How to Swim Through Your Fears and Live Bold

by Tess


This is a guest post by my friend Jt Clough at Big Island Dog. Enjoy and be inspired to live a bold life!

Fear stops so many of us from even beginning to get what we want out of life.  Most of us don’t even know what our fears are and tend to walk away or hide from as many of them as possible.

I have found that facing my fears head-on leads me to a much more passionate life.  Though it has not been easy and it has taken lots of practice, I’ve done it consistently enough that I’ve completely overcome some pretty amazing fears.  And now I love sharing how to do the same with others.

The latest one that took a lot of courage was selling my comfortable home in San Diego and giving away most of my things in order to move to Hawaii.  I wanted to create my own paradise.  My journey to getting through big fears like selling a home and moving across an ocean started long ago, but one of the major starting points in that journey is when I learned to swim.

Learning to Swim at Age 32

Most people don’t take on a lot of completely new activities after age 30 or so, especially not something like swimming.

A friend of mine asked me to do a triathlon with her.  I was 32 years old at the time. My friend and I had already been on several adventures together.  We had run the Honolulu Marathon, gone to Taos, New Mexico on a road trip, and did things like go snowboarding out of bounds.  

I remember her being absolutely shocked when I told her I’d give it a try.  I knew that the bike competition and the run would be just fine, but I had my doubts about the swimming portion of a triathlon.

It was only 400 yards, so we didn’t really practice.  The lake water was cold and we figured there was no real reason to train for only a 400 yard race.  We’d done endurance sports far beyond that, so I felt confident that this would not be that difficult.

Race day arrived and there I was, ready to go with my bike and my running shoes.  I’ve always been a runner and I loved riding my bike.

I stood on the swim start line with my nerves going full speed ahead.  My heart was pounding.  I felt weak.  I had to go to the bathroom.  I felt sort of sick.  I asked myself more than once exactly what I was doing there. The negative talk in my head continued, and then the start gun went off.

I ran for the cold water with about 100 other people at the same time. I plunged into the water, but very quickly started to falter.  I started kicking wildly and tried very hard to make my arms keep me afloat.  I could no longer feel anything that resembled stability.  I was gulping water, I felt like I was going nowhere, and I was getting run over by other swimmers.  I started to panic.

I couldn’t touch bottom, I couldn’t breathe very well, and I felt like I was going to drown because I could not get myself to move forward.  That’s when my survival instinct kicked in.  I starting kicking my feet like crazy and began to dog paddle.

I dog paddled the whole 400 yards.  I was scared the entire time.  It was awful.  I never wanted to feel that way again.  I was weak when I stood up.  I was dizzy. I felt unsteady on my feet, like I was going to fall over if I tried to move onward. Then I just made myself stop and I started to concentrate only on breathing.  

I soon realized that the hard part was over.  I had survived!  I told myself that all there was left was the easy stuff.  I knew I was good at biking and I knew I was really good at running, so off I went.

I ended up second in my age group after being the last one out of the water.

The Quest to the Ironman

I was so excited about the rest of the race that I decided to learn how to swim.  I went to the pool and got in a masters class and I just kept doing it.  

At first it was really horrible.  I still couldn’t get my breath.  I was the slowest one. I had to learn a whole new way.  It was frustrating. There were times I wanted to just give up, but I persevered, because in the back of my mind, I was cultivating the idea of doing a half Ironman.

So I kept swimming.  Even though it was a very awkward, unnatural feeling almost every time I got in the water, I kept with it. Over time, it became less awkward and more natural.

I participated in some small races and then a half Ironman and worked up to entering my first Ironman. It was in Canada.  It was beautiful and I truly did not know if I could make the 2.4 miles swim at that point, but I was certainly going to give it my best!

The swim course was set up with huge orange buoys relatively close together. So I made a plan in my mind – I was only going to concentrate on getting from one buoy to the next.

That is just what I did.  I was still afraid, but as I put each buoy behind me, I knew I was closer to the finish line and it really wasn’t that bad.  I was on my way to the bike and the run, two things I knew I could do well.

I came close to qualifying for the World Championships at that first Ironman and after that, it was on!  I wanted it!  So I entered my next one – Ironman New Zealand.  And I went to work on my swimming technique.

I did it one lane length after the next in a pool, consistently until it became almost effortless.  I kept facing the fear.  I kept practicing “just do it anyway.”  And finally it became easy, I had swam through my fear.

