If you read the other article on how fitness saved me from chronic pain, then you’ll know the first way that fitness saved my life.
Here I’m sharing the other, more dramatic story of how fitness saved my life, along with potentially life-saving information you need to know for riptide survival.
If you’re not interested in reading this, no problem, but please skip to the end, so you can see the two key lessons from this experience that may also benefit you, no matter if you never swim in an ocean.
Seconds from Death
It was our last swim in the lovely Costa Rican Pacific before heading home.
Having grown up in Hawaii, but living landlocked in North Carolina for years now, few things are more rejuvenating to me than an early morning romp in the waves and I was really looking forward to our last refreshing embrace with the ocean.
There are usually waves at these beaches, and surfers. Many times have we body surfed and boogie boarded there along with our two kids, now teens. However, today was different. Today was rougher than we had ever seen it. So we walked the long walk down to the more popular stretch of beach where the crowds and surfers usually go.
But it was early morning, before 7:00, so there were only a couple surfers in the water and a couple of locals at the tree line by the road. The tide was out, and we stood mid-way on the wide stretch of beach, reading the water for a good point of access.
Before a toe touched the water line, we decided it was clearly too rough for us to actually body surf as we had no boogie board or fins. So, no body surfing for us today… we would just get our lower half wet in the shallows, splash around a bit in the invigorating ion-charged whitewater, then head back.1)http://pranaviewaustralia.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/the-power-of-negative-ions-the-ocean-and-bodies-of-water/
That decision was our first mistake.
We studied a body boarder heading out into the pounding waves, picking his way—relatively effortlessly—toward a couple surfers further out. They were out really far because of low tide and the bigger surf, which was pounding in volleys of waves rather than in the usual sets with breaks in between.
We began to track a course toward the ocean after him.
That was our second serious mistake.
We stopped when we were up to the lower part of our hips in the white water. My husband, Coleman was a step or two ahead of me and yelled out that there was a drop off, so I felt around with my foot before taking the next step.
I then noticed that we seemed to have entered a place where the water was going in two directions, splitting off to the right and to the left of us, and the waves were coming in diagonally from opposite directions.
It didn’t look good and I yelled out to Coleman, “We need to go back!”
The moment the words left my lips, several things happened simultaneously.
I took a step to brace against an incoming wave, and plunged into a ravine of water as my foot left the sandy ledge just as two waves pounding from both directions met up with a surge of backwash.
I was lifted up and in seconds, went from being up to my hips in water to over my head, whisked rapidly away from shore, while waves crashed down over me in relentless rapid succession.
My heart leapt into my throat as I realized I had been snatched into a rip tide. “Rip tide” is a common name, however the actual term is “rip current”.
If you ever go swimming or wading into any ocean with waves, you need to know what this is and how it works.
More people die in ocean drowning from rip currents than for any other reason, including each year in Costa Rica.
There are only three reasons that I’m here today and able to share this story. In other words…
I Survived for Three Reasons
- I’m strong and healthy thanks to fitness
- I knew about rip currents
- I didn’t panic
I grew up in Hawaii on the beautiful Garden island of Kauai, where rip tides are common and everyone grows up with the knowledge of how to manage them.2)http://www.wikihow.com/Survive-a-Riptide3)http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/ In fact, I had experienced a rip current one other time in my life at age 11 shortly after my family moved to Hawaii. That was tough, and before I knew much about the ocean, and I managed to fight my way to shore, when a big wave picked me up and dumped me there. My aunt who also got caught on that day was helped to shore—rescued—by a surfer.
But the rip current and surf, this July day in Costa Rica, were even more powerful than that scary experience on Kauai years ago.
I knew that rip currents are long and narrow and often only 30-50’ wide, running perpendicular to the beach. I knew that I needed to swim parallel to the beach and that I would soon swim out of the grip of the current and from there be able to make my way back to shore.
Most important, I knew that I could NOT panic.
The two most important things to remember if you’re ever caught up in a rip current are often the two most difficult things to do because every part of you wants to fight against it. However…
Work with nature, not against it, will save your life.
As I was being swept out into ever-deepening water, the pounding of the cresting waves towering over my head escalated. My usual “porpoising” under the breaking wave to avoid being slammed wasn’t working. No sooner had I dove under one cresting wave to surface, than another one would smack my face, causing me to gulp in more ocean, even as I was coming up for air.
