Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dream #1 : Swim with Manatees

The first time I ever went kayaking in Florida, I experience manatees first hand, as I paddled my hardest to the channel bank and began screaming "What was that thing!?"

That trip began an eleven year love story between me and those beautiful gentle giants. I did as much research as possible on manatees, collected manatees figurines, and deep in my heart, I began to have a dream to swim with the manatees. And finally, after much waiting, my opportunity came.
Thursday morning came quickly as the alarm rang at 4:50am. I immediately jumped out of bed, bright-eyed and ready to go. I slept in my bathing suit the night before so I wouldn't waste time getting dressed. My stepdad, my cousin and I got into the car and drove 25 minutes to meet up with "Captain Mike". We arrived at the Tour Center, where we were quickly shuffled into a room to put on our wetsuits. Afterwards, we sat down and watched a deliciously 1980s film on keeping the manatees safe and how to swim with them safely. Captain Mike began passing out blankets to us and we boarded the short bus to ride down to the boat.

We boarded the boat and began our 30 minute boat ride to get to the headsprings to begin our swim. The sun had not even risen at that point. It was pitch black dark and still very very cold. 26 degree cold. Kayla (my cousin) and I huddled together to attempt to keep warm with our blankets, but within five minutes I literally could not feel my feet. The guy driving the boat (also named Mike, but not to be confused with Captain Mike) explained to us how to swim with the manatees (horizontal! Never vertical!) and explained how to use our snorkel...he also kept stressing the importance of being quiet, being gentle, utilizing the dead man float, and just letting the manatees come to you.

By 7:00am or so, we arrived to the headsprings and began our journey to the water. Boat drive Mike put de-fog solution in our goggles and put float-aides to help us float better. And one by one we got into the water. Surprisingly, although it was 26 degrees outside, the water was a constant 72 degrees year round, and it felt like bath water. As I floated in the water and let my fingers and toes de-thaw, I decided it was time to finally start my swim. And I fixed my goggles and snorkel and went under water.

And began having an anxiety attack.

Oh yeah, did I explain that I had an intense fear of open bodies of water. No one can prepare for exactly how LARGE a manatee is face to face. Boat driver Mike tried to prepare us, but even his warning (they are alot bigger than you think) could not even prepare me for being face to face with a 15 foot long, 2000 pound underwater mammal. I came out of the water telling them that I didn't think I could do this and that I was starting to freak out. Boat Driver Mike (lets just start calling him Mike) said "theres nothing in the water that can hurt you".

And it hit me. This was my biggest and most attainable dream to date and that I was living it and more importantly I could not let my fear overwhelm my dream. And with this revelation, I went back underwater and began to enjoy myself.

Manatees are alot like mischievious little cats. They love playing with string and ropes, and will interact with you similarly to a cat. One particular mantee that was nicknamed Snuggles, kept coming to me and wanting me to pet him and he kissed my hand. Another manatee came to me and rolled around so I would pet his belly. During our hour and a half swim, we were surrounded by as few as a dozen manatees and as many as 20. They ranged in sizes from 5 feet up to 15 feet. Some were as big as a human (babies) some were as much as a van. They were beautiful....I would swim and look them in the eyes and just melted when their eyes met mine. I pet each and every one of them and enjoyed every moment. Each one was unique...they had algae on their backs, and one had hair on his body, and each bore scars on their backs from careless boat drivers who have hit them. In my head I was singing David Crowders version of "All Creatures of Our God and King" was the most magical and beautiful experience I have had in a very long time. And well worth the 11 year wait.

When it was time to leave, it had warmed up to a nice 30 degrees outside. As we got dressed icycles formed in our hair. My hands were so cold I could not even button my pants. I lost feeling in my hands and feet. But despite all of these things, nothing could wipe the smile that was on my face.
So after enduring 26 degree weather, getting up at 4:50am, and conquering my intense fear of water...I lived my dream. So my challenge to you is - what would you endure to live your dream? Never give up. Never let anything stop you.

Don't let your fear overwhelm your dream.

(on a side note - the wonderful people at Walgreens, who are all genius's, did not really know what they were doing as they opened my water proof disposable camera, over exposing all the film and in turn, ruining every single picture I had take of me and the I have no pictures of the actual manatees and me...but here are some highlights)

posted by Sarah W @ 10:23 PM  


  • At 10:00 AM , Blogger Kara said...

    I'm proud of you Sarah! Overcame your fear of the water to live out a huge dream! That is AWESOME! I am also proud of you that you didn't BEAT anyone at walgreens. Sorry your pictures didn't turn out. That sucks!


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