Open water swimming’s popularity is on the increase since it recently introduced major tournaments to complement pool competition.
That is incentive enough for open water enthusiasts like Andrea Roach to try harder to improve.
Conquering long distances in choppy, unrelenting sea currents seems a bizarre way to get your sporting fix, but Roach has for a while now done it regularly, usually with training partner Alex Harling.
Roach learned to swim as a child in Canada but only took it up for fitness about five years ago. Since then she has swum extraordinary distances, mostly in Cayman waters, that even canoeists would think twice about, including crossing the North Sound and swimming from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman.
Initially she was so poor at it, at her first masters session at the Lions Pool, she could not even make it one 25 meter length without grabbing onto the wall for a rest.
Yet she persevered and was quickly able to impersonate a dolphin. “In addition to being a great, non-impact whole body workout, swimming is very meditative,” Roach said. “It’s a fantastic way to clear your mind.
“On the other hand, it’s a great time to think – no interruptions, no electronic devices vying for your attention. I come up with great ideas and solve a lot of life’s problems while swimming.”
Roach is looking forward to the Flowers 10km in June and may participate in the shorter sea swims along the way, but this season her focus has been on longer distances.
With Harling they have formed Cayman’s Open-water Adventure Swim Team, aka COASTers and a group of them will be swimming around 13 miles around Key West at the end of June.
Roach reckons her training is going well and she and Harling routinely do distances that even they thought a bit mad a few months ago – “say, a quick 4-mile swim after work.”
She added, “I try to mix it up with yoga and running and cycling, too.”
Swimming can be time consuming, but the Montessori teacher somehow fits it into her schedule.
“Even at 20 minutes per kilometer, it just takes hours to complete a long practice session. We do get out to eat and drink, even though we won’t have that luxury on race day.”
She was one of those kids who was only mediocre at everything sporty. “I was more a bookworm and never played a team sport or competed beyond the standard track and field stuff we did in elementary school.
“Getting older, I realized that physical fitness would require commitment and effort. It’s certainly easier to maintain than to start out, but it’s worth it. Participating in organized events and competing in races is great motivation to keep up the training.”
At her Montessori school, the kids always tell Roach her physique looks incredibly strong and she hopes they are encouraged to make healthy food choices and stay active.
As for tips for anyone considering open water swimming, Roach feels there is nowhere in the region for a better bit of ocean.
“It’s warm and relatively calm and crystal clear. Get in there!
“All of the things that I used to think were such a bother – changing in and out of my swimsuit, getting my hair wet – are really nothing. There are now pool sessions for adults three times a week if you would like to get started in the pool, and groups meet at Sunset House to swim most evenings.”
She has even branched out into triathlons, completing one sprint distance, three Olympic distances and one half-Ironman (Mercury Man), all in Cayman.
“Even the hardest one – an Olympic distance – where I had a sore knee and had to walk and came in second last, was fun.”
Basically, she enjoys the challenge. “Mercury Man was a great race for me and I wonder if a full Ironman is in my future. Maybe!”
She is in two minds in doing this Sunday’s duathlon of running and cycling. “Can I swim it? Ha. It looks like fun, and the bike keeps me humble because it’s so hard. I’m not sure yet if I’ll go solo or team up with Alex or even just volunteer.”