From Lap Swimming to Open-Water Competition: Reinventing Yourself in Panama

By Rudi Van Enoo

I went from recreational freshwater swimming to long-distance open ocean swimming in less than a year. How did I do it? I moved to Panama.

For many years I was a morning jogger for regular cardiovascular exercise. I would listen to my music and at some point moved to audio books to keep from being bored to death and to learn something new along the way. There are so many great books out there to download and listen to while doing no-brainer tasks.  It is fabulous.  Jogging can be hard on the joints — the impact under your feet goes up through the knees, hips, etc.   So when I got a bit older, I switched to swimming to save my joints.

For many years I swam in fresh-water pools.  I would do laps for 20-30 minutes, back and forth, lap after lap, day after day.  More boring even than jogging, right?  So, I had to find a way to listen to my books while swimming. I found a website that sold me a waterproof little iPod I could clip onto my goggles and a set of waterproof earbuds. That kept me happy for a long time. When we decided to move to Panama, it all changed again.

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Being so close to a warm, inviting, tropical ocean, I discovered that swimming in salt water without pool edges was much more pleasant and freeing.  For several months I would walk out of our apartment, right onto our almost deserted beach, and into a buoyant, comfortable Pacific Ocean. I turned on my book and away I went. Such exhilaration!

After several months of this a group of friends and fellow expats started to train for a triathlon, swimming in the same part of the ocean that I was swimming in.  After a while they talked me into joining them in their training sessions and urged me to enter the triathlon competition that was scheduled in September — just a few months away.  I accepted the challenge but only on one condition: I would do the swimming part only.  I didn’t want to run or bike!  That did not seem to be a problem because I have friends who wanted to do the biking and running portion.  So we formed a tag-team.

Now the competitive spirit started to kick in and I paid more attention to swim style and speed. I read articles and watched videos on competitive swimming.  Lo and behold, within a very short time I started to improve immensely.  My speed increased dramatically and my endurance just kept going up and up. As a matter of fact, I just beat a couple of people much younger than me on my last  training session with them. (I won’t reveal my age but I am collecting Social Security.) I now swim about a mile non-stop, which takes me about 35-45 minutes depending on the currents, and I feel absolutely exhilarated. I also get to listen to a couple more chapters in my book.  Does it get any better?

The triathlon was tough, but fun, and I learned a lot about competition. I never dreamed something like this would be a part of my life, especially at my age. I think competition is good for you.

This would never have happened if it hadn’t been for the perfect conditions right here at my doorstep.  This is just another reason why our relocation to Panama has been one of our best moves to date, without a doubt. What a great place to re-invent yourself!

More about Panama here!

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