Popo’ia and a Podium!

When we were on holidays in Hawaii, we did what every normal person does… We looked up races to do while there!  I asked around and found out about the Popo’ia Swim – a 1.5 mile swim around an island just off Kailua Beach.  And I knew we had to do it.

The island on the near right side is Popo’oa (Flat Island) – I took this photo while hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Trail

The swim is something many people do regularly – maybe it’s a normal Hawaiian thing? “Hey!  There’s an island!  Let’s swim around it!”  I remember swimming out to the island when I was younger (never around it, just out to it).  I thought it would be a fun way to spend a morning.  It was also a way for me to face my fears – I am a tiny bit scared of swimming in ocean open water (you can read why here) so swimming straight out into the Pacific would force me to confront this head on. 

Also I planned to meet up with James while there.  James is a fellow triathlete with CMT (the same nerve disease that I have) and we connected via a Facebook group for athletes with CMT.  As I was chatting with James after the race, we struck up a conversation with a guy using a walking stick in the sand.  I have to admit, having nerve disease means I am not scared about asking people why they use adaptive equipment – I am also always on the lookout for others with CMT (we share a rather unique bond!)  So lo and behold – Dan tells James and I that he has CMT!  What are the chances of that?!  So three of us with CMT did the Popo’ia Swim – how great is that!

Dan is on my left, James on my right. All smiles after the 1.5 mile swim!

The swim was a challenge.  The week of the swim eastern winds were up, creating a swell in Kailua.  The wave faces were about 4 foot that morning, and the swell was not predicted to die down until that afternoon.  I had never raced in the Pacific, let alone in a swell.  Sure – I spent huge chunks of time growing up in the water on waves, either body boarding or body surfing.  But a race?  A race IS DIFFERENT.

Or would it be?  At the start DH, James and I agreed to try to stick together for as long as possible.  The gun went off and we swam out to the left of the island – which was challenging as it was against the swell.  We hung a right turn at the buoy and headed parallel to the beach – and found ourselves right in the break, rocking side to side on the swells.  I lost DH, and decided to just “roll with it” and try to have fun.  I felt a little queasy from the rocking. (I get motion sickness, but have only ever experienced it once when swimming, during the bay swim in the mid-section ship channel part – not a great feeling.)  I struggled to see the turning buoy in the morning sun. (Thank god for Zogg’s polarized predator flex googles – once again performing stunningly on this swim!) But as soon as I hit the turning buoy and headed right towards shore, I came into my own.  My body instinctively reverted back to my 16 year old body surfing self, and I started catching and riding waves as far as I could (and passed a bunch of people this way).  By far that was my favourite part of the swim.  When the waves stopped forming I had time to marvel at the coral we swam over – the most giant green coral tree was right below me!  Then I reminded myself that this was a race, and that I had probably only 600 meters left so it was time to pull hard and finish.  The end – the last parallel leg along the beach, was by far the longest hardest part for me.  I willed myself to pull hard, passed a few people (again). And then it was over.

I popped up onto the beach to cheers of “Run up and across the mat” but as I had severely rolled my ankle on June 2nd, I took that part easy. 

Total Time: 51:23

Not a particularly great time for me – about 6 minutes slower than my pool times would show me capable.  But a pool is a pool – without swells and glare and body surfing and coral!  So not bad for my first ever Pacific race!

Imagine my surprise when this time was good enough for a podium?!  I was shocked.  This was my first ever podium in a normal age group wave at a race – well, first ever unless you count the time when I was 8 and we came in third in a summer fun relay race!  But as has been pointed out to me before, never frown on a podium (even if you are the only one in a category) as it is a recognition of how you did on the day compared with everyone else AS WELL AS a recognition of all the work that came before race day.

I was over the moon!

Third place in my age group – good enough for a $5 gift certificate at Lanikai Juice and a coffee mug!

Anyway, doing a race on holiday, especially a single sport race (without some of the stresses of multisport like 4am racking of bikes!), was a great way to spend a morning. The Popo’ia swim helped me face one of my last remaining open water fears – the fear of swimming into open water with no sight of land.  And the swim was made all the better as I enjoyed the warm waters off Kailua Beach, swimming with friends, meeting new people like James and Dan who share some of the same challenges I do, and got to do a bit of bodysurfing and coral gazing while racing – you really can’t beat that!

Special thanks to my sponsors 2XU and Motion Junkies, to friend and supporter Punk Rock Racing , and to Red Top Swim and coaches Peter Prijdekker and Tim Denyer who have helped me to become stronger, faster and more confident in the water.

2 responses to “Popo’ia and a Podium!”

  1. Awesome, congrats!  I LOVE the Kailua beach area – I would totally participate in this (and will have to check) if it’s there when I’m on Oahu.  So cool!

  2. Ha! Loved the lead-in line … of course you looked up races to do on your vacation! smile

    So envious you went to Hawaii. I really need to visit again, haven’t been since I was very young.

    CONGRATS ON MAKING THE PODIUM!!! That is freakin’ awesome, Donna!


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