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Monday, March 14, 2011
Updated: March 16, 2:57 PM ET
Why 'Jaws' still haunts us


In the Southern Californian summer, my parents had my sister and me spending most of the daylight hours outside playing. Even if we were on an ice rink, twirling in our fancy tutus, we were out -- playing, competing or practicing. One of our favorite weekend adventures was going waterskiing. That is, until the movie "Jaws" came out.

Now, a few bits here for context. First, our father is a Marine, which means I don't remember one occasion -- in any sport we learned growing up -- that "I don't want to" was an option. (And my sis and I still thank him for that to this day.) Second, our parents LOVED being outside -- any sport, anywhere. We were not getting out of waterskiing. Sure, our mother being the sweet softie would've let a few trips sans dips in the lake slide, but not our pops.

Interestingly, even after a few whining matches with my pops that summer, I went on to become a marine biologist, having more than a few close (really, really close) encounters with the Jaws-kind. And now, as an endurance athlete, my training and racing requires a few long dips into the Big Blue.

This list might keep you from enjoying triathlon, but keep this in mind: Pools and lakes abound. And so do people such as Wendy Mader. She helps people like me, who, even with a collegiate swimming career behind them, find an oxygen tank and a few hundred friends can be necessary accoutrements to doing an open water swim practice.

 La Jolla Beach
Open water swims can be terrifying, but this is the magic of triathlon.

They also help you plan for the things that might go wrong during your next race -- since it's hard to swim quickly wearing a full-body armor suit.

Reasons to reconsider the open water swim:

1. There is no black line on the bottom that directs you to the finish line.And so far, there is no goggle on the market that adds one. Swimming with your head up for miles also is not an option.

2. You don't know what's out there. And guess what? What IS out there doesn't need eyes to find you. Did you know box jellies can put a swimmer six feet under (ground, that is) in less than a few minutes? Fortunately, if you're reading this in Southern California, you can check this off your "why to worry" list. They don't live here.

3. You can't swim straight. Stay away from areas with big swings in tide or heavy currents, end of story. Unless your training partner is Chrissie Wellington or some other champ, you take your life in your own hands.

4. Goggles come off mid-swim. If you're in a race situation, this is a well-founded fear. Aside from someone ripping them off (and I've been in that lucky spot once), you've got some control over this one. Goggles go on first, then your swimming cap. If you're not wearing a cap, consider prayer.

5. If forward movement stops, sinking commences. For those of us who get tired on the run, walking is an option. In the swim, your options are swimming in a dive suit, being within five feet of a paddle-boarder/lifeguard or holding on to Chrissie Wellington's feet.

There are more reasons. Many, many more. Just ask any non-swimmer. Heck, ask me -- a swimmer for more than 35 years. But this is the magic of triathlon. There are thousands of non-swimmers toeing the line at all distance events every year -- and crossing the finish line with a huge smile and their credit cards at the ready for their next race.

Get out there.

Onward and upward!

Tanya Maslach, CEO, GOTRIbal. Triathlete, entrepreneur and restless advocate for women in endurance sports.