Overcoming fear of open water to complete AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds

17 May, 2022

Overcoming fear of open water to complete AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds

Just the thought of not being able to touch the bottom or see underneath the surface of open water would cause Tora Oetgen to panic. But at AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds, the Tri Bramley Baths club member didn’t let her fear of open water get in the way of completing the course, in fact the Waterloo Lake swim was her favourite part of the event.

“I’ve always had a thing with water, even when I was younger,” Oetgen said. “I used to get freaked out if I was the only person in a swimming pool. I would literally panic and think there was something else in the water with me. It was totally irrational because I know I’m in a pool and there can be nothing else in there.

“My mind would take over and I would just have to race to get out of the pool. Open water I’m the same. When I was younger, I would only go into the water if there were lots of people and if I was the furthest person out, I couldn’t deal with that. I would have to come in.

“If I’m in a river or the sea and I try to touch the bottom and I can’t, I freak out. Even now if I go open water swimming I don’t try and put my feet down because if I try to and I can’t feel the bottom I freak out.

“I did do a triathlon at Castle Howard, and I had to swim breaststroke because I couldn’t put my head in the water and I completely freaked out the whole way round. By the time I finished the swim I could barely walk. The bike and run were basically non-existent because I just freaked out so much in the water, I just couldn’t do it.”

That wasn’t going to stop Oetgen continuing to be involved in swim, bike, run including entering her home triathlon event at AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds.

Ahead of last year’s event, Oetgen attended coached swim sessions at her local club Tri Bramley Baths and also found other methods to help when swimming in open water.

“Tri Bramley Baths were super welcoming and they’re very much set-up for a range of abilities and adjusting coaching accordingly,” Oetgen commented. “Learning to be more efficient and comfortable in the water meant when I went back into open water I could swim comfortably, and it allowed me to focus on the mental block side of it rather than the swimming side.

“We did some open water swimming in preparation for Leeds and that was a real help, especially being able to find what works for me with breathing. Regular breaths after each stroke were a way of me keeping my mind busy focusing on the rhythm when breathing, but it also meant my head was never in the water for that long at a time.

“I also did a couple of Wim Hof’s breathing techniques and I have a cold shower every morning. I feel that has actually helped me. I know it’s not as cold as going in a lake, but the cold water was another thing I didn’t have to worry about. I knew how to swim so I wasn’t worried about that, I was comfortable with the temperature of the water, I just needed to focus on breathing and getting round.”

Oetgen put the methods she had tried to the test when she pushed off into Waterloo Lake at AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Championship Leeds last summer. Having enjoyed her debut experience, Oetgen will be back on the start line in 2022.

“I got into the water and I just focused on what I had practiced, doing one stroke at a time and I think I shocked myself,” Oetgen reflected on last year’s experience. “I think Roundhay is a really good one for the swim because it’s not too big that you feel like you’re in the middle of a massive lake, you can see the shore, you feel quite close and there’s loads of safety kayaks there, so it just feels safe.

“I actually thought ‘I’m really enjoying this’ a couple of times during the swim. By the time I got out, I actually had a bit of energy to run up transition, so that was a really good start because normally I’m so freaked out during the swim. But it was probably my best and favourite element of the three on that day.

“I have entered again this year. It’s the atmosphere, and there’s a lot of people doing it from the club so it’s great to be able to do it with people you know and see familiar faces out on the course.

“I only initially started triathlon to do it as a challenge with a friend but the reason I’m still doing it now is I was so impressed with how encouraging and friendly everyone is within triathlon. Everyone is super friendly, I just enjoyed the whole atmosphere and experience.”

Entries for AJ Bell 2022 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds on 11-12 June are open until 22 May, with opportunities to compete in different distances and as a team in Roundhay Park.

The event brings together swim, bike, run novices before the elite athletes take to the park for world ranking points. Find out more and book your place here.

There is also a series of GO TRI open water swimming for beginner sessions being held at Roundhay Park ahead of AJ Bell 2022 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds, starting on Thursday 19 May.

The sessions are perfect for anyone new to open water swimming who would like support in preparing for the Leeds event. The dates of the upcoming sessions and where to register can be found below.

Thursday 19 May, 18:30-19:30

Saturday 21 May, 10:30-11:30

Thursday 26 May, 18:30-19:30

Saturday 28 May, 10:30-11:30

To find more GO TRI Active open water swimming sessions, visit gotri.org/whats-on.