No. No. No.
That’s that last thing I remember. Standing on top of the “Walk the Plank” obstacle of the Philadelphia Tough Mudder. A 25 foot leap into very murky water. Perched on a hill, the top of the scaffolding gave you a spectacular view of the rolling farm land around you, creating an even further effect of height.
I had been mentally preparing for this moment for just under a year. As soon as I registered for a Tough Mudder event, I knew this obstacle would be here. Specifically created to basically mess with my head.
I’m not a fan of heights. And I can’t swim. Minor details.
I sort of swim. Growing up in land-locked, short-summered Vermont, the opportunity to learn never arose at a young age. As I grew, I came to dread the shocked looks and exaggerated gasps that came with telling someone I couldn’t swim. So I developed a drastically wounded doggie paddle and avoided water altogether.
But for some truly disturbed reason, I was obsessed with taking on this obstacle anyway. I was sure that if I did it, I would learn some valuable life lesson about conquering fears. And that I would naturally become an excellent swimmer. Logical.
So here I was. I had trained hard for the runs, the hills, and the climbs. I had even jumped into a pool a few times. Although, the drop was into about 5 feet of water from the concrete edge. This whole time I thought that the memory of my brother, whose name was stitched on to the back of my shirt, would give me the courage to get through everything.
But as I grasped from ridge to ridge, climbing the scaffolding, his memory became buried in the growing cacophony of warnings from my basic instincts.
Water bad! Heights bad! Ground good! CLIMB BACK DOWN.
As I very ungracefully rolled my body over onto the platform, and climbed to my feet, I had the immediate urge to sink down. Sit. Breathe. Close my eyes until someone carried me down. I grabbed the rails on either side of me as joyful racers leapt passed, striking poses for the cameras as they crashed into the water. I don’t think I was breathing. The race staffer next to me kept saying, “Go. You’re fine. Go.” I think my boyfriend said something supportive.
The racer next to me leapt. I watched him disappear into the dark water. His head broke the surface a moment later and he paddled to the side. I shifted my weight back, away from the edge. This wasn’t for me. I couldn’t even feel my feet anymore.
Then, I was in the water.
It was dark and cold and much louder than I ever imagined it would be. Sinking is the worst physical feeling I’ve ever had. Kick. I was confused and scared. But I kicked. My eyes were closed but things got lighter. KICK. I broke the surface. Inhaled a big gulp of water and ducked back under again for a moment. Kick harder. I broke the surface again and flipped onto my back. The lifeguard yelled at me to swim away from the jump. I wanted to scream back, “YEAH, because I’m having SUCH a blast in here!”
My wounded doggie paddle sufficed to slowly bring me to the edge of the pool, where my boyfriend, who jumped after me, was already out of the water, reaching down to pull me out. I staggered to my feet. Limped to the edge of the course. Doubled over and dry heaved into the tall grass. Gasping for air, tears streaming down my face, I wanted to scream, “I DON’T WANT TO JUMP.”
At that moment, my boyfriend ran to my side, wearing a huge smile, and yelling, “You did it! I can’t believe it! You did it!” I straightened up and turned to look at the ledge. Wait. Had I already jumped?
I don’t remember jumping. I don’t remember falling. I just remember sinking. And then kicking. Then it was done. It was horrible and scary and I’m not sure I would ever do it again, but I’ve already done it once, so who cares?
My boyfriend said I hadn’t even hesitated. That I had jumped immediately. I can’t imagine that was the actual case.
Survival instincts. They’re the ones that tell you not to jump from high places into dark water if you can’t swim. They’re also the one’s that understand that walking away from the leap might be just as damaging.
There’s a life metaphor in here, I can feel it.