The Danskin isn’t just a dance leotard

Celestial Musings

I, for one, can attest that the pre-dawn lightning show in the Puget Sound on Saturday morning was a beautiful one. Even through groggy, half-opened, partially caffeinated green eyeballs. The view over Lake Washington at about, say, 5:30-ish, was particularly captivating.

Why, pray tell, was I awake and sitting on the bank of Lake Washington when I should have been at home, in bed, like a smart person?

Because I’m a triathlete at heart. Sidelined by a running injury, I had to sit out this year from my addiction ... ahem ... hobby. Instead of participating in the whole swim-bike-run scene, this year I’m working behind the scenes as a volunteer. On Saturday, I had the unique pleasure of playing the role of Swim Angel for the Seattle Danskin triathlon.

A Swim Angel is one who swims alongside panicky swimmers, fun noodle at their side, and offers encouragement and comfort (or a kick in the rump, depending on the scenario). You see, the Danskin triathlon series is an all-women series that caters to those who wouldn’t normally do a triathlon. The two most probable reasons preventing women from this sport are a fear of water and the fear of being last. The Danskin series overcomes both of those. In addition to Swim Angels, Danskin also has a professional triathlete who is the bona fide last-place finisher: Sally Edwards.

It was my job to console and cajole swimmers to the finish line while navigating through other swimmers, kayaks and lifeguards perched atop surfboards.

As one who used to have a death-defying fear of open water, this was quite an experience for me. I was a bit nervous at first, but I realized after four years of open-water swims at Wildcat Lake in Seabeck with the Kitsap Tri Babes, my fears were completely unfounded. I knew Lake Washington was deep — which is the part that frightened me — but I was only using the top two feet.

When the first groups of swimmers (waves, as they’re called) began splashing about, the Swim Angels began disappearing into the water, two by two.

The lead Swim Angel, Ardis Bow, turned to me and said, “are you ready?”

And just like that, my longjohn Blue Seventy, swimming fins, fun noodle and I were Angel-ing two swimmers, hysterically named Maddie and Pattie. Through encouraging sound bites — “you can do it,” “you’re doing great” “let’s make it to the next lifeguard, he’s really cute.” We maneuvered halfway through the course. Maddie left me in the dust, and Pattie let fear get the best of her. One made it to the swim’s finish line, while one was taken to the medic tent.

On my second round, another Swim Angel — who trains with the Seattle group Soul Sistas — grabbed me by the arm and told me I was going to Angel her mother while she angeled her sister. (The Soul Sistas inspired the Kitsap Tri Babe’s guru Lisa Ballou of Seabeck to start her own group.)

Joyce — or shall I say Rejoice — was screamingly entertaining the whole way around. She needed a different kind of encouragement. “Let’s go, woman, we don’t have all day!” and “Let’s make it to that last lifeguard. He’s really cute.”

And when we made it to the last lifeguard, she did, in fact inform him he was really cute. “Hey!” she insisted. “You in the gray shorts! You’re really cute!”

As she climbed out of the water, the sheer delight in her face brought a bit of mist to my eyes. In that second — that one, selfish second — I was overwhelmed to have played a small role in her victory.

That is what the Danskin is all about: rejoicing in the joy of others. And I’m thankful for the experience. Exhausted, but thankful.

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