Back to Blogging: but first, a salute

One of the last posts on this blog was a guest blog from my daughter Bailey, to me. It covered her experience being stuck at home with us during COVID, living through my cancer, missing her track season, and her consequential spiral down into depression. 

It’s hilarious! 

No actually, it is, which makes it an amazing piece of writing. I’m forever grateful. If you haven’t read it, scroll down to the entry before this, or click here.

It also covers how she came to open water swimming, and how it beat her up, and how she loved it and kept coming back. How finding the water and the folks in it helped her through, mentally and physically.

Cool mirror image by Robbie Cribbs of Bailey swimming across to Camano Island this summer.

Summer swims are nearly over, so I’ll have a bit more time for the blog. But I couldn’t exactly start back without a follow-up to her post. It’s more of a salute, really. 

That depressed funny determined kid came back this year and had a 2021 track season. Boy did she have a season.

I don’t know if it was the need to get back, or to bust ass and give it her all after missing a season, or just a promise she made to herself to drive it as hard as possible. 

She might just have been really, really pissed off at 2020, too. 

An early at-home meet at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.

Whatever it was, my girl repeatedly broke school and meet records, and made it to nationals in North Carolina back in May. Yah, frickin NA-TION-ALS. And not just in one race, in two: the 100 and 200 meters.

Girl!

What’s even better: they allowed spectators. We went to Greensboro and sat in the humid stands for three days, eating southern food (chicken biscuits!), sweating our asses off in the bleachers, and feeling like we were going to throw up before her races. I actually held a barf bag for one mom sitting next to me.

My dream for Bailey was that she’d make it to the podium in one of her races. Can you imagine? I couldn’t get my head around it. My daughter, on the national podium! Even if it was 8th place it wouldn’t matter. It’s frickin NA-TION-ALS, baby.

But she didn’t get 8th. Or 7th. She won. She WON! Both races! (Way to under-dream for your own kid, right?) Every race she ran—prelims, finals, even after waiting out a two-hour rain delay in the 200 final—she won.

My daughter is a national champion and an All-American. Twice over. 

Bailey does things. And when she does, she goes all out. She is the fastest woman in D3 colleges in the country for 2021.

And she’s humble as hell. Bailey has never been one for attention or praise. So many hometown folks came over and congratulated her, made a fuss, made a cake, threw her a party.

But my girl isn’t into that. The biggest trophies she carried home on the plane were the posters that labeled the podium where she got to stand for a few minutes. 

Coming back home with her favorite pieces of memorabilia.

The crystal trophies that said First Place? They were packed in her carry-on with her sweaty uniforms. They might still be there for all I know.

She was asked to do a podcast after her wins, a show called D3 Glory Days. Click below to listen. The first half is her male counterpart, JP Vaught, who also won both the mens 100 and 200 races. (Meh. Just skip that bit. Bailey comes on the second half of the show!)

At one point she’s asked what she did during COVID to train. She says, “I swam open water.” 

I’m so grateful that I was part of that. Yes it was shitty times in our lives, yes I went through two surgeries, yes it was COVID, yes we sheepishly watched Tiger King. But I’d do it all a million times over. Hell I’d even lose my other breast to do it again.

Granted, it was humbling to swim with her. I’d start swimming before her, then watch her pass me in about 5 strokes, then see her feet (her beautiful high-arched, tippy-toeing, speed-demon feet!) as they vanished into the green. 

The only time I see Bailey at a swim is before we get in. Even here, she’s still in front of me!

She didn’t know, but every time she passed me, I’d pull up and stop, watch her go pounding through the Rocky waves, getting the shit beat out of her. I’d watch her rise, keep on fighting, keep on swimming, then rise again. I’d just bob there and laugh. Sometimes cry. Usually both. 

Beautiful things have that affect on me.

My girl’s tiny blue cap powering through the shit storm.

 I asked her after she came home from nationals the million-dollar question: How did you do it? Twice?

She said: “Mom, there’s no secret. I just reach my top all-out speed, then maintain it longer than anyone else out there. Some runners have a faster top speed than me, but they can’t maintain it for very long. I can.”

I had no idea it was so logical. (!) My daughter throws it down, pushes the needle into the red, turns herself inside out, and holds it there until she’s over the line. 

Simple physics. And pure gut-dug grit. She is a literal bombshell that goes off when the gun fires. 

Out in front for the 100 finish at nationals.

I try to live my life day by day, sometimes hour to hour. Bailey lives her life in tenths of seconds. On the track, she is the penultimate example of being fully and completely present in life.

When she was a baby, people warned me about being a parent. They said, “Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it.”

They had no idea.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Catching Up

How is it that I’m at home more than ever before, yet I’m so far behind on everything? Just yesterday I finally repaired four wetsuits that I was supposed to do two months ago. And time seems to be absolutely flying by. 

