Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fear is your friend -learn to love it.



“Fear is nothing more than an Obstacle that stands in the way of Progress….” -

So many times in our lives we cite fear as a reason to stop-but fear is your best friend. True Fear is the moment that every sense in our body is heightened to survival and survival is the side of life that so many people are failing to engage with their adventures. 

The moment you are afraid-this is the moment you should wait for, this is the moment that you can become greater than your emotions-this is the moment that you can become your own hero. This is when you work the hardest. Fear is not anxiety. 

To take on any risky sport, It's important to understand  that you may fail and it may be a terrible experience, in failing we may devastate our emotions and set ourselves back, or else we may release ourselves to a phenomenal journey. It's forward or back.


0 degree was a new journey for me in 2012.  I traveled to Siberia, to Tyumen to take part in the Russian Cup to swim in Ice Water. It was the first time I was exposed to understanding if I could trust myself. It was also the first time that I could not train for the challenge, because I did not know what the challenge was. 

“1000m is nothing-40 lengths of a pool, I only have to stay alive” was my mantra. Such a brave statement and sort of cocky.My only training was sitting in a bucket of Ice in a fish factory to try and understand the feeling. So unprepared.
The only training I could do

When we arrived pool side at - 33deg air, breathing was near impossible- the air was so dry I was coughing. The men were starting up the chainsaw to cut the pool open. The sound alone brought the reality home. The medical check was pending while the rev of the chainsaw elevated the Blood Pressure. The anxiety of taking off my gloves was proving challenging to take photos. I had no idea how this was going how to swim at 0 degree, the pain of standing around was overwhelming

Chatting to  Anne Marie Ward, both long distance swimmers we discussed that we try to swim the 1000m  event- so blasse, it’s such a short distance, we’re swimmers.  We could get out at 500m, and still get graded as 500m swim, then as time passed we discussed getting out at 300m-I remember thinking who swims only 300m?   We only have to be able to stay in there. Why did we give ourselves opt out of each distance? We had both been through so many extreme swimming challenges in our swimming career so why were we afraid?

Easing myself into the Ice at 0 degrees, my chest was so tight, the pain was all encompassing. I managed 150m, of the first 100m I just couldn’t figure out how to stay alive, being a swimmer seemed so lost, swimming had nothing to do with success todayI just could not sort out my breathing, I couldn’t compartmentalise the pain, I could not even acknowledge what I was experiencing-my body was being hit with so much physical change that I panicked and got out. I was terrified I was going to die. It was fear, fear of not knowing what was happening. I could not will my arms forward, turning my face into the Ice was searing pain.  How do I keep moving? How can you trust yourself to  the next step into the unknown beyond the comfort zone of letting myself go. This was terror-all these emotions, all these changes and pain, all for the first time.  This was not about swimming.


I would love to think that we can embrace our fears. Such a “coined phrase” embrace your fears..but there is no tutorial. so the most important issue is to understand what it is, that is scaring you? 
What are we afraid of when we step up and say those words?
is it fear of judgement? fear of failure? as an athlete it is better to succeed a little-to stay in the comfort zone than to expose yourself to your own standards or to other people's eyes and that “look” when you think you disappoint.

When you excel at something, to be brought back to juvenile humility is incredibly tough? 

The first time I met Ram Barkai (extreme ice swimmer) of the IISA in New York in 2011, I was quite stunned how human and normal he looked. His stories were off the Richter Scale of extreme but his “talk” was normal. I had him on a super human pedestal. For us when we get to a point of competitive comfort is it just fear of exposure?

So what is it that makes us stop and give up -if it is not a physiological issue then why do we need 'out' of that situation? While some prefer to continue the same path, many choose the path less walked. 

As athletes failure is such a challenge.  That moment of breaking, that moment when our spirit is questioned, it can be devastating-it’s not pretty to see or to be part of, that vulnerability but it can also  be the moment of phenomenal progress. If we can risk it-if we take that step to bare ourselves.. 

Failure is often  judged as not succeeding-when in fact you could have surpassed yourself a 1000 times just if you tried.  

Without doubt the moment you make that call to get out of 'dangerous' situation, it is real emotion.  The feelings are overwhelming and the anxiety attached to that moment when we have to exit is real.

You can perceive Fear as Danger and it can be. The body responds in a way that overwhelms you, breathing becomes difficult, you gulp oxygen, your vision becomes tunnel and your ability to process your environment and your safety is compromised, you most likely are a danger to yourself. There is absolute physiology of stress and real emotion and at that moment you are experiencing it. It is real but this is manageable anxiety. 

I’ve been there and I’ve got out in panic. I was so proud that I had taken on the swim-I gave myself a high five for a small achievement but I was disappointed that I let myself down. I was determined to understand how some swimmers like Ram Barkai, Kieron Palframan, Ryan Stramrood and Henri Kaarma were all able to stay in the water that day and still survive.

Why do some walk away from their fears when others walk into them? We are all equipped to deal with fear so why do some hide behind emotions? 

In the back of my mind, the fears that Kieron and Ryan spoke about, were real-. I saw their eyes before their swim, they were terrified so how did they stay in the water? I saw the way they walked the 1000m with Ram swimming, never taking their eyes off him, then dived into 0 deg and they swam through their fears.Was-the difference that they had an understanding of the challenge?We had no idea.

I saw Henri Kaarma, stay silent, calm and then get into the water and trust the water for 1,650m, exit the water and trust the team. I was determined to understand how one person could be different to another when acutely we have the same skills.


The last few years of my sporting life have thought me so much about myself, about my journey. About what life had taught me and mostly about who I am. The ice has given me the real me. I love the edge and I love that moment when it is only me and I needed to step up and silence those voices.

Fear as an emotion-we can start afraid of failure, then fear of judgement, fear of self disappointment, fear of just not being good enough and I really do believe being exposed to our own weakness is the greatest fear that allows athletes an opt out..

I have spent much of my life in risky sporting adventures, all controlled, all with an exit strategy, all planned safety measures-Dive your Plan, Plan your Dive scenario. When I decided to take on the Round Ireland Swim Relay in 2006 I was truly exposed to the concept that I can’t swim and also worry about if one of the rescue crew were doing their job-from that relay swim of 56 days, 830miles, I learned trust in other people but learning to trust myself has been the toughest lesson that the Ice has taught me.

Over 2012 winter to 2013 March, I broke down all the challenges. I wrote down all the fears, everything that I could expect from my reactions to the challenge and mostly I decided that this was my journey. Fear is a fabulous thing. It allows us to put in action a plan to save ourselves mostly from ourselves and our limits.

Don't ever fear Judgement-Don't ever fear disappointment-it is only when fear is not an issue that you can commit 100%/. All those in my group that day in Tyumen 2012, in those conditions, Anne Marie Ward, Cristain Vergera Padraig Mallon, all of us have gone on to achieve stunning success in the Ice.  Fear was placed to one side- Limits were smashed and dreams were experienced. 


“Fears we don’t face.. become our limits. “





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