Are you a ‘Human Manatee’?

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Our son, Yash, is an animal enthusiast and would go to any extent to observe and learn about their habitats. When he was seven, he agreed to wake up at 3am – while on vacation – and drive 2 hours to take a kayaking tour with alligators in the wild. I vividly remember this because it took a gentle whisper and he sprang out of bed all excited. Wish he would do that on school days!

For Yash’s 9th birthday, we had decided to take him to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. A few years back, in an inflight magazine I had read about Crystal Rivers, Florida. A small city, two hours north of Orlando, known to host for Manatees in the Crystal River. The city is located around Kings Bay, which have a number of springs, ensuring that the water temperature is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. Hence, in the winter, manatees move from the cool waters of Gulf of Mexico to Crystal Rivers. This is the only place in the USA where humans are legally allowed to observe Manatees up-close in their natural habitat.

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We had booked a 3 hour tour with ‘Fun 2 Dive – Swim with Manatees’ and after a brief training session were in the boat with our crew, looking for these gentle giants. River Manatees don’t have any natural predators and their number one enemy is boat rotor blades. They eat only greens, sleep 12 hours a day, swim, rest and make babies. No wonder they live long lives!

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Honestly, what amazed me the most about Manatees, was that they did not care about the large number of humans around them – entering their natural habitat. They went about their lives — eating, sleeping, swimming and being with their loved ones — as if we never existed. They were happy! This, to me, was the biggest take away. Can we humans also remain unaffected by our surroundings, people, events and positively carry on with life in a happy state? I believe there are such people, who I would like to call ‘Human Manatees’. Psychologists from the University of California who study happiness found that genetics and life circumstances only account for about 50% of a person’s happiness. So these ‘Human Manatees’ clearly have developed traits and ways to practice them always.

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” —Benjamin Franklin

I classify myself in the category of folks who are NOT ‘Human Manatees’. For people like me, it‘s important to identify any negative drivers that adversely impact my happiness index. We all exhibit behaviors that can be recognized by ourself or loved ones as signs of not being in a happy state. Each of us will have specific signs and it is in our best interest to be aware of them. Sharing a few indicators that I have come to track for myself – also it is appropriate for me to thank my wife, who promptly alerts me when she begins to observe a pattern. 

  • Indicator 1: Eating excessively is my first marker. I may not be eating ‘junk’ food, but that is my way of trying to mask this indicator. On a bad day, for example, I may end up eating a dozen ’dates’ after a good dinner. 
  • Indicator 2: Typically, 6 hours of sleep works best for me. Then there are times when I tend to sleep longer and despite the longer sleep cycle, I wake up lacking that purpose and drive.
  • Indicator 3: Procrastinate many activities. These activities may not be critical but the fact that I have a list piling up, bogs me down.

These indicators will vary person to person. My dad used to watch TV  and play cards (the game – patience) to de-stress himself. Since 1972, researchers at the University of Chicago conducted the General Social Survey to evaluate the social climate in the United States. Regardless of education, income, marital status or age, happier people surveyed watched about 30 percent less television each week than unhappier participants. On average, the happier respondents watched 19 hours of television, compared to 25 hours for the unhappy set. 

In an ideal world I would also be a ‘Human Manatee’ not impacted by the circus around me. Until then, let me continue improving my skills for early identification and early remedial action. Cheers to all those people on this journey to being a ‘Human Manatee’.

Related data points:

 

15 minutes of hell: My first sprint triathlon

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In grade 7, I registered for a diving event – with one catch, I did not know how to swim! My only objective was to add participation points on the scoreboard for my team. We were not doing well in the event – low registration numbers was one of the factors. It was a decision, not under any compulsion or peer pressure, but self driven. Guess I am a good team player.

I had seen the diving pool and also witnessed some of our seniors practice. Was very confident of reaching the edge of the pool and being able to grab the inner railing and make my way out. On our first day of diving practice, I made my way up to level 1 of the diving board. No hesitation, no fear, I took position and jumped – my first dive ever. Here I would like to note, that I had been in swimming pools before – where the water level was low enough that I could stand and have fun with my friends. So in my defense I was not alien to water bodies. 

