Fear of Water Stopping You From Competing in a Triathlon?

Triathlon competitors swimming.
Photo by Gregorio Dorta Martin

Is your fear of water preventing you from taking part in a triathlon? Or perhaps you reluctantly take part. You're uncomfortable and you know that swimming slows you down, adding unwanted time to your total score.

Or instead, you may decide to participate in triathlons that are open to relay teams. Let another team member complete the swimming event!

But what if you could overcome your fear of the water? Think about the thrill and satisfaction of competing in and completing a triathlon, not as part of a relay team, but on your own.

There is a way to move beyond your fear that is holding you hostage and preventing you from doing what you want to do.

The Development of a Fear

At one point, you may have had a bad experience with an event or a person. You may have almost drowned. Been forced into the water by a well-intentioned person. Been pulled out by a riptide.

This event is “remembered” by the amygdala, a small gland that is the “keeper” of strong emotional memories. It quickly jumps into service whenever a situation occurs that “looks” like the initial (frightening) one. Before you are even aware of it, one of the "triplets" (flight/fight/freeze) appears, flooding your body with a cascade of chemicals that are very different from the ones that flow when you feel safe, calm, secure, excited, etc.

Perhaps you learned your fear through “osmosis”. At a young age you observed and modeled the fear that one of your parents or care-givers unintentionally shared. The stories you repeatedly heard could also influence your fears. It could be a fear of water, lightning, snakes or... "I almost drowned while swimming!" or "Lightning struck our chimney!"

To clarify, I'm all for having a healthy respect for the environment. It is extremely important to be prepared and learn skills that allow you to safely enjoy the activities you do.

Consider that if you decide to take the plunge and learn to swim, you may inadvertently slow your own progress. You may be doused by the fear of ridicule, of making mistakes, or of making yourself look foolish. All justifiable reasons, but do they really help you get in the swim? Your feelings matter.

Overcome Your Fear

When you onboard stress techniques, you are better-positioned to overcome your fear. Here are three things to keep in mind when you wish to master your fear, whether it be of the water, or something else:

  1. Recognize – In order to make changes, become aware of the behaviour you wish to change. Recognize the role stress plays. What is happening in your body? How are you breathing? Are you trying too hard? (See: Trouble with Try) Without awareness of what you are doing/feeling, it is harder to make changes.
  2. Knowledge – In addition to knowing what stress is, you need to know how to replace those non-resourceful behaviours. What do you do? How do you do it?
  3. Practise – Do the techniques, so that it becomes automatic; apply them when you are stressed to help balance your nervous system and even when you’re not to enhance performance.

1, 2, 3...Swim

You're ready. You are going to do what you have to do in order to enter a triathlon. You acknowledge that you are never very comfortable in the water, but you will take the plunge and sign up for some lessons.

However, if you’re not ready to take a learn-to-swim class, consider signing up for an aquafit class.

Let the instructor know that you are nervous in the water and stay close to them.

As you get more comfortable in the water, you may surprise yourself by taking more risks; maybe you’ll even attempt to float or dip your head below the water.

Real Life Story

I’m reminded of the seventy-year-old women who would come to my Aquafit classes. Many of them were terrified of water, but determined to do the class. Eventually, they were comfortable enough to start swimming.

A group of swimmers in open water.
Photo by Sergio Souza


In Life or In Water

It’s through the way you feel that you transform your stress. Remember that your fears are not static, just as your feelings aren't fixed.

If it’s time to get over this fear, I can help. In water and on land!

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