Sam McNair

It’s entirely possible that I am both the newest, and the oldest #TeamSelkie member. Newest, in that I was selected only a week or so ago, and oldest… well, in the most literal sense of the word.

I’m in pretty good shape now, but the excesses of my twenties, followed by the demands of career and parenthood in my thirties and forties, had taken a toll. Decades of poor eating habits and no history of any sort of fitness regimen left me overweight, hypertensive, motivationally challenged and physically compromised at midlife.

By some stroke of unimaginable luck, not long after my fiftieth birthday, I met and befriended an extremely talented young swim coach who convinced me that swimming could help set me on a course for health and wellness. He agreed to coach me one-on-one, and train alongside me with the goal of competing at the 2013 US Masters Swimming Spring National Championships. Bear in mind that in fifty years I had never trained or competed at any sport, neither as a member of a team, nor individually. I became his personal challenge, and taught me that I could do a bit more each day than I had thought was possible…

I did compete at Nationals that year and the next, and while I didn’t come away with any place medals, I dropped time in every event, and finished on par for my age group – roughly the equivalent of Olympic gold in my universe!

As it turns out, I seem to enjoy preposterous challenges. For example, having noticed my social media posts about swimming, a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years invited me to join his 3-person relay team to swim around Key West in summer 2014. My part of the relay would be 4.5mi/7.2km. In case you’re not familiar, that’s an island. An entire island. With sharks. And jellyfish. And all manners of live seafood… So naturally I said yes. We finished it – not first, but definitely not last. We felt like champions.

If I could manage an ocean swim like that, my coach reckoned I would have no problem with a 10-mile swim down the Tennessee River. And so “Swim the Suck” 2015 (named for the point along the race course where Suck Creek empties into the river) became my first marathon swim.

I have many swim buddies, but John, well-matched for me as a marathon swimmer, is really more of a co-conspirator… John swam the 10-miler with me, and afterward, while eating our collective weight in tacos, he was already planning our next even more preposterous swim.

June 2016, I went back to Florida, this time with John. We both completed the 12.5mi/20km solo swim around Key West, 10 minutes apart, in about 6 hours. That evening, we ate ALL the seafood, and plotted…

Next summer, we are literally swimming to Canada and back – 15 miles / 24 kilometers. Preposterous.

Over my short 4-year competitive swimming career, I’ve met dozens of fantastic swimmers – both pool and open water – who not only help keep it interesting, but who also support and encourage each other. I’ve organized a group on social media called #swimstory that brings together hundreds of swimmers worldwide, from all backgrounds, ages, and levels of experience, from Olympians to relative newcomers like me. The idea is to challenge each other to do a little more each day than we thought was possible… to write our own swim stories every day. I’m very proud to continue my swim story here with #TeamSelkie.

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