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Just swim

The cell phone started ringing, or, more accurately, playing Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back" (musical ring tone selections are a topic for another day).

"Hello." I said.

"HEADCASE." Sherpa said soundly.

"Yes," I replied.

"Stop being one. That's all."

Click.

Yes, yes. I hung my head. I knew he was right.

I was totally freaking myself out for no reason.

Through some great reconnaissance work by my sister-in-law, I discovered that the water temperature of the Whitney Point Reservoir at Dorchester Park, where I'll be doing a sprint triathlon on Saturday, is 76 degrees.

In order for a triathlon to be "wetsuit legal" the water temperature needs to be below 78 degrees.

What? Swim without a wetsuit? But I haven't been in open water without a wetsuit. And I float in a wetsuit. My relationship to my wetsuit at this point is like Linus to his blanket -- it provides a comfort zone and confidence.

I hastily wrote my coach who offered me nothing but tough love. I might as well tie a cement block around my waist and get it over with, she said. I'm too much in my head and freaking out is nothing but wasted energy. Energy I could use, say, to actually swim.

I knew she was right and I worked on talking myself down out of my tizzy.

Later on at the open water swim, the winds made Lake Erie a bit choppy -- but not the worse I've been in. I warmed up on the short end of the course -- swimming 100 meters with my alternating breaststroke-freestyle combo. After that, my friend Jenny tried to get me to swim out to the break wall, 200 meters away. I started, but had troubles. Every time I tried to look up and sight where I was I'd get a mouthful of water. And my goggles kept filling up with water which really, really irritates my contact lens.

So I went back to the ladder and got out for a minute. One of my fellow swimmers pointed out my goggles were on upside down.

Ah. Problem fixed.

Back in the water, Jenny and I did the short distance again. This time I felt better.

"Let's go out to the breakwall," Jenny said. "The hard part is going out. The current will push you back in. I know you can do it."

And so we went. I started slowly, counting 15 to 20 breaststrokes (or aquajogs) then 10 freestyle strokes. Then I was swimming 20 freestyle strokes.

I kept stopping though, concerned about hitting another swimmer head-on or, worse yet, plowing into one of the dead fish floating in the lake.

Welcome the main reason why I had trouble finding my swim groove. I kept thinking.

Stop that.

Jenny would swim out 50 or so meters, then swim back to me.

By the time I was maybe 25 meters from the end of the breakwall, Jenny was swimming over to me.

"When I went back to look for you this time, I couldn't find you," Jenny said. "You looked so comfortable in the water, I didn't realize I had passed you."

We paused, then went back, with the current pushing us. I stopped once as I noticed I was in a collision-showdown with one of the guys swimming in the opposite direction. Once past him though, I easily glided through to finish the 200 meters and end up back at the ladder.

"I didn't want you to get out of the water and not make it to the end," Jenny said. "Because I knew you could do it. Your swim pace isn't much slower than mine."

I was grateful that Jenny forced me to do that swim. I needed the tough love. I needed to remember that my problem isn't my swimming technique (that's for refining in the winter) it's all in my attitude and my focus.

That point was driven home by Michael Phelps, who won his third spot on the U.S. Olympic team with a win in the 200 meter butterfly Wednesday night. But Phelps swam the race just under his world record time and the look on his face after the race was priceless, showing obvious dissatisfaction with his performance.

"I don't know why I'm thinking so much during the race," Phelps said afterward. "I should just do what I normally do and go out and swim."

And so the great Michael Phelps gives me my mantra for this weekend -- just go out and swim.

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