Yesterday the wetsuits, today the blog! At this rate I might even get to the dining room light fixture that’s been just a socket with wires sticking out of the ceiling for more than a year now.

But let’s not get hasty.

We’ve been swimming a ton, it being high season and all. Lots of new places, new summer-swimmer faces, and with Island County in phase 3, we’ve been able to bring back our weekly Saturday Seawall swims. 

The first one was a cold, windy, rainy morning, and we had 23 in the water. I love swimmers. 

My two daughters have been joining me, and it is my utmost joy and delight to see them glide past me at the start, effortless, adrenaline-filled, and powerful. I don’t see them again until I get out, where they’re patiently waiting on shore: dry, smiling, and on their second cups of tea.   

Catching up. Can I get an amen?

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Summer’s End: In Complete Denial

September, Useless Bay, 9:30 am mile swim

It feels like a stolen morning. Sunlight is casting a squint-bright glaze on the flat water of the bay, it’s high tide, and the summer-house crowds have gone back to their frantic mainland schedules of carpools, private schools, select soccer, and 50-hour a week jobs. 

Poor bastards. Me, I’m writing on the beach today, sitting in my towel with a pleasantly soggy swim bum.  The water was unusually clear, so I could watch the small perch darting around the sea grass, and globby moonsnails pulling themselves across the bottom as I coasted along the top of the bay.  

Am I lucky? You bet. Privileged? Absolutely. Entitled? All I can say is I never expect days like today. Every bright and cloudless dawn is a gift in the Pacific Northwest, especially in September. 

The American white pelicans, special visitors to Deer Lagoon these last three years, are beginning to gather for their trip south. The apples I “borrowed” off the trees of a burned-out abandoned house are already crisp-sweet. And there’s even a few maple leaves reddening.

But so far they are only hints of Fall, and I’m glad. Every season begins and ends, a birth and a death every three months. Summer’s end just seems like the stage-four, every-major-organ-has-a-tumor, two-weeks-to-live kind of death. 

But a sudden death is always better than suffering. 

In a few weeks there will be a morning that feels like someone slammed the door closed on the sun. That day I’ll pack a second swim cap, and wear my lambs wool slippers down to the beach. 

But that isn’t today. If I close my eyes and just listen to the short waves washing quietly up on the sand, I can tell myself summer is still young. I have all the time in the world.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Miraculous Lake Dorothy

No one can avoid a challenge in life without breeding regret, and regret is the arsenic of life.

— Esther Williams.

We were hiking back from a swim at Lake Dorothy in the North Cascades. The rare sunny, 80-something-degree day and the water’s clarity made children of all seven of us. Water ballet, swim dives, and belly flops caused hoots of laughter that echoed off the evergreen mountains around us. 

Of course, the high-jinx ensued only after a respectable distance swim. We are, first and foremost, serious open-water swimmers, and the best belly-flop award doesn’t just happen, it must be earned.

“When are you starting your swim blog? Have you started it yet? You haven’t?” On the narrow trail back, I was tired and euphoric, which always leaves me emotionally open, a state that makes this control freak very nervous. 

“I honestly don’t know where to start,” I replied. It was a safe answer, and left out all the self-doubt, endless excuses, and real fear that what I desire to share doesn’t have merit, or interest. Does anyone besides me care less about “how we swim” and more about “why we swim?” 

Almost every open-water blog I’ve seen is about the individual’s experience with the big three: location, challenge, and distance. How far, how fast, how cold, long, hard, choppy, windy: the stories are amazing and inspiring. But very physical and goal-oriented.

I have always been more interested in the call some open-water swimmers have to water. Open water, big water, salt water, wild water: any time, any season. That need we have not just to be ON it, but IN it, full submersion, nothing less.

The group swimming that day at Lake Dorothy had very little in common: different careers, different domestic situations, an age span of 30 years, and after a lively conversation, we even  vehemently disagreed on the IQs of chickens.

 Yet stroking out into turquoise waters so clear we could see a pair of antlers on the bottom (turned out to be just a stick, dammit), we shared the same ecstatic energy and joy of being in that water. Sharing the water and the experience, individually yet together, is both powerful and empowering. 

Halfway to the big rock mid-lake, the friend swimming next to me stopped and said, “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever swam. I could die tomorrow and feel like I didn’t miss a thing.”

Seeing the girlish grin and rapture on her face, I knew exactly how she felt. We all did.

And isn’t shared euphoria the not-so-distant cousin of a miracle?

So I’ll be blogging my swims here on Whidbey Island, and other places I’m lucky to swim (Maldives in November, stay tuned!). I’ll chart the where, when and how. But what I really want to learn is the “why.” Not just my reasons but those of others as well, those of us that can’t just look then regret it, we must answer the call and dive in.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth