Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

With virtual reality expanding into our lives in myriad ways with equipment from mobile phones to Oculus Rift, our lives are being transformed to experience deeper and more powerful sensations through our minds, eyes, ears and tactic feel.

Music and storytelling are also being infused into the high-tech virtual reality to an even more profound extent with all kinds of contemporary hardware equipment and software applications. The explosive growth of VR is leading to new experiential situations while being sedentary in our homes or offices.

With virtual reality, our personal space can now be located anywhere doing anything at any time in human or interstellar history.

To a certain extent, this is what open water swimmers have been experiencing since they first stepped off shores and into the open water.

Open water swimmers have used their own senses to paint the canvas where and in which they ultimately want to swim. Instead of dreaming about a swim between or around islands, instead of hoping to swim in Kona along the coast of the Big Island in the Ironman triathlon, instead of imagining a swim across a frozen lake, an active imagination by a swimmer can enable himself or herself to envision a swim anywhere at any time.

Essentially, swimmers have been long practicing their own form of primitive virtual reality that enables them to experience a swim before they actually take a single arm stroke.

Swimmers can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ a swim across the English Channel while swimming in a lake far, far away from the shores of Dover. Swimmers can experience the joy of winning a race or an Olympic medal by virtualization either on dryland or in training. Swimmers can ‘hear’ the clicks and ‘see’ the dolphins swimming alongside and beneath them simply through their imagination.

Outside of the sounds of their arms entering the water, outside of the winds that churn up the water surface, open water swimmers experience much simply through their self-enclosed thoughts racing through the heads, sometimes in a systematic manner, but many times is an entirely random sequence.

And that perception in one’s mind can become reality in the open water.

When a swimmer begins to feel cold in the open water, do they work to compartmentalize those sensations in their minds and put the negativity aside in order to continue on? Or do they keep the sensation of cold on an endless reel, looping over and over i their minds as the cold literally feels like it settles in their bones and forcing them to get out?

If a swimmer begins to get tired in the open water, do they fast-forward to the end of the swim and visualize themselves triumphantly finishing the swim? Or do they dwell on the present and process the feelings of fatigue in a torturous slow motion reel?

Or years after a successful swim is completed, what do the swimmers remember best? What do they describe to their friends and families when their swim is in the distant past? Do they recall their final few strokes and standing relieved on shore or do they vividly remember the depths of feelings when they wanted to quit? Do they dwell on the feelings of pain or discomfort or fatigue – or are those feelings placed in a mental box that are discarded or ignored?

Swimmers can be their own director of their perceptions; their minds are their own canvas to imagine dreams and recall experiences long past or just in the moment.

What goes through the minds of open water swimmers before, during and after a swim is their own virtual reality where perception becomes reality.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association