Losing My Fear

I went on to participate in a total of nine Ironmans.  Two of those were the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.  I had finally embraced my fear and defeated it.  I came to  absolutely love what I was doing.

Now, I live in Hawaii and swim in those magical waters most days.  I swim and feel so comfortable it is as if I have entered a mermaid world and I take absolute joy in the comfort of the healing waters surrounding the Big Island.

I live in a beautiful paradise, but it would not have been possible had I simply walked away from my fear.  Instead, I embraced it, conquered it, and discovered that it no longer held any power over me.

Jt Clough is a 9 time Ironman finisher, change maker, lifestyle coach, author and creator of  5K Training Guide | Running with Dogs and writes at Big Island Dog She encourages you to make that change you want so badly today!

The winners of Successful Blogging In 12 Simple Steps are Suzie, Surabhi, and Steven, and the winners of Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life's Hard Questions are Christopher and John.

Is there a fear you would like to overcome? How can we help? Please share below.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy | Treatment Talk December 17, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Hi Jt,

Love your story. I can imagine how it must feel to not be able to swim at 30. I can swim, but I’m not very good at it and don’t feel all that comfortable in the water, especially now because I don’t really swim very often. Your story is very inspiring. Facing our fears can be challenging, but you have shown that a whole new world may open up when you work through what frightens you most. Thanks for sharing your uplifting story.
Cathy | Treatment Talk´s last post…How To Convince An Addict To Get Help


Jt Clough | Big Island Dog December 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Hi Cathy,
Thank you for your comment. I really love inspiring people! And yes, I believe that facing one big fear and getting though it leads to so many more way cool things in life.

Go do what it is you want most!

Aloha wags!
Jt Clough | Big Island Dog´s last post…Choosing Your Gifts or Choosing Anxiety


Neseret December 17, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Hi Jt,

Your story is inspiring. I admire your courage to literally plunge full speed in to the unknown and confront your fear. If we would all follow your example we can do so much with our life and in the world. We are all capable of overcoming our fear. We just need to decide that nothing will stop us and go for it. You defintely did that. Thank you for sharing your story. Wishing you many blessings.

Peace, Love & Gratitude,

Neseret´s last post…Sadness is o.k and You’re o.k!


Jt Clough | Big Island Dog December 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Hi Neseret,
It is my whole goal in sharing these stories to give others the courage, the idea the knowledge that if they want to do something but have fear, walking through that door will bring passion and open up avenues you haven’t even dreamed of yet.

Many blessings to you too.

Aloha wags!
Jt Clough | Big Island Dog´s last post…Choosing Your Gifts or Choosing Anxiety


Jen December 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Aloha! What an amazing story! I completely resonated with the water. I did my first “mini” triathalon last year. I was completely comfortable with the bike/run, but the water was something I really had to conquer!

I am still learning! I have run six marathons but my ultimate goal someday would be to do an ironman. Gasp! You really give me encouragement.

My college roomate from years ago lives in Hawaii. I have visited a few times. Paradise! You aren’t kidding:) Enjoy the beauty of your home and thanks so much for sharing your inspiration with all of us!

PS. Thanks Tess, for your guest post:)
In Harmony,
Jen´s last post…Trash Talk Thursday: Reaction Formation


Paige | simple mindfulness December 17, 2011 at 10:16 pm

When I’m facing a fear, I usually ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” If the answer isn’t my immanent death, it can’t be that bad and I move forward with it. Jt – In your case, death was certainly a possibility! Bravo to you for making the time and commitment to move past your fear and develop a new skill which serves you quite well in your beautiful, new home!
Paige | simple mindfulness´s last post…Mindful Body: Creating the Body You Want With New Choices


Jt Clough | Big Island Dog December 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Aloha Paige,
Wow, I never thought of it that way! Now that you say it, yes, it was really scary because I could have in fact easily drown! Especially if you saw how I started out swimming :)
It has been a huge help in facing so many other things that continue to pop up in my life as it does everyone else. So very glad I charged through that one.
And I LOVE my new home!


Jt Clough | Big Island Dog December 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Aloha Jen,
As a runner all of my life I understand exactly the way you state it. Learning to swim with a bunch of people, no lanes lines and nothing to grab on to for stability is a journey that will take you a very long way in other areas of your life!

