Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Penny Dean recalled her goals as a channel swimmer. “I had three goals whenever I swam. To successfully make it across. To set a record. And to accomplish my goal time.”

Dean, the last person to concurrently hold both the records for the Catalina Channel and English Channel (of which she still holds the Catalina Channel record in 7 hours 15 minutes set in 1976) and a long-time coach, knows well that disappointment is part and parcel of the open water swimming community.

With so many variables inherent in the sport – many of which are completely out of the control of the swimmer – disappointment is not unusual for every athlete in the open water swimming world, at least at some point during their careers.

Last week, Susan Simmons attempted a 105 km swim in Cowichan Lake in Canada. She did not finish, but remained positive about her experience. “What a crazy adventure that was. So much learned and so much still to learn. This truly is one crazy sport.”

Her swim was cut short due to an upset stomach. “It seems that no matter what I do and what the conditions are like on the lake my tummy starts to give me issues at the 5 hour mark. I tried a few simple tricks to avoid feeding the fish, but I knew 9 hours in where things were headed.

About one hour later, all I wanted to do was go to sleep which was quite strange as it was still quite early for me. My crew, my amazing crew, tried everything they could think of. As it got darker, it became harder and hard to fight it. I was stopping about every 500 meters to make sure I wouldn’t fall asleep, and then when I stopped, my head would drop forward into the water as I fell asleep. My crew would shout out to me and then I would swim again to keep awake. This went for over 5 hours until I finally decided it just was not going to happen this year.”

Disappointment for sure. But open water swimmers accept the situation and move on.

Simmons continued, “I haven’t given up. In some ways dealing with this is like how I deal with multiple sclerosis. I have a symptom that gets in the way of my daily living and I just have to figure out a way to work through it or in this case swim with it.

It’s quite frustrating as my body was not tired so I know I could have gone a lot longer. I just need to work a few things out.”

In America, one of its most popular Olympic athletes, Missy Franklin, similarly faced disappointments in Rio. Although she ended with one gold medal in a relay, her results were judged to be far south of her performances at the 2012 London Olympics – both by herself and her fans.

But she touched many of her fans and Olympic spectators with her grace and humility in light of her obvious disappointment. She offered no excuses or reasons. She continued to be positive and supportive of her teammates – and that demeanor certainly does not equal failure. “Someone like Missy who wins with grace and does not win with even more grace and character will never fail,” remarked coach and waterman Bruckner Chase.

Franklin admitted to NBC in a post-Olympic interview, “I am taking some time with [my performances]. By far, it has been the most disappointment that I have faced.

I did the best that I possibly could, but it just wasn’t my week. It is heartbreaking. Sometimes, you do everything that you possibly can, and it is still not there. You have to keep pushing forward.”

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association