By Bill Plock
Think about this. What if you were so afraid of water that deciding to do a triathlon began with struggling to put your face in a bowl of water and blow bubbles? Oh and you did this a year before your first race with absolutely no idea how to swim let alone stand in water.
Loveland Lake to Lake race director Peggy Shockley has a lot to be proud of with her race this past Saturday. It was the USAT National Tri-club Championship and it also featured a Sprint and Olympic distance complete with an aqua bike and awards for not only top finishers but alsoUSAT National Family Championship race with awards for family duo’s (father/daughter, mother/daughter, spouse etc). Needless to say there were lots of awards to hand out!
But the story that stands out for Peggy is that of Debbie Buehler. A story that’s hard not take something from and one that I know has me asking myself my “why”.
“It was my Olympics,” said Debbie Buehler describing how it felt to cross the finish line. 50 years ago at the age of 7, Debbie was traumatized at a “sink or swim” swim lesson that is hard to fathom. The instructor simply walked the pool deck making the kids figure out how to get from one side of the pool the other. If they held onto the deck, he would step on their hands. Debbie sank and had to be pulled from the bottom of the pool resulting in “water demons” that would haunt her for the next five decades. She couldn’t even put her face in a shower.
Debbie used to run but due to some injuries she couldn’t do that anymore so sort inexplicably, a little over a year ago, and on a whim, she decided she needed to swim, overcome her fears and possibly compete in an aqua bike.
She contacted coach Eric Neilson in Loveland to help her on her journey. The process started by simply immersing her face in a bowl of water and blowing bubbles. Next were difficult months in the kiddie lanes learning the very basics that soon gave way to a powerful sense of freedom and confidence to know she wouldn’t end up in the bottom of the pool.
Eric suggested using a snorkel that took her to a new level. She says, “it was my aha moment, my source of comfort and eventual freedom from the constant panic I felt while in the water.” Debbie was even able to snorkel earlier this year on a vacation in the ocean.
But as most of us know, open water swimming in a triathlon can cause anxiety even for the most seasoned athletes (#myself). The Lake to Lake triathlon has a friendly feel, even more than some other races it seems. Maybe it’s the transition on the cool grass in front of the high school with easy parking and nice shade here and there. Maybe it’s being in Loveland with it’s lower key feel in general. Maybe it’s Peggy and her connection with so many athletes and the destination feel of traveling to Loveland and making a day of it. Whatever the reason, the event, more than because it is Debbie’s hometown, seemed to be the perfect place to try and eradicate those childhood demons.
Her coach Eric, swam next to her and thanks to a “bumper car” workout a few weeks back, she was ready for the inevitable contact that happens in the swim. She felt at ease and got out of the lake smiling unbelievably and no doubt that chain on her bike probably felt like it wasn’t there.
It’s her story and others that we hear from time to time that seem to be lost in the quest for faster times, qualifying for championships, and buying the latest this and the latest that, that sometimes I feel makes us forget our “why”. Debbie so eagerly shared this story in hopes that someone may, on a whim, like her, venture out of their comfort zone or take on ancient fears and smile like she did on Saturday.