I was never a strong swimmer. I took lessons when I was small. I cried when I had to jump off the diving board. I drank pool water, lots and lots of pool water.

Flash forward to life post-cancer. I didn’t move my body with regularity, and movement is part of my cancer survivorship plan.  I decided to learn how to swim, thinking it would be good for me mentally as well as physically. If I could swim (and learn how to ride a bike), I could compete in my first triathlon.

I will never forget that cold Tuesday morning at 5:45 when I showed up in the dark for my first practice. I didn’t know what to expect – what’s the protocol for swim practice? Make it from one end to the other without drinking the pool? How was I supposed to read the white board with the workout? I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t know a soul, and I was more than uncomfortable.

What I also didn’t know at the time was that by “showing up”, I would be open to receiving one of the greatest gifts – becoming a swimmer.

Swim Coach Mark coached me twice a week for months. I clung onto the side of the pool out of breath. There was crying. There was frustration. I had trouble breathing. I consumed large amounts of pool water. And I kept showing up. I eventually “swam” to the end of the pool without standing or frantically grabbing at the pool deck when the water got deep. I was thrilled – and panting. I yelled back to Coach, ‘I DID IT!’ –  and he yelled, ‘Great, now swim back’. With a groan, I did. Eventually I improved and graduated to swimming with my teammates.

Two Ironman triathlon finishes and a 4 mile swim in the Chesapeake Bay later, I celebrated my 4 year swimmerversary. My willingness to be open to discomfort and the unknown led to an extraordinary gift that changed my life.