I had lunch with my high school friends last week, and we started to talk about exercising which led to my one friend talking about this triathlon event that is being held in her New Jersey shore town. She thought it might be fun if I participated in it. While I tend to jump at a good challenge, I begged off this one as this event had something that I could not do: a 300-yard swim in the ocean.
I know what you are saying, “Three hundred yards – no biggie.” Well, it is a biggie when you have just been running or cycling before jumping in the water. But to be honest, it’s not the physical stamina that scares me about the ocean swim: it’s the sharks.
I know the chances of me being eaten by a shark on that very day are probably like three million to one. After all, there will be a lot of people in the water and so a shark would literally have a smorgasbord of appetizers to choose from. But I know he would choose me. Why? Because a shark would sense my deep fear.
It’s not that I do not go in the ocean. I ride waves and frolic with the best of them, but the triathlon swim is beyond the surf and to train for it, I would have to swim by myself in the early morning hours when as we all know sharks like to eat. I know I should train with a buddy, but that wouldn’t be fair to the buddy because I know at the first sign of a fin, I am feeding that shark my buddy while I make a beeline back to shore. I have no delusions of bravery here.
I have tried to conquer my fear of sharks. I rent a shore house every year during the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. I do this to face my fear. I figure a week of watching people being devoured and chewed to shreds on TV will de-sensitize me to the whole shark thing and make it easier to go in the water. Have I ever had an occasion to meet a shark? Only at the Baltimore Aquarium, so I guess that really does not count. My entire fear stems from the fact that I imagine that as soon as I step into the waves, sharks out in the ocean depths are saying,
“Okay, she is in the water, let’s get lunch.”
This is why I never open my eyes under water in the ocean. I don’t want to see the shark staring at me. I figure this is one of those times that it is best not to know what is coming at you. If I had to analyze my fear, I would guess it has always existed inside of me but exploded outward when the first Jaws movie came out. I was young and impressionable. Even then, I knew that if I was going to see this movie, I needed to see it where I would be safe. So, I flew to my uncle’s house in Chicago and saw it there. Okay, he was flying me out anyway, but it was a good excuse to see the flick then, and I knew I had to see the movie because when I returned to school that fall everyone would be talking about it, and I didn’t want to be the only one who did not watch the most popular movie of the summer. Apparently, my fear of grammar school peer rejection outranked my fear of sharks at that point in my life.
Has my fear of sharks affected any other areas of my life? Well, I can never move to Florida. First off, that state is the shark capital of the world and secondly — alligators. Yep, fear number two. I never had to think about alligators much growing up in the New York City area or now in the Philly area where I live, but again, thanks to the Discovery Channel and of course, the internet, I have viewed graphic pictures of alligator attacks. My biggest fear with the alligators is that I will fall in some river or swamp and never be found again — or worse, I will witness an alligator eating one of my dogs. I heard that happens a lot in Florida.
As I think about it, I am pretty grateful to live in the Philly area. Sure, we have really tough sports fans, but we don’t have sharks or alligators and the safe haven of the Poconos is just a short car ride away, and there are no alligators or sharks up in the mountains…but there are Copperheads. Damn, I forgot about my fear of snakes!