Having grown up playing in the ocean, I’m pretty comfortable in the open water. I know for many the open water swim portion of a triathlon is terrifying for many reasons – the strength of the ocean, the unpredictability of the tides and currents, and the unknown that lies beneath. As a child, I wasn’t afraid of much in the ocean other than the fleeting thought that I might get pulled into a rip current and have to be saved by a lifeguard. However, as I’ve gotten older and learned more about the dangers of the ocean (or maybe just finally listened), my feelings on the ocean have grown from apathy to respect . Although I am still not afraid of the ocean, I am a bit more cautious about how I approach it, especially after being stung by a sting ray in Costa Rica a couple years ago!
Another reason I’m more cautious about the ocean is because a few years ago I heard about a man who was swimming in North County San Diego and was fatally wounded by a shark. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the sport of triathlon and had never heard of the Triathlon Club of San Diego. I actually had never even been to Solana Beach or Fletcher Cove, where the incident took place. After moving to North County in January of 2011 and spending quite a bit of time in Solana Beach and specifically Fletcher Cove, which the restroom and water station for many of my long runs as well as the site of my first sprint triathlon, Fletcher Cove is no longer the place that “some guy” was bit by a shark.
This past Sunday I participated in a memorial swim for the man who was bit and killed that day. His name was David Martin, a 66 year old retired veterinarian who was swimming with 8 fellow SD Tri Club members in preparation for an upcoming triathlon and ended up swimming right into the path of a shark. A few of the members of the triathlon club were just ahead of him when he was attacked and one woman was swimming very close to him. They could hear him scream and yell “shark” during the attack. Unfortunately, the shark took three bites before he decided Dr. Martin wasn’t the meal he was looking for and these bites were enough to end his life.
This past Sunday, about 50 triathletes and members of the community joined together to honor Dave’s life with a 1 mile memorial swim. We met at Fletcher Cove and suited up. Soon after we were ready to swim, the woman who had been swimming close-by during the attack stood up and said some words about Dave and explained that once we swam past the waves, we’d stop for a moment of silence. There would also be lifeguard support on a paddle board for us while we were swimming.
The water was cold, as usual, but once we got in it felt just fine. Once we got past the waves, we took a group picture and as promised, took a moment of silence to remember Dave. Then we swam the 1/2 mile south, stopped and waited for the others to reach us, and then turned around and headed back in. Once we arrived back at shore and cleaned up, we enjoyed a meal together.
Although I didn’t know Dave and I am a new member of the triathlete community, I was greatly touched by this memorial swim and I was very happy to be included in it. I’m sure there won’t be many open water swims that I don’t think about Dave and what happened to him. I would be lying if I said that the thought of shark approaching me doesn’t cross my mind during every open water swim, even before this memorial brought the memory back. However, I try to give myself reassurance that shark attacks are rare and what happened to Dave was certainly not a reason to give up the sport that I love.
If you’d like to watch the Fox newscast about this event, you can watch it here: