A fundraiser to fight breast cancer – and to have the opportunity to swim in open water – took place recently. Since 2012, the Gillie Girl Triathlon is held close to my neck of the woods at an area known as Gillie Lake Park. Now, Gillie Lake really isn’t a lake, it’s a man made pond, yet its size is sufficient for the triathlon to work. The Gillie Girl is a “sprint” triathlon, so the swim is a half-mile, the bike ride is a 14-mile jaunt on rural roads toward the western edge of Onondaga County and back, then the run is a 5K around the lake, out of the park, down and up a large hill, and back to the finish line.
Since my biking and running skills are sub-par, I have always chosen the relay team route. My cycling sister Melissa drives up annually from New Jersey to bike, and a local friend, Mary Jo, is our amazing runner. Together, we are called “Shanna’s Warriors,” in honor and memory of my sweet high school classmate, Shanna Cunia McCoy, who died from breast cancer almost 2 years ago.
I’ve been in this event since its inception, and have worn the same, black, kneeskin swimsuit, which works fine. Laughing to myself each year at the dozens of women who choose to wear a wetsuit for this “short” swim, I could never understand why they’d want to wear something so cumbersome in 77-degree water. In its defense, a wetsuit does provide buoyancy and security to swimmers who aren’t comfortable with open water events.
So, it’s always been a fun event. Until this year.
You see, Central New York was inundated with spring rain, which left lakes, rivers, streams, vegetation, farmlands and anything you could think of saturated beyond belief. It took at least a month for water levels to recede and as a result, thick weeds have plagued lakes…including Gillie Lake (oh, did I mention it’s really a pond?). From staring out from the beach area, one could see the weeds floating on top of the water, directly in the path of the scalene triangle swim course.
It won’t be that bad, I thought to myself.
My dolphin-style start into Gillie Lake was fantastic and I got ahead early – just second behind an Aqua-bike competitor who wore a “tri-suit” which is similar to a wetsuit. Then came the first patch of weeds…a rather small patch, but all along I told myself that I could get through it.
(Drone photo by Alexander Mainville)
At the first marker turn, which becomes the widest part of of the triangle, was a swath of weeds a machete couldn’t cut through. My years working as a Water Safety Instructor, or WSI, reminded me to not panic. Feeling concerned for the women who weren’t comfortable swimming in the first place, I hoped that no one would panic from the green, spaghetti-like abyss.
A streak of jealousy then emerged to all the Wetsuit-ers who had protection from the sneaking and crawling weeds, most of which easily relocated into my suit. It became so ridiculous that I flipped over and swam few strokes of backstroke just to fend them off. Sadly, this was not going to be a pleasant endurance swim with my usual “distance finesse,” this was just survival! So much for improving my time from last year, I sighed.
With the 2nd marker past me, and the homestretch in sight, and with one more patch to wriggle my way through, there was just one other problem… Did I mention that Gillie Lake is a pond – and not a lake at all? In order to complete the swim, one must go around twice – TWO TIMES – around the scalene triangle.
Ugh! Déjà vu! More weeds!
(Drone photo by Alexander Mainville)
I crawled out of the water, pulling weeds out of my suit the whole time, ran around a lifeguard chair and back into the watery garden. As luck would have it, some of the weeds had been chopped up a bit, but the swim remained tedious.
All. Done. Hallelujah! With a fairly substantial lead, off I ran to the transition area, and Mary Jo secured the timer chip on Melissa’s ankle. Melissa gleefully rode away on her 14-mile journey through the Central New York countryside. While waiting for her return, I poured a bottle of water down my suit in an attempt to rid myself from the weeds. A couple of other swimmers helped pull them off my back where I couldn’t quite reach.
Melissa returned (still as gleeful) and away flew Mary Jo, lightning fast, and ended up smoking past 2 relay runners and bringing it home for our relay win! Yay!
During the 15-seconds-of-fame awards presentation, all I could think of was heading home and taking a shower. Then burning my suit. That Sunday victory came and went – along with that long, warm, soapy shower.
On Monday morning, however, there IT was…on my chest, my ribcage, and my abdomen. I’m quite certain I actually heard the attack theme from Jaws….bumbum-bumbum-bumbum-BUM-BUM… I had “Swimmer’s Itch”…a.k.a. DUCK ITCH! Red and white bumps were all over me, Eew! Then – it started itching a day or two later. If you look Swimmer’s Itch up, the “experts” claim it will last just a few days.
Two weeks later – and 2 types of medicines later (there’s that one stinky cream I still can’t pronounce), the itch is just about gone. Even my doctor was surprised it lasted so long.
For now, I’m taking a lengthy break from open water swimming. My body is done with the rash, and I’m happily back swimming in Lane 3 at the Skaneateles YMCA. I may even consider buying a wetsuit for my next encounter with weeds, things, creatures or suspicious lake water in general. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get the last laugh for wearing it.