Open Water Swim Fears

Most triathlons are held in open water environments.  Unless you spend most of your time racing in the crystal clear blue waters around the Caribbean or out near Hawaii, chances are the water you experience in your open water swims is….shall we say….fairly yucky.  Of course, the more yucky the water, the greater our (ir)rational fears about what lurks beneath.

If you’ve done a race in a river, no doubt you’ve seen all kinds of trash floating along.  Garbage.  Debris.  The occasional dead fish.  Oil slicks.  Our microscopic E. Coli friends. 

And yet, we dutifully climb into the river or lake and swim away.  Unless we had planned on racing at the recent Marquee Triathlon in Tempe.

When I raced IMKY, I was floored by the “NO SWIMMING.  Raw Sewage” signs that dotted the riverbanks. 

Sign along the Ohio River in Louisville – site of IMKY

And yet, I swam.  Certainly, a lot of folks worry about polluted water at their races.  Even Olympians were concerned about the water quality in Beijing.

Not me.  I don’t worry so much about water QUALITY.  I worry more about the QUANTITY of things in the water out to get me!


I worry about giant catfish lurking near bridge pilings.  I try to steer clear of jellyfish.  Apparently, I need to worry about the cute little otters also.

Given where I live in northern Florida, I’m most concerned about encountering two specific creatures in my open water swims…although now as I type that sentence, I can think of at least two more…

Numero uno on my irrational fear list is the Bull Shark.  These guys grow up to 11 feet long, can live in brackish or even fresh water, and are pretty darn unpredictable.  According to the experts over at Wikipedia, these guys are likely responsible for many of the shark attacks that are incorrectly attributed to other sharks.

12 foot gator found this past weekend in Julington Creek – less than a mile from my house!

Next up on the TriMadness Chicken List is the American alligator.  Yes, I know that they typically like to avoid people, and they are nowhere near as mean as their cousins that live in the Nile or Down Under, but these guys invoke pure terror for me.  The thought of having one of these clamp onto me and dragging me under the river and sticking me under a log to “tenderize” makes me shudder. 

The picture above is of a 12-foot gator that was pulled out of a local body of water called Julington Creek.  Now bear in mind that Julington Creek would equal some rivers in breadth and depth – so it may not be what you think of when you think “creek”.  The bad boy in the picture above was just shy of the record length of 14 feet.  The really crazy thing?  A gator that big has been around for a while.  Eating things.  Surely, skinny triathletes haven’t been on his menu….but can we be sure?

I guess the good thing about open water swims is that typically I only do them when I’m surrounded by lots of other triathletes.  Hopefully all the mean critters in the lake, river, or ocean will find some of those other folks more appetizing…