Knowing is sometimes different from doing- Part III (I’m afraid of open-water swimming)

Port Jackson Shark at Manly Beach, Sydney (Photo credit from B&B Swim Squad;

Key Takeaways:
– Fear is the most common emotion that protects lives; this ‘function’ is printed in our DNA;
– We all have fears and the best way to get rid of that is to face it; I know but I can’t do it.
– Jessica Watson was afraid of swimming but she did a solo round-the-world sail in 210 days in 2010; she was 16.
– Don’t let fear stop your dreams. Face it, confront it and conquer it.

I am an open-water swimmer. The longest open-water swim I’ve done is a 6-km ocean swim in 2017. However, deep down at the bottom of my heart, I’m afraid of open-water swimming, if I can’t clearly see the bottom of the open-water.

This fear came from a movie, Jaws in 1975. I watched the movie on TV when I was a kid and then I started having that fear of a great white shark coming out of the bottom of my bed and bite me. Funny, huh? But, this is true. I can’t even stretch my arms or legs outside my bed during the night because of my fear. My wife laughed her head off the first time when I told her this.

Well, this fear hadn’t affected my life until 2013 when I was inspired to do an Ironman race. Then, I found out that for most Ironman races, I will need to do a 3.8km open-water swim to start the race. What the….. >_< I had two choices: (A) fix my fear of “Jaws”; or (B) don’t do Ironman and forget about it in my life.

I chose option (A) and faced my fear. Then the next question is: how do I ‘fix’ my fear?

After researching, it seemed to me that the best way to conquer a fear is to face it. OK, I know ……. The issue is that ‘fear’ is such a strong emotion that it is printed deeply in our brain and in our DNA, because fear protects our lives by sensing danger and actioning on that. That’s why it’s so hard to remove ‘fear’. Why don’t you ask someone who is afraid of height and ask how he/she has tried to ‘fix it’?

I started ocean swimming with a local swim club at Manly in 2013. I was (and still am) a good pool swimmer (not excellent, though) but swimming in the ocean was not what I saw myself doing at that time. I kept telling myself that if I swim with a pack of swimmers at Manly Beach (usually 200+), then the probability to be bitten by the ‘Jaws’ is quite low. In fact, the chance is lower than winning a lottery, statistically speaking. Clearly, I was quite ‘scientific’ about this chance. After ‘planting’ this in my brain a few days before my first swim, I did my first ocean swim. Yes, I faced my deepest fear and I kinda conquered it. Ever since, I’ve swum with the club for years and accumulated about 330KM ocean swim so far. What an achievement!

Not long after I started swimming with the club at Manly in 2013, I saw a shark at the bottom of a coral reef! What the….. The shark was small but I thought: “Damn, I’d better sprint to shore because its mother (supposed to be a lot bigger!) must be around!” I did perhaps the fastest swim in my life after spotting that shark. A world swimming record, perhaps. Afterwards, I learned that it was a Port Jackson Shark and is no harm to humans.

Recently, I have been reading a book about Jessica Watson who sailed solo around the world when she was 16. She was afraid of water when she was a child, but she conquered it and went on to conquer the world.

I still have that Jaws fear but not that bad now. I faced it and I think I kinda conquered it. However, I still don’t like swimming along in the open water. Luckily, I always have a group of great mates swimming with me.

Dr. C. Richard Wu @

8 thoughts on “Knowing is sometimes different from doing- Part III (I’m afraid of open-water swimming)

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