By ESFAHAN R. ZULKHAIRI
On April 12, 2015, I swam 6.5km from Pulau Kapas to Marang, Terengganu.
Was I mad? Some people would have thought I was. During the swim, I thought I was too.
It was about three months ago when I signed up for the Kapas-Marang International Swimathon 2015, under my school’s Triathlon Team. When I told my parents what I had done, they gave me a strange look. I thought they would go berserk and ground me from all co-curricular activities from then on. Instead, I think I heard them say, “Food, he’ll need proper food ...”
Then reality hit me: TRAINING. For the swimathon, our swim coaches and teachers, Shaheran Mohd Yusuf and Farah Azwani Kamarulzaman, made sure we covered at least 1.5km every day in the 300m pool. And that was just for the first few weeks.
After a month, we started swimming 2km every day. A few weeks nearing the event, we had to do 3km a day within 1.5 hours. The training was grueling; the sun was still scorching in the afternoons, and doing multiple laps in that plain 300m pool wasn’t actually what I would call fun. But it had to be done.
I also had to change my diet. Goodbye to the boarding school staple of instant noodles and hello to muesli bars, vegetables, lean meat and good carbs. Luckily, carbonated drinks were never on my menu while growing up, so leaving them out was not an issue. My favourite hot and spicy asam pedas and otak-otak were also scrapped. It was hard adapting to this change, but “no pain, no gain”.
Another challenge was keeping up with my academics. Being in Form 2 is not too stressful, but since I am in Kolej Yayasan Saad (in Malacca) on a full Yayasan Khazanah scholarship, I have to maintain a certain number of A’s in every test and exam, and this is a very serious commitment.
So I had to plan my schedule carefully, to ensure that my training did not disrupt my studies. Sometimes, after training, I just wanted to jump into bed and sleep straight to the next morning, but I didn’t have that luxury; prep study sessions were compulsory from 8-10pm, and homework and revisions had to be done. In addition, sometimes, there are other co-curricular activities. My daily wake up call was at 5.30am, and on weekends, I had to do laundry and chores.
A few weeks into training, my Tri Team participated in a triathlon workshop organised by the Tadonamo group at Putrajaya Lake; it introduced me to open water (OW) swimming. The swim wasn’t bad but the water was rather icky! I endured it as I knew how essential the experience was.
The day of reckoning soon came. At 5.30am on April 12, we headed off to Pulau Kapas by boat from Marang. After we arrived, we had a light breakfast and took our necessary supplements. The event was going to start at 8am sharp.
This was my first time in such a big event. My heart was beating so fast, my legs were shaking, and I felt like there were not only butterflies but dragonflies, bees and wasps in my tummy!
But my friends, teammates, coaches and parents were all there and I couldn’t have asked for greater support. I also remembered what my grandfather said: pray and ask God to give you courage and keep you safe.
All the swimmers got ready. The delightful emcee was Uncle Chan himself, the man who had organised this whole swimathon. He held up his air horn, and counted “One. Two ... THREE!!!!” And we were off!
It was a mass start so the really fast swimmers zoomed off first, then we followed behind. I could see corals and fish right below me during the start of the race. It was awesome. However, as we went further from the shore, all I could see was darkness! That hollow feeling began to sweep over me again.
Then, out of nowhere, ouch! Something bit me! I thought it was jellyfish, but no, it was plankton (also called sea mosquitoes). Imagine little ants underwater continuously biting you!
But my grandfather’s voice stayed with me, be brave and keep the faith. So, I just went on swimming. It was very tiring and I stopped frequently at the safety kayaks. The first thing I asked them, “Berapa jauh lagi? (How much further?)”.
I also experienced cramping. When it first hit me, I was seriously scared. Then, I remembered mommy’s reminder: if you feel any cramping, don’t panic, turn onto your back, float, relax, keep your legs straight, flex your feet upwards and paddle slowly with just your hands, this will relieve your cramps.
Open water swimming might sound scary, but the organisers were really big on safety. There were safety marshals on kayaks all along the swim route. They could swiftly fish anyone in trouble out of the water.
After hours of swimming and swallowing large amounts of salt water, I finally saw the finish line! So, I hurriedly swam on, but I just wasn’t reaching the end. The currents were too strong. I changed from freestyle to breaststroke, trying very hard to maintain a straight line towards my goal. Thankfully, I began to get closer, and finally, I finished!
The feeling was amazing! Although the taste in my mouth wasn’t! I knew my parents were waiting for me at the finish line, I saw ayah (dad) taking my photo, mummy waiting to hug me, my coach clocking my time and my friends (who had finished earlier) there to cheer for me.
As I crossed the finish line, I was given a T-shirt, cold drinks, and of course, my medal! All those months of training had paid off to earn me this moment of sheer jubilation.