As Joanna Cooper appeared out over San Francisco Bay on July 9, her husband was nowhere to be discovered.
She frightened that he had been swallowed up by one of many huge, darkish waves pounding the shore — or worse, by one of many sharks swimming under. Grey clouds held on the horizon, and a singular white boat was seen in entrance of the looming silhouette of Alcatraz.
It had been slightly below two hours since Don Cooper dove into the waves. By Joanna’s rely, he ought to have been about three-quarters of the best way by means of his 4-mile swim across the island jail.
Proper as she launched right into a prayer for Don’s secure return, Joanna noticed a person emerge from the water and sprint by means of the finish-line flags. It took her a couple of moments to understand that it was her husband, who had arrived in file time.
Don Cooper, 65, reached the shore in a single hour and 49 minutes, good for third general, second out of all males and first in his age group. The one swimmers in entrance of him have been a pair of teenage siblings.
“I used to be on the seaside earlier than (Joanna) even noticed me,” Cooper stated, prompting amusing from his spouse.
Cooper, a dentist from Goodlettsville, trains for open-water swimming seven days per week. Whether or not he is swimming in Percy Priest Lake because the solar rises or counting laps at Centennial Sportsplex, Cooper by no means misses a day. He has competed in a couple of dozen open-water races throughout the western hemisphere, from Bermuda to San Francisco.
It would not matter to Cooper that the situations he races in are hardly ever corresponding to the glassy waters of Percy Priest. It is all simply water.
“Simply being sturdy and swimming each day is crucial factor,” Cooper stated.
‘Respiration is extremely overrated’
Cooper is not afraid of sharks.
They’re principally bottom-feeders, he stated, so sharks aren’t price worrying about.
As a substitute, his greatest concern heading into the Alcatraz race was the chilly. The water temperature was round 50 levels. However his wetsuit, bought particularly for the race, stored the chilly at bay.
With these worries comfy, Cooper had one other problem forward of him: respiratory. With wind whipping over the water and swells crashing over him with each stroke, Cooper was fortunate if he received a full breath even a 3rd of the instances he tried.
“Respiration is extremely overrated,” Cooper stated.
Cooper has carried that mantra with him since he started open-water swimming a couple of decade in the past. He realized it from his coach, Olympic gold medalist Ashley Whitney.
Her roots are in pool racing, however Whitney discovered a renewed love in open-water swimming as she grew older.
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Now, Whitney encourages all of her masters swimmers — adults like Cooper trying to keep aggressive — to strive open-water swimming.
For former school and aggressive swimmers, open water gives a change of tempo. For these like Cooper, who took up aggressive swimming later in life, it is a method to enhance with out fixing on finest instances.
“In open water, each day you possibly can swim the identical course or identical distance in the identical lake or river, however no two days are going to be alike,” Whitney stated. “I really like the concept there isn’t any evaluating.”
‘It is lovely. It is quiet
Whitney inspired Cooper to strive open-water swimming about eight years in the past when she joined the Nashville Aquatic Membership as a coach. She, Cooper and quite a few his teammates typically journey to races collectively.
At Alcatraz this yr, although, Cooper was on his personal. Joanna was on the shore, cheering him on, however Cooper did not see a single different swimmer the complete time he was within the water. Every time he appeared as much as test his progress, all Cooper might see was the white pacing boat in entrance of him.
That feeling of isolation was a well-recognized one.
He as soon as swam from the island of Nevis to St. Kitts within the Caribbean, and for the complete 2.5 miles, he by no means noticed one other swimmer.
“You simply put your head down, maintain going, and benefit from the swim,” Cooper stated.
Open-water swimming is a completely totally different beast in comparison with swimming in a pool. There aren’t any flip turns, no laps to rely and no partitions to the touch.
It is an much more individualized sport, that means that Cooper can tailor his exercises and races to his actual pursuits.
“You are simply on the market by your self,” Cooper stated. “Within the mornings once I swim at Percy Priest and the solar’s developing, it is lovely. It is quiet.”
‘Man, I am not going to make it’
Joanna Cooper has been a steadfast supporter of her husband’s open-water swimming profession because it started. If she’s not on shore for a race, it is as a result of she’s in a kayak alongside him.
However that does not imply she all the time loves watching him swim.
“I cheer him on, however actually I sit and pray,” Joanna stated. “I get very nervous when he is swimming.”
“Particularly on that one,” Cooper stated of the Alcatraz swim, “as a result of I actually did not know what to anticipate in that swim. … A number of instances I assumed, ‘Man, I am not going to make it.'”
A number of of their six youngsters will typically be a part of Joanna on the shore or in a kayak to cheer on their father.
“They transfer collectively and are so supportive of him,” Whitney stated. “It is actually neat to see that household surroundings being so supportive like that.”
Cooper’s teammates are equally supportive, and Whitney thinks they rally round him due to his management qualities. Plus, his smile by no means leaves his face, she stated.
“Everyone desires to swim in Don’s lane,” Whitney stated.
He is received a drawer filled with awards from the final eight years, however he would not show any of them. He isn’t within the sport for the glory.
He is in it for his spouse, his children, his teammates and his coach.
“The swimming a part of it’s nice,” Cooper stated. “However the social a part of having someone to be there with you and work out each day is even higher.”