The day the robot malfunctioned...

How do I grieve the loss of someone who was so loved and incredibly influential in my life? Is there a right way? A wrong way? I wasn’t sure. And I’m still not sure.

I’d just spent nine days out of the water visiting my family in New Zealand. It was a special visit – for many reasons. But, most importantly, I was able to spend time with my Poppa just 2 days before he passed. I let go of my regimented training and just shifted my focus to the important stuff in life. My family.

On Sunday, a mere 2 hours after flying back in San Francisco, my Mum called me to tell me the news. “Poppa has died.” While his passing wasn’t unexpected at this point, I was devastated. I have been very fortunate to have enjoyed a close Grandparent – Granddaughter relationship… he was my #1 cheerleader.

Facing a tsunami of emotions and completely overwhelmed, I put my head in the sand. I channeled all my heartache, my pain, and my loss into my passion: swimming.

All I wanted to do was swim.

And so, the next morning, having barely slept the night before fighting jetlag and emotions, I woke up at 5am and swam with my Masters group. I don’t even remember the sets we swam during that session. And, following that swim, I dove into the San Francisco Bay for another swim. All before 9am and a full day of work.  I managed that schedule all week. While this has actually been my normal routine for months now – which I love – how on earth I maintained this same schedule during one of my most emotionally difficult weeks ever is beyond me.

My only explanation is that somewhere along the way I became a robot. 

I thought if I just focused a little bit more, I was sure that I could still continue training and achieve my goals; I have some major personal swim goals planned for the remainder of this year and I want to complete them. 

Concerned I was straying from my training and my focus was slipping – obviously for good reason - I was determined to meet my swimming goals. On Wednesday evening I met with my Mentor. 

As my Mentor and I sit and talk in the late afternoon sun at Fish restaurant in Sausalito, I’m distracted by thoughts of my Poppa.  Seemingly out of nowhere, I recall his visit to San Francisco 4.5 years ago.  At the time I was recovering from yet another surgery on my leg. I was into my 3rd consecutive month on crutches, and struggling to imagine my life other than as disabled - for life.

I remember sitting in the sun enjoying lunch with my Poppa at this very restaurant. And of all the places where my Mentor could have arranged our meeting tonight, it was here. 

The significance is not lost on me – nor my Mentor with whom I share this detail. My Mentor scribbles my modified training schedule on a napkin. I leave the restaurant that evening focused and armed with my new Plan.

Despite the lack of sleep all week, I follow my new Plan religiously. And on Sunday I jump in the Bay with Joe for my planned 4 hour Bay swim. At a relatively “balmy” 59 degrees, 4 hours shouldn’t be a problem for me. Our feed bottles containing Hammer Perpetuem and my packets of GU are tucked into a nifty little floatation device that we attach to a buoy.

Standing on the beach, I look to Joe. “Ok, let’s do this.” I dive in and swim. I stop and glance at my watch. 37 minutes. What? That’s it?? We keep swimming and all I can think is “there is no way I can swim 4 hours today. NO WAY.” Joe and I continue swimming.  I stop and look again. 55 minutes!??!! Surely we’ve been swimming longer than that?! “The first hour is always the hardest” assures Joe. “Keep swimming” he encourages me. I’m not convinced. 

But I keep swimming. It’s a beautiful day - the fog has lifted - and I’m swimming in the Bay. I love this, I remind myself. But, not today. Today I’m fighting it all the way. And then, in a sign of utter non-compliance, my body starts shivering.  I can’t believe it. This shouldn’t be happening I tell myself. “Do some sprints, it will help warm you up” encourages Joe. It helps, but I just don’t have it in me today. I look at my watch. I’m shivering. I continue swimming, but once the shivers start its difficult to make a comeback. My body is cold. And it’s only been 1 hour 53 minutes. Defeated, I swim back to the beach.

Today, the robot malfunctioned. And, today, I completely underestimated the emotional and physical toll of the past 7 days. 


Kim Kirby

London, UK