I choke on salt water, blinded by violent kicks to my face, already numb in the surprisingly chilly water. Surrounded by fierce competitors, I am in my happy place. It’s intense, exciting, and almost cutthroat.
A stranger and I hug on the starting line; we are the anchor legs of our respective relay teams. We got this, we say. Last one, fast one. We share a connection, friendship like no other, bonded by the task ahead.
This strange camaraderie, formed on the sand, dissipates as the starting pistol fires. Elbows knock, buoys bounce, each competitor battles Mother Nature and her creatures. I find ocean racing exhausting, boisterous, and vibrant. I have not always loved rough water swims, but in this salty place, I feel at home.
I knew this to be true as I race through the waves around 8 p.m. in the Night Taplin, a relay race involving runners, swimmers, and paddlers. I watch the sun set over my shoulder, the shore barely visible ahead of me, and know that while I am wrestling the elements, I am also in my element.
The ocean is one of the few places I feel free. I am on my own, yet somehow fervently supported by the sun and the sand. I believe that in today’s culture, a place, person, or experience like this is essential. In our schools and communities, young people, particularly teenagers, are bombarded with pressure to get ahead, to succeed, to get into a better college, to get good grades.
The push to perform is constant and, according to NBC News, teen stress levels are far higher than is healthy. In this climate, we can all benefit from a happy place, free from outside influence or contrived objectives. This serenity could be a book, a park, your best friend, or the middle of the night.
Opportunities to escape stress may seem unattainable or few and far between, but to find one is to find peace. Lucky for me, there’s one just five minutes from my house and beckoning with its whirling waves.