My Own Sweet Victory

Sandy SandersOne of my goals for 2013 recently came and went. My goal was to complete the 4.4-mile Chesapeake Bay Swim. On Sunday, June 9th, I did just that. It wasn’t a pretty swim. Finishing 21-out-of-21 people in my age group was a far cry from the ‘top three’ finish I’m used to seeing when it comes to running events, but regardless, I swam all 4.4 miles.

Having been a collegiate swimmer for my NCAA Division I school, my roots were strongly grounded in swimming. However, through the years, I’ve drifted further and further away from my first love. With the exception of the occasional summer triathlons and ocean swims, I’ve gravitated more towards running and obstacle events.

In January 2013, I learned that my former Navy roommate and Dive School friend, Rebecca, was entering the Bay Swim lottery again in hopes that she would be doing her third swim – in MY state nonetheless. I hadn’t seen Rebecca in seven years. My plan was to cheer her on, but I figured, what the heck, I’d enter the lottery too. Best case scenario (or so I thought BEFORE doing the swim) – we’d have a swimming reunion. Worst case scenario – my name wouldn’t get picked, I’d save the entry fee, and I’d cheer Rebecca on.

When I learned that our names were picked, I was excited for the both of us. My excitement soon turned to dread after receiving official confirmation upon entering. I remembered thinking, “WHAT IN THE WORLD HAVE I JUST DONE,” as the full understanding that I had just committed myself to a 4.4-mile bay swim hit me.

That month I joined the YMCA for its indoor pool and, for the first time in years, bought my first ‘serious’ swimsuit. For years I had one swimsuit that I would save for the occasional triathlons, as to not stretch it out. Otherwise, I just sported bikinis or tankinis as I played around in the water with my kids.

Due to my work schedule and the kids’ activities, Sunday was my swim day. Not only was I prepping for the bay swim, but I was prepping for my upcoming triathlons as well. My Sunday training consisted of an hour playing tag at the playground with my kids (for my “run” training), an hour on the stationary bike at the Y, then just under two hours in the pool.

The morning of the swim, I felt I was in decent enough shape to not kill my rotator cuff with the repetitive stroking motion that 4.4 miles of swimming would require.

Sandy Sanders Bay SwimI remember lining up on the water’s edge with all the other Wave One yellow-capped swimmers, and having a slight panic attack as I sped through my first few strokes. I began racing as though it was the first leg of some sprint triathlon. When the realization that I had 4.4 miles ahead of me hit me, I started to panic. I felt as though my thermal wetsuit was choking me. “This is just the start. There’s NO WAY I’m going to be able to finish 4.4 miles,” I remembered thinking to myself. Part of me wanted to turn back, but I’m not a quitter. I could see my Mya Never Ever Give Up (NEGU) bracelets moving back and forth across my right wrist with each stroke and reminded myself that I was not a quitter.

I slowed my pace and, as I continued to stroke, I calmed myself down. I finally got into my groove. Over and over I played the same song in my mind to keep it occupied, so that doubt wouldn’t creep in. I even thought about fellow Athleta athlete Elaine Howley, and momentarily wondered HOW in the world she did this for fun, before I brought my mind back to my song.

As yellow cap after yellow cap swam past me, I looked for visual cues to show my progress. The one-mile buoy marker was such a beautiful sight that helped to boost my confidence. Seeing the mile-two buoy was an even more beautiful sight as that marked the halfway point.

By this time, the red caps of the second wave were passing me. I didn’t care, as for me, this wasn’t a race. It was about meeting a challenge head on.

The distance between buoys seemed like FOREVER, and I remember seeing the helicopters circling around to ensure 100% accountability of all the swimmers. I remember wondering if they were looking at me, wondering who let the “flailing little swimmer” into the swim. Then I remember jokingly thinking, “I’m gonna kill Rebecca for this.” Again I started to sing because I didn’t want ANY negative thoughts in my mind.

With each stroke my goal was to finish the swim and not get pulled from the water due to the weather turning for the worst, or because I had exceeded the time limit on the swim. As I passed the last buoy, I was in the homestretch! By the time I exited the water, I could not even think straight – but I knew I was grateful to have my feet touch land again.

While checking my results, I heard the announcer saying that the last swimmer was exiting the water. I watched as the swimmer was greeted by a friend, and became choked up as I watched her break down into tears. I knew EXACTLY how she felt. Despite having finished dead last in my 21-deep age group, I was proud of my swim because sometimes the sweetest victories aren’t measured by awards.


July 06, 2013 at 8:25 am

It’s all about finishing what we start no matter how long it might take us. Thanks for writing about your experience, I found it very inspiring. Koodus to you!!!

Beth @ Miles and Trials

July 07, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Congratulations and thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I cannot imagine swimming that far. Way to go!

Sandy S

July 08, 2013 at 8:05 am

Ana and Beth, thank you for your kind words and glad you ladies found it inspiring. I love pushing myself outside my comfort zone because I feel that when we step outside our comfort zones, we really start living! Lol that’s why after finishing the 4.4 miler and saying ‘NEVER AGAIN!!!’ as soon as my feet touched land, was i just as quick to say “hmmmmm,” when i saw in my goody bag a post card advertisement for a FIVE mile swim in Oct… 😉


July 27, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Sandy! Thanks for the shout out! (I’ve fallen behind on my reading here and just got to this.) Awesome job on the swim. You did it right– keep the mind occupied and try not to think too much about how far you have left to swim. Hope to see you at a swim sometime soon!

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