I swam around an island! I am amazing! If that weren’t incredible enough, it was called Shark Island! And for something spectacular, I did it from a boat! Knowing of my crippling shark phobia and my debilitating motion sickness may make this more impressive.
When I decided on water therapy for recovery, I didn’t think about sharks or boats, but I did google swimming events in Turkey, knowing that it has some of the most spectacular (and shark free) water in the world.
My research turned up something called Strel Swimming. A group holiday where you swim vast distances with like-minded loonies. It seemed like a sign when I found one starting the day after I finished at Juicy Mountain, 100km down the coast, in Kas. I’ve had a fondness for Kas since my first scorching afternoon there eight years ago, when a devilish carpet salesman slunk out of his shop next to the tomb, slid his arm around my waist and invited me to stay with him for a night…or twenty years. I fell in love in 23 seconds and still smile wistfully at the memory. I hesitated for two minutes as I was still doing radiotherapy and hadn’t swum for months…then booked it.
I later read the fine print suggesting that guests do some serious training beforehand. Three weeks later I finally put on my bathing suit and struggled through my first 300 metres. My obsessive need to achieve distances over the last two months now becomes clearer.
Soon enough I found myself on my way to Kas. Sex was on my mind. The memory of flirtation with the carpet salesman had made me smile and, as I had told the story to Ally along with my body insecurities and concerns about loss of libido with early menopause, we had agreed, in the inappropriate way that close friends can, that Turkey would be a perfect opportunity to deal with these concerns.
But there was more to this trip than a potential fling. An opportunity to swim in the water of the glorious Turquoise Coast is never to be foregone and, if it comes with an opportunity to extend a trip in the sunshine and aid my recovery, so much the better.
So I found myself bobbing on a boat (I had missed that part of the fine print) with eleven other guests, two boat crew and two swim guides. A lively bunch of nutters as expected, but an interesting dynamic with four individual travellers and a group of eight Australians. Alison panicked that they would be insane triathletes and she sighed a breath of relief when they pottered into dinner all loose and relaxed, but it foiled my sex life plans as they were married…and predominately over 60.
So I swam.
We set off for our first swim in a staggered formation. Twelve of us trying to find our pace and stamina in this new environment. We ebbed and flowed, overtaking, being overtaken, stopping to chat, pushing ourselves, stopping to catch our breath.
We regrouped halfway for a water break. Setting off again I found myself next to an orange swimming cap, breathing to the right as she breathed to the left. Apart from the orange cap, she was identifiable through a blue rashie, but as I couldn’t tell the group apart when they were dressed, I had no hope of distinguishing people wearing swimming caps in the water.
As we boarded the boat I called “Who was that in the orange cap and blue rashie?”
A woman with short dark hair looked up, I think it was Lesley “It was me.”
“Lesley? I’m claiming you as my swimming buddy.”
“That was pretty awesome wasn’t it?” It was indeed.
Later that afternoon my extended trip was questioned and I told them I was on medical leave for breast cancer.
Ros piped up with “Join the club sweetheart. One. Two. Three.” Pointing to the women sitting around her. Lesley chimed in with “And I’m a uni too”, tears started as I rushed over to hug her. My first uni! The other two had been diagnosed and treated in their early 40s, Ros couldn’t have said it any better than, “we were meant to be on this boat together”.
As horrifying as it was to have four breast cancer survivors amongst a group of 11 women, it was so cathartic for me to meet two long term survivors, “seventeen years…I think” as Caryn counted it out on her fingers. Survivors, thrivers, mover on-ers, forgetters. I dream of forgetting.
On the first day I swam 3.1km, tears of pride mingled with the salt water as I climbed the ladder back to the boat. I had succeeded already.
Bill and I walked home together after dinner and as we neared the tomb I told him the story of my first Kas love affair. We surreptitiously appraised the man sitting on a carpet next to the tomb, a man who, to all appearances, had spent his entire life there. He had aged but retained his confidence and a beautiful head of the darkest hair. His gaze slid over us as we walked past, no interest to him. Bill and I caught each others’ eye as we moved on, “understandable”. We giggled like teenagers as we trudged up the hill ready for bed at 9:30, our aged bodies at odds with our juvenile minds.
Through the next days I swam and I swam. I swam with turtles, I swam over ancient ruins, I swam in the bluest, most buoyant water, I laughed as I swam, I cried as I swam, I swam with hilarious friends and I swam alone, with only a kayak in the corner of my vision for company, I swam in the calmest water and I swam in what felt like a typhoon. I blew my mind with what I managed to achieve each day.
I met the sweetest people. The people who were meant to be on that boat with me. My accent broadened in the company of Australians. I found more people to swim in Sicily with. I got more suggestions of new swims around Europe.
Between swims we ate delicious, fresh meals, tomatoes and olives which made me groan with pleasure, flirted with young boys at the ancient amphitheatre, walked near deserted islands, found sarcophagi in random locations and visited the local markets.
Oh, and sex. On my last night in Kas I met Fethi. Oh he was amorous and persistent. He was three times my size and very sweaty. I know I said I wanted some action, but I think I need to be more specific.
As the group said farewell, I promised to join another trip. I told our swim guide, Aoife, that I would be an athlete when she saw me next. She look confused, “You’re already an athlete.” My throat tightened.
Over five days I swam 12.9km, shoulders burning, body exhausted but feeling so good and strong and proud. If I can do that three months out from treatment, I can do anything.
I swam with Leslie most days, our paces and endurance in harmony. I love that I wanted to swim the world with my mastectomy sisters and in spite of not being able to find any here, the woman who complimented me so perfectly was a mastectomy sister, before I had even mentioned it. That is fate.
Distance swum since last post: 12.9km
Distance swum to date: 34.3km
Distance to go: 165.7km