It’s a Sickness

“You’re my hero!”

That’s what a kind man walking the beach shouted at me a few days ago as I was toweling off after a swim in Mutiny Bay. Ironically, I was the first one out, not because I was fastest, but because I’d gone the shortest distance and was the slowest of our group. 

Not exactly a heroic swim. But whatever, I’ll take hero worship whenever I can get it.

I waved, smiled and said thanks. People will frequently engage me in conversation after a swim, if I’m alone. If we get out of the water in a pack (school? pod?), a few brave souls will approach us, but most just smile and move briskly past, in case our lunacy is contagious.

Which it most definitely is. 

The gentleman asked the usual round of queries: how cold was it, how far did I go. But then he asked, “How many millimeters is your suit?” This guy was a contender, serious-curious. He had some background, whether as a surfer, a diver, or maybe even a swimmer that used to do open water. 

“Are you a swimmer yourself?” I asked him. 

“Oh I used to be. Always wanted to try getting out there.”

I gave our facebook name, mentioned our open water swim clinics coming up, and encouraged him to give it a try. He said thanks, and after wishing me a good day, moved along down the beach.

After I give people info on how to connect with us, I usually never see them again.

But now and then a new person will join us that has the same disease we have. It’s usually apparent the first time they swim with us. While we welcome everyone, it’s the rare few that keep coming back. Something clicks for these folks. 

More than clicks, it’s almost like witnessing a homecoming of sorts.

These aren’t the ones who swim to prove they’re tough, or who come to train for something, or who need attention by doing something unique. We always get those folks around this time of year, and they usually stop swimming after a few weeks.

The ones who stick with us, who end up swimming year-round with us, the lifers? They just come to be. 

To be in it, to be part of a body bigger than themselves, to be slightly lost in something wild they can’t control.  

It feels amazing to find your people. No heroics necessary.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Coming Back

There’s nothing like being able to return to something you love. Last Thursday marked four weeks since my surgery, and I was given the go-ahead to get back in the water. 

Best. Swim. Ever. Sunshine! Flat clear water! Close friends! An osprey! Swift current on the return! Cold Pacificos after! And I was officially cancer-free. 

Free! In this time of COVID lockdown, how lucky was I to actually feel that emotion?

After a full month of not swimming and restricted activity, I was nervous about how my stroke would be affected. But muscle memory is an amazing thing. 

So is desire and drive.

I felt a little expected stiffness in my shoulder and pecs, and I won’t have full-arm extension for awhile. But it’s getting better every day, and every swim I’m able to go a little farther before the sparky nerves start up in my right palm. 

The body always tells you when to turn, if you listen. 

The best part is being back in the water with my salty cold friends, the socially distanced chatter before we get in, the endorphin-driven giggles when we get out. How I missed it!

I’m grateful for everything right now: steadfast friends and family, my strong body and spirit, moonsnails, sleep, iris blooms, medical workers, oversized potato chips I can’t quite fit in my mouth. 

And the darkness. I’m grateful for it, too. Dark times always come with offers of growth and hard-won change for the crossing.  But once my toes reach down and touch sand on the other side, there’s joy, holding out a sun-warmed towel and cold Pacifico. 

I know I’m one of the lucky ones. It’s good to be back.

<Special thanks to Matt and Marni for the incredible pics!>

–TJ Wiley Forsyth