I’m generally a fairly calm and rational person, not prone to panic in emergencies, but gulping for air and inhaling water amidst perpetually crashing waves in rough ocean was serious. The adrenalin rose into my throat, further constricting it while my heart was pounding its way out of my chest, I told myself, “Don’t panic…. don’t panic. You will make it out of this.”
Meanwhile, my husband, Coleman, watched in horror as in mere seconds, I went from being a few arms reach away to yards away across a bubbling sea of froth, current, and crashing waves. In a split second, Coleman made the right decision to head to shore to get help, and it was all that he could do to make it in. But he’s bigger, stronger, taller, and was a few feet closer to shore and had not been swept off the sand ledge.
Since it was only around 7:00 in the morning, it was too early for more than a few sleepy people on the beach. Coleman speaks Spanish reasonably well, and began shouting, “Ayúdeme!!! Ayúdeme!!!” (“Help me, Help me”), to the people lounging way back from the beach under some trees near the road. They would not have been able to hear him, but began to respond to his body language and frantic gestures to my now scarcely visible head.
Coleman watched in helpless terror to see only my brown head of hair bobbing in the ocean. He said it was reminiscent of a tiny cork bobbing in a giant, violently whirling washing machine, so tumultuous and chaotic were the waves and current by then.
Meanwhile, I had begun to swim parallel to the beach, “I know what to do… I know what to do…”, I told myself, trying to remain calm. The problem is that my rip current escape plan didn’t seem to be the solution on this day, in this current and ocean-scape. As I swam in one parallel direction, I was pushed back or pounded by the diagonally breaking waves coming straight at me. So, I turned to swim parallel to the beach in the other direction, only to be met with another onslaught of waves, slamming into me from that other diagonal direction.
“Don’t panic, LeAura…don’t panic…”, I was thinking to myself. Worse case scenario is that I get swept out to sea, the rip current runs out, and I’m then free to swim back to shore from another patch of ocean, not affected by the rip current. As I considered this option, the panic again tried to surge up so powerfully it’s as if it was exploding out of the top of my head. I was running out of air and rapidly becoming exhausted from the incredibly strenuous effort of keeping afloat amidst the large crashing waves and little oxygen.
Meanwhile, the few laconic figures near the road began shouting, whistling, and motioning to the surfers who were a football field or two out and down shore from me. As I came up for air in the spinning vortex of salty sea, I could see Coleman near the shore gesticulating, and a surfer beginning to paddle into my line of sight while straining to see where I was. I knew by now that I was in serious trouble and that I absolutely did need help.
So I raised my arm high, while thinking how embarrassing it was to have to be asking for help. But the surfers were still so far away, and I immediately hushed the thought that tumbled into mind that “I couldn’t last that long.” And the next thought was, “I don’t want to put them out or endanger them.” It’s funny the things the mind thinks sometimes. We never know what it might be that comes out under extreme duress, but often it’s a deep part of our nature, and I had grown up with the meme of not wanting to cause trouble.
As all of that flooded my soggy brain, the reality penetrated through it all.
My life was hanging on by seconds.
Then I shouted to the wind, “HELP!!! GOD HELP ME PLEASE. I NEED HELP!!!”
In the next moment, I saw yet another wave rushing toward me, only this one was actually forming into a nice wave. Unlike the others, that had already broken and had been pounding me, or broke right over me, this one hadn’t yet peaked and curled into crashing white froth. This was looking like it might actually be a good wave to catch.
“That’s it!” I thought. “This is my only chance, to get to shore.” I mustered all of the energy left and started swimming like mad, away from that wave, toward shore, just hoping, praying, and envisioning this wave, carrying me to safety.
One specific fitness training technique above all others, saved my life:
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
My first fitness mentors, brothers, Jade & Keoni Teta, and Jade’s wife Jill Coleman, a beautiful fitness model and knowledgeable fitness pro, taught me the HIIT principle, also known as ‘rest based training’ (RBT), through their fantastic fitness program, Metabolic Effect. If you’re not familiar, please research this and find a coach or trainer who understands it and can help you learn how to do this for yourself. The My Trainer Fitness workout system is based on this concept as well.
The bottom line with HIIT, is the concept that when it’s time to spike the cardio, you hit it hard, powering out with everything you’ve got, as if your life depended on it. Today, it did.
Today, my life depended on my ability to engage every ounce of energy and effort.
