Article image

by Abby Pledger

June 25, 2018

How swimming a 1650 helped me regain a sense of strength in my life

I’m not new to this sport. I’ve been a competitive swimmer for 35 years. That makes it hard to believe I’ve never raced the mile. Fear and doubt have always gotten in the way of signing up. But sometimes it takes that long to get to the place you need to be.

A friend’s New Year’s resolution of “Do something that scares you” motivated me to enter the Sixth Annual City Mile meet on Feb. 25. As the race approached, I asked myself, “What am I thinking?” It seemed like such a good decision when I entered. With some introspection, I came up with an answer that surprised me: It’s important to do hard things—in the pool and in life. Doing hard things in the pool gives us the strength to do hard things in our “real life.”

The past year had been a hard one for my family and me. Coming off an idyllic summer, we learned of my mother-in-law’s rare and serious leukemia. One month later, devastating wildfires swept through Northern California and destroyed my parents’ home. My home became ground zero for a harrowing couple of weeks. As our world spiraled, my husband lost his job of 10 years. Bad things always come in threes.

I have tried to stay steady, to hold us up, to nurture, to guide, and also to maintain my own intense job and raise our two kids, who are 9 and 11. Signing up to swim the 1650 was my reminder that I can make it through hard things, that I have the mental and physical fortitude to endure.

I believe there are three critical elements to swimming a good mile.

First, fitness. You must have a strong level of fitness and log a lot of hours in the pool.

Second, race strategy. You can get away taking a 100 out too quickly, but not the mile. The consequences of deviating from your plan are swift and grueling.

Third, fortitude. This is a race with your mind. It’s a true mind-over-matter experience. Flipping at the 1000-yard mark with 26 more lengths to go requires mental strength to finish.

Going into my race, I had the fitness relatively well covered. There’s certainly room for improvement, but given the life of a busy working mom, I do my best. I had a simple race strategy—build by 500s.

My test was fortitude. My test has been fortitude for the past six months. I needed one area where I could declare victory.

I entered a time that was reasonable and somewhat aggressive. I was in the first heat, outside lane, of a fast-to-slow seeding system. The fastest times in my heat were over 2 minutes faster than my aggressive entry. At best, I’d finish 30 seconds behind the closest competitor. This jangled my nerves and made me further question my commitment.

But as I went into race day, I gained clarity on one critical thing: Swimming the mile represented the opportunity to swim my own race. I’m learning this lesson in life, too—hold back judgment of yourself and others. We’re each dealing with much more than you see on the surface, and the grass truly is not greener on the other side. Live your own best life and swim your own best race.

As I hit the 1000 mark and debated stopping and getting out, I persevered. I stuck with it. I tried to hold to my race plan. And I finished!

I finished last in my heat, as expected, but with a new meet record and an age-group win. While the results were surprisingly great, that wasn’t what I was after.

It was the power of finishing that I was after, of swimming my own race, of doing something hard. I declare victory in one part of my life and have a renewed sense of strength to carry on in all other area. Swimming feeds us, fuels us, and makes us tough on the inside and the outside, one challenge at a time.


  • Human Interest


  • Goal Setting
  • Inspiration