Popped out soon to catch a breath and then tried to swim to the inner railing. It was close and in just a few strokes my out stretched hands would get there. Then I remember not being able to make it. Memory fades a bit, I recall hearing the coach use his whistle and some seniors jumped in and pulled me out. The commotion had not rattled me. Then my coach asked me “Do you know how to swim?”.  Something he must now do before all newcomers line up for their first dive. When he understood my reason to participate and the fact that team ranking was my only goal, he laughed. The next few days I dived with a rope around my hip and he would pull me to the railing. Soon we did away with the rope and I was able to make it to the inner railing. Now that was my initiation to becoming a swimmer!

Fast forward 21 years, when my son was born, i knew he would learn how to swim early in life. He started his swim lessons at age 4 and today enjoys his time in the pool, in the deep end too! Watching him during his swim lessons rekindled the thought of learning to swim. I started in the lap pool and over a brief period was able to make it to the other end – 25 meters. However this pool was 6 feet at the deep end and I could stand to safety. I struggled getting better in the water and my progress stalled at 4 laps. Have to emphasize here, I had completed 2 full marathons and multiple half marathons. So, stamina or endurance was not my issue. 

Chitra, my wife, suggested registering for a local sprint triathlon event. She was convinced that setting a goal and investing the registration dollars would give me enough drive to do better and be more disciplined in my training. So at the age of 42, I registered for my first sprint triathlon and began focusing more on my swim training. Slowly I progressed to completing 8 laps but was unable to do more. My event was 8 months away, when I spoke to my friend and workout buddy Chandu, an anesthesiologist. He volunteered to give me some basic coaching. Either he was a true friend or Chitra and he were planning to get me out of their way. His presence with me in the pool and motivation was a turning point. We began doing around 14 laps but my poor form ensured I was getting winded. In the event I had to cover 375 meters swim which was around 16 laps, cycle 13.1 miles and run 3.2 miles. 

Enter coach Georgia with whom I signed up for some personal swim lessons. She knew my goal and helped me with my technique and I was able to see huge improvements. I invested in a good road bike and my training was now in full swing. With 2 months to my event, confidence levels were reasonably good, a very supportive wife on the home front and friends motivating me, I had a good shot at completing the event. 

On race day, pressure was high and watching better swimmers, who had earlier starts, complete their swim in 4 to 7 minutes did not help my nerves. My time had come and I started strong, however after about 50 meters in the deep waters I experienced my first ever panic attack. With hundreds of people in the open water I felt like a rock! My mind was unable to control to my arms and legs. I was sinking!!40f8f542-04f7-4aad-9591-7b0695d91ab4

Barely managed to grab on to the buoy at the 75 meter round-about and hold onto for dear life. There were many others who were in a similar state. Two life guards were in the water trying to pull some folks to safety. Many thoughts crossed my mind and more importantly I was able to take a few deep breaths. This break would have been around 30 to 45 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. I began to swim again, however very soon I had the same sinking feeling. Now other swimmers were bumping against my hands & feet. If the first 75 meters were bad, it was only getting worse. In training, coach Georgia had taught me to roll over to backstroke, which I attempted to do. It was the right decision, enabling me to breathe deep and fast. It made a big difference, as I began to better my form and soon switched back to front strokes. This ordeal lasted 15:33 minutes and being able to stand back up on my feet never felt better. 

Transition 1 from swim to cycle took me 6:38 minutes and when I got onto my bike I was still not completely out of the shock. Slowly, my focus switched from saving my life to gaining lost time with my cycling speed. Both my cycling (49:07 minutes) and running (30:27 minutes) phases went as planned and my overall time was clocked at 1:45:21. IMG_5159

Looking back I could not have done this without the support of Chitra, the constant motivation from Chandu and life saving skills offered by my swim coach Georgia. So what’s next? I plan to participate in the same event again next year and my only goal is to walk out of the swim phase not having a panic attack.

Related data points:

  • School I attended: Barnes School, Devlali, Nashik, Maharastra, India
  • Event participated: Naperville Sprint Triathlon 2018
  • Others whose swimming skills inspired me: Nikhil P., Sara F. & James W.