When women we meet at races or on our Facebook page mention their “runiversary” (the anniversary of their first run), I get a little envious. I’m a big record keeper, but I don’t remember the first time I ran for exercise. I’m pretty sure I was a junior or senior in high school, but I can’t say with certainty. While I don’t have a date to celebrate, I do have a location with great sentimental value to me.
My personal ground zero, the place where I became an athlete, is Lake Moraine, a small, manmade body of water in central New York. Three slightly uphill miles from my (and Dimity’s) alma mater of Colgate University, Lake Moraine is where the Colgate rowing team practices. The run out to Lake Moraine wasn’t my first, as I’ve said, but it was the first recurring run that sticks out in my mind. I signed up to row as a freshman more out of boredom than athletic drive (and lust--the captain of the men’s team was a hottie!) so the run out to the lake was tough for me. But running there, then learning how to row, ate up a good chunk of those otherwise-dull autumn afternoons—and the guys and gals on the team quickly became my closest friends. Lake Moraine quickly became the epicenter of my college experience.
So when Jack and I spent a night at Colgate two weeks ago, I was drawn to the lake. I love few things more than open-water lake swimming—it’s my ideal mix of liberating and slightly daring. With Jack soundly asleep in our hotel room, I drove our rental minivan out to the far end of the lake. I had been looking forward to this swim ever since I dreamt it up a few days prior, but standing on the shore, I felt gun shy. Other than a canoe with three boaters about 200 feet away, the lake was deserted at 8:15 that Sunday morning. But I knew the remorse I’d feel if I bailed would be greater than the trepidation I was currently feeling, so I tucked my hair under my swim cap, licked my goggles, and started walking down the boat ramp. The water was surprisingly warm. I took a calming breath, then my first stroke. I immediately felt at ease yet energized.
Left, right, left, right, breathe. As I crawled straight out away from shore, rowing memories flooded my mind. Mental movies of following Patty, Jill, Lisa, and Lindsey, experienced, upperclass rowers, in an attempt to learn proper technique. Of crazy Coach Phil yelling at me to get my shoulders down from up around my ears. Of breaking ice with our bare feet as we carried our boat into the water for a “spring” practice. Of heavy rain making the wooden oar handles slick and callous-making as we practiced for sprint races. For a moment I thought how foolhardy it was to be swimming with no one watching me and Jack nowhere near, but I felt strong and confident, filled with memories of my athletic birth.
Wanting to end the swim on a high note, rather than exhausted and panicky, I turned around after 15 minutes and made my way back to shore. The sun felt warm on my dripping body as I pulled off my cap and goggles, and I radiated pride. As the cherry on top of this athletic sundae, I changed into my running clothes in the van, then ran the 4-mile loop around the lake. I might have harder workouts this summer, but even as they were playing out, I knew this swim and run were going to be my best session of the season.