I had to catch and ride that wave to shore… had to go all out and then some, because today my life depended on it. I swam and kicked harder and faster than I can ever remember doing, even though I already felt exhausted. Somehow, through providence and through fitness, I found enough energy for one last “HIIT”. Gasping for breath, flailing arms and thrashing legs I gave it my all.
I felt the swell of wave lift me and flow under my body as I caught it, floating on it and in it as it rushed me to shore and dumped me into a couple feet of water, right at Coleman’s feet.
I tried to stand up, but collapsed under legs that felt like noodles, and there was Coleman, arms around me, lifting me up. Coleman half carried me to shore where I collapsed onto the sand as I waved feebly to the surfers and locals who had paused heading in our direction. I began to weep as Coleman and I clung to each other while also trying to look… normal, (you know how when you’re walking in public and trip, you keep on going as if nothing happened…? Kind of like that), to signal that now all was well.
Mere seconds ago, I had been just a few heartbeats away from losing my life.
Geez! How deep runs the strains of conditioning to not look bad or foolish! How automatic and entrenched a meme to worry about something so trite when I hadn’t actually almost lost the most precious thing any of us have… our life.
After awhile, we stood and walked back up the long stretch of beach to our hotel, Arenas del Mar*. Hand-in-hand, quiet, subdued, and profoundly moved as terror’s grip relaxed into grateful relief.
Anyone who experiences the loss of a loved one or a brush with death remains forever changed relative to what’s really important in life. Since that day, back in July of 2009, it’s much easier to be grateful daily for all of the many blessings in life, from simply a hot shower, to a comfortable home, to a hug from a loved one.
The thing that I’m most grateful for in that experience is that usually when we visit Costa Rica, we’re there with our kids, then aged 12 and 14. If they had been with us on that trip instead of away at summer camp, there’s no doubt in my mind that we would all four have been lost at sea, because normally we’re romping in the waves together. Such glad grace that they were not with us on this trip.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the things we don’t like in our lives that we can miss the many blessings throughout each day. One of those blessings is the option, the freedom, and the ability to exercise.
Fitness, knowledge, presence and perhaps a bit of divine intervention, saved my life that day.
The saying goes that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. So, don’t put off your health to another day. This is your life, and fitness could save it. A favorite author and financial mentor, Robert Kiyosaki says, “Knowledge is the new money.”
These are the things that saved my life that day: Health, Knowledge, Invocation, and Presence of Mind. And interestingly… these are all complementary qualities for a balanced and integrated life for these cover body, emotions, mind, and soul.
Never underestimate the power of fitness to transform and save your life.
Life Fitness in Review
Fitness can save your life
- Fitness will save or extend your life with many, more enjoyable and energetically healthy years.
- Those who are fit are far better able to survive any emergency.
The most important thing to do in any emergency:
The most important thing to do if caught in a rip current:
Don’t fight it. Instead, calmly swim parallel to the beach.
Be a lifelong learner:
Knowledge can also save your life, and together, fitness via daily activity, exercise and learning keeps the brain healthy and the mind agile.
In fact, that’s at the heart of the My Trainer Fitness logo, “Running Girl”. She’s fit and smart because she works out, keeps active, and is always learning and growing.
Fitness saved my life in another way as well. Not as dramatically, as in life or death, but as in a healthy and fit life versus chronic pain. Fitness gave me quality of life…
Fitness saved me from chronic pain.
*ABOUT ARENAS DEL MAR: Though my near-death experience occurred far down the beach from this beach-front, top rated eco-boutique hotel, one of the FEW hotels directly on the beach in the Manuel Antonio area of Costa Rica, Arenas del Mar proactively placed huge and well-illustrated instructional signs at their beach access areas. If you are thinking of traveling to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Arenas del Mar is the kind of destination that has everything in one place, including the wildlife. At Arenas, the wildlife comes to you, as it travels through and lives in the incredible ecologically protected grounds, immediately adjacent the Manuel Antonio National Park.
The ocean in this area of the Central American isthmus of Costa Rica, is like that in most any ocean area, with calm days, stormy days and everything in between. It can be safe, if you are informed, and use good judgement. Never swim alone, and if the ocean is rough, either, enjoy it from the beach, or with a guide or lifeguard present, whether it’s this beach, or any other in the world. Be healthy, informed, safe and wise.
What’s your fitness story? We’d love to hear it if you care to share it… even if it’s just about what finally motivated you to DECIDE to get fit! Your story could inspire someone else to change their life. It might even save it.
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