Jumping in the lake – my dream birthday present

Written by Stephanie Dancey

Every morning since the coronavirus pandemic hit, I wake up saying two prayers: I wish my family and friends stay healthy and I wish my birthday arrives so I can jump in the lake.

To date, both prayers have come true.

Wednesday was not only my 52nd birthday, but my 52nd day away from a pool.

As a competitive swimmer who swims a mile a day - more than 1,000 laps a month- the past two months have felt like an eternity.

So I promised myself my birthday present would be swimming in my waterfront home’s lake.

I wasn’t backing down, even if the lake was freezing cold. After all, I’m the “Polar Plunge Queen”, having jumped in Chemong Lake every February for 17 years in the BEL Rotary Polar Plunge.

Really, how bad could it be?

Before you decide I’ve lost my marbles, let’s put this all in perspective.

I’ve got boundless energy: I’m as physically active now as I was as a child. Exercise, particularly swimming daily before work, calms me down and allows me to be productive during my day. I’m an elementary school teacher, instructing languages to 143 students.

As a teenager, I played ringette on a Canadian team in Finland. As an adult, I have qualified for the World Masters Swimming Championships in Japan.

When the pandemic hit, my home workouts included a treadmill, rowing machine, boxing bag, weights and exercise videos. As the weather got warmer, I was able to cycle and kayak.

But none of those activities could simulate the intensity level and psychological lift I get from swimming.

Finally, my birthday arrived on May 6.

The thermometer showed 10 degrees Celsius.

Visions of gliding effortlessly through the water with the sun beaming down on me and schools of fish harmoniously swimming by quickly vanished.

Even though it had been so long since my last swim, I was convinced muscle memory would take over and hours of technique learned with the Trent Swim Club would make the swim a piece of cake, despite the possibility of facing fierce waves or bitter cold.

Within seconds, reality kicked in.

I felt ice cold water engulf my wetsuit. Another minute passed and my legs and arms started to feel numb.

Angry waves were smashing against my body, forcing me two steps back for every stroke I took.

Two minutes and 42 seconds passed from the time I entered then exited the water.

Even though the long-anticipated swim didn’t feel good, it really did feel good - if you know what I mean. It gave me the psychological boost I needed.

For all the athletes experiencing the loss of a sport season, your pain is real.

So a message of hope: we will return to our hockey arenas, our soccer fields and our swimming pools and we will be stronger - both mentally and physically - because we will be well rested.

And that’s how this story ends. We win. Not the coronavirus.

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