Close your eyes and think of a basketball player. Close your eyes and think of an airline pilot. Close your eyes and think of an open water swimmer.

In the first case with a basketball player, what do you see? A tall individual, much taller than average. In the second case with an airline pilot, what do you see? An well-poised, taller than average man with a pilot’s cap on? In the third case with the open water swimmer, what do you see?

Do you imagine Ous Mellouli from Tunisia or Kevin Murphy from Great Britain? Thomas Lurz of Germany or Ned Denison from Ireland? Do you imagine a line-up of wetsuited swimmers in Wellington at the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series or in Windermere at the Great Swim? Do you imagine the 16-year-old Larisa Ilchenko of Russia or the 61-year-old Pat Gallant-Charette of the USA. Do you imagine an older husky man swimming in cold water or a younger female swimming in tropical waters? Do you imagine serious channel swimmers or casual athletes lining up for a mile swim in a lake?

Or do you imagine all of these people? Or no particular imagine comes to mind at all?

Whether it is a sport or a profession, many (or most) people have a default assumption on the type of individual who is best suited or traditional for that role. It could be a doctor or an engineer or a triathlete or a cyclist. But our default assumptions have been acknowledged on the scientific side and shaped by society’s traditional expectations.

But with the open water swimming world exploding with an increasingly greater number of participants, venues and events, our default assumption may not yet be formed or may be shaped by our own particular niche in the sport.

A triathlete’s view may be influenced by those attired in neoprene while a channel swimmer’s perspective is influenced by those coated in lanoline. Someone from inland areas imagine lake swimmers and those on the coast imagine ocean swimmers. Those in the South Pacific imagine swimming in hues of sea green and royal blue under bright skies and rainbows while those in Ireland may imagine darker shades of sea and sky.

The beauty of it all is that the default assumptions are all right. As diversified are the waterways and coastlines of the open water world, so are its swimmers.

Photos of the Swim Across America event in Long Beach.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source