back into the water. That was that. I committed to him that I would make 3 workouts a week. And more importantly, he committed to me his support in helping make that happen. Once I put something out there, I don’t generally back away. So there it was. Time to face the music.
I was quite nervous, but getting back in the pool with a team of swimmers felt like coming home. These are my people. These people I hardly know, I understand. I know what makes them tick. A few months later as I finished a grueling workout I looked up at my coach and said, “That was a crazy hard workout.” His comment back, “Well, it made you smile.” I guess—as I had a huge grin on my beet red face! And really, that’s the essence of it. I come home with a huge smile on my face, crazy tired, but happy. And that happiness is what matters.
You see, in the water I am not a mom, a wife, a daughter, or a consultant. I am Abby. The same Abby I have always been, with her head down in the water, pouring every ounce of energy into her swim, in complete focus, with no distraction, and pure joy. And that is why as the alarm goes off at 5:25 am in complete darkness, I get up. I get up to be me. I get up for joy. I get up to keep my center.