Keep on doing it and realize you have the ability to create your own paradise from where you are with your accomplishments. Then imagine where that could take you!
Jt Clough | Big Island Dog´s last post…Drink Like a Dog This Holiday


Betsy at Zen Mama December 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I really enjoyed reading about your struggle with fear. I’ve been dog paddling since I was about 6 but I’ve never had to guts to be in a race yet. So, I can sympathize but with a different type of fear. What a wonderful place to live and train. Looking forward to checking out your site.

Thanks Tess, for featuring such an interesting story!
Betsy at Zen Mama´s last post…What We Think We Become


Jt Clough | Big Island Dog December 20, 2011 at 10:24 am

Hi Betsy,
I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Makes my heart sing :) I have dogs and love them so very much so I have great appreciation for dog paddling, however I’m glad I chose to break through the fear of swimming. It is a wonderful place to live and enjoy each and every day.

Mahalo for checking out the site. My true intention and one I have really put focus on in 2012 is to bring as much inspiration to the world as possible.

Aloha wags!
Jt Clough | Big Island Dog´s last post…Drink Like a Dog This Holiday


Katrina@AdvantageforCats December 19, 2011 at 9:24 am

Hello, there is a place in Southern Lake Michigan where they allow you to swim with the dolphins once you are an accomplished swimmer. There is also whale watching. They are in Lower Shores, Michigan. There are directions on the website.
Katrina@AdvantageforCats´s last post…Advantage Flea Drops For Cats


John Sherry December 19, 2011 at 10:28 am

Superduper story JT – you’ve showed and proved that if you face your fears head on and stare them down, they will blink first. A fear is merely a fantasy inside out and when you conquer them you will have more magic in your life than ever before. In fact, things will go swimmingly! May the tide always turn in your favour my friend. Gosdpeed!
John Sherry´s last post…Why There Is ALWAYS More To Come


Jt Clough | Big Island Dog December 19, 2011 at 10:38 am

Mahalo John,
Love the comment “you will have more magic in your life than ever before.” That is so true for me.

There will always be a new challenge and in different areas of my life. Having done this one has helped greatly with all of that and now when I can help others to see a new picture of walking through a fear it’s even more magical!
Jt Clough | Big Island Dog´s last post…Drink Like a Dog This Holiday


Grampa Ken December 20, 2011 at 8:01 am

I haven’t had a real swim in very many years. At 77 I don’t have the desire although I cycle and walk regularly. This summer while camping with my son and grandson I slid down a steep bank into 10′-12′ of water. It was a comfortable back paddle to the dock and worth a few laughs – later.

I explained to my grandson that if you learn something like swimming very well when young you will never have fear of doing that any time later in life. So true about most things.
Grampa Ken´s last post…Materialism and Happiness


Jt Clough | Big Island Dog December 20, 2011 at 10:26 am

Grampa Ken,
What a fabulous story! Life experiences come back in so many good ways. Just when you think why did I go through all of that it turns out there was a big reason!

Mahalo for sharing.

Aloha wags!
Jt Clough | Big Island Dog´s last post…Drink Like a Dog This Holiday


Galen Pearl December 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm

You are an awesome person. And I mean awesome in the way it used to be used! I really admire you for plunging in, literally and figuratively. The only thing I can think of that ever made me that afraid was public speaking. I got over it and ended up in a career that had me speaking in front of groups of people for decades!

Now I’m not afraid of very much. Well, except for sharks. Really. But I’ve decided that I can live the rest of my life very successfully without confronting and overcoming that fear. I’m just leaving that one alone!
Galen Pearl´s last post…Winter Wonder


rob white December 22, 2011 at 6:55 am

Well done, JT. Indeed there is something to be said for plunging headlong into things! You have trained your inward self-talk to communicate with all levels of your mind. You have taken control of your inner world talk show radio station. When we can do that, it will give us remarkable results. The mind is meant to serve us. We must not let it control us. When we act with singleness of purpose and waiver not, the whole universe throws itself on our side, and we stand in awe when we see the results that we get.


Lenia December 27, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Hi Tess and Jt Clough,

Thank you for this inspiring guest post. Jt, I really enjoyed reading about your struggle with fear. That is a very successful outcome. As far as your question:

“Is there a fear you would like to overcome?”

Yes there is: I am currently trying to create my own company in Greece. Many times I feel losing my trust and goals and I am afraid of failure. Most of times I succeed in putting things into perspective, being appreciative for good things I have in my life…It is not easy but I try to face my fear and I keep going. I know that I need to be patient and I have to insist…

Thank you for sharing with us and for your advice “just do it anyway”…yes I will definitely keep doing that!

Lenia´s last post…Merry Christmas


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