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Swimming can be a meditation

Mary Letson's lessons from training for her first triathalon have stuck with her for 26 years
Mary Letson of SwimBowen, about to start her 800-metre workout at West Van Aquatic
Mary Letson of SwimBowen, about to start her 800-metre workout at West Van Aquatic .

Many moons ago while navigating a difficult time in life, I decided triathlon training was the way to anchor my spirits, expend my angst, and stay as healthy and focused as possible in the eye of a personal storm. Looking back I suppose it was a rather extreme choice, but the sport delivered exactly what I needed in a grueling kind of way, and was a healthier choice than self-medicating with red wine and chocolate!

With strong running and cycling legs the weak link was swimming. I hired a swim coach and once a week, he followed me up and down the pool deck. After each length he knelt down and described my stroke pattern and what I needed to change to improve my efficiency. More reach, more roll, less lift of the head — all the things I had no idea I was doing incorrectly, and all the things that were slowing me down.

I was keen to transform my stroke to something that might get me through my first triathlon with some modicum of comfort. And maybe a little speed.

The focus required in the pool to practise coach’s pointers was just what the doctor ordered. I remember watching the black line at the bottom of the pool and deciding that for the next 45 minutes, all I would think about was the delicious solitude beneath the water, the rhythm of my breathing pattern, and the focus on my stroke technique: reach, roll, inhale, pull, exhale. I had unintentionally created a swimming meditation. Every time a distracting thought floated into my consciousness, I purposely brought myself back to the stroke, the breath and the black stripe at the bottom of the pool.

The morning of the triathlon I woke early to a spectacular spring day, strapped my second-hand Peugeot 10 speed to the back of my old Malibu Classic and focused on dispelling my nervousness. While driving through the UBC Endowment Lands the song “I Feel Good” came on the radio. It was the perfect anthem for my day. I cranked the volume and enthusiastically sang along with James Brown, believing the words “I feel good, like I knew I would!”

Twenty-six years later I find myself back in the pool training for a very different kind of event with a more focused mind and a less willing body – such are the gifts of time! Whatever your reasons are to jump in the water, grab James Brown’s song, dive in and train up for Bowen Island’s first annual 1,000 metre open swim on July 21. All proceeds benefit the SwimBowen Society supporting Bowen Islander’s in active cancer treatment.

Go to to donate or volunteer! 

Registration for the event is now full. 

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