Recently, a friend of mine asked me how do I manage to stay focused on eating healthy and exercising regularly? This question which I hear often always immediately takes me back to the Amalfi coast in western Italy. – Dr. Rob America’s Fitness Doctor®
I know…what does vacationing in Italy have to do with fitness?
We were traveling with a close group of friends through out southern Italy on our way to my mother’s homeland of Sicily. We made an over night stop in the Positano-Almalfi area and everyone in our group was tired and wanted to rest during the mid afternoon heat except for myself and my friend Stefano. We wanted to swim in the warm illuminated tortoise colored waters of the Mediterranean Sea calling us right out in front of our hotel.
So Stefano and I met out in front of the hotel while everyone else rested and we immediately walked to the soft sands of the beach, which was curiously absent of sunbathers. This becomes a rather important point shortly. We entered the warm waters of the sea and decided to swim out to a boat anchored a few hundred yards from shore. It was a small boat about 25 feet in length with a deck off the stern that you could sit on and rest while you entered or exited the water. We sat there for several minutes laughing about life, reminiscing about the fun time we had the night before, how we had too much to drink and we were glad our headaches were gone. We soaked in the incredible vista of the jagged Amalfi coast with all the colorful hotels and villas lining these spectacular cliffs while the warm breeze of the Mediterranean and the hot sun caressed our faces. Suddenly, a crusty, weather worn Italian man arises from the galley below screaming….Lasciare! Scendere la mia barca! He wanted us off his boat! We laughed, jumped into the warm waters and started swimming. We swan around for a little bit when Stefano spotted a cave a few hundred yards from us and said let’s swim to the cave and see what’s there. I said O.K. let’s go! He was about 10 yards in front of me. This was the last time I saw Stefano.
I always considered myself to be a fairly decent swimmer and never had any fear of the water. We were both swimming freestyle fashion to the cave when I felt a strange powerful sensation around me. I was swimming but not moving in the direction I wanted to go! I stopped to look around and get my bearing, Stefano was already not within my sight, and I was curiously farther away from the beach. I swam some more and then stopped again to get my bearing but this time found myself to be in the open sea out side the protection of the natural bay I was once surrounded by, I had been pulled by some mighty undercurrent out into the open sea. While I treaded water to once again get my bearing, I looked back at the colorful Italian cliffs to an empty beach and now boat less bay; this one of the most travelled and touristy spots in all of Italy was now deserted!
This is when fear struck like a lightning bolt! I was alone, tired and hung over from the frivolity of the night before and the realization that I was in real trouble grabbed me by the throat. The calm waters of the bay were gone and the 1-2 foot waves started to feel like 4-5 feet. Thankfully, I managed to calm myself quickly and knew that if I didn’t I would drain myself of energy fast. I started swimming parallel to the shore heading south figuring eventually I would swim out of the current that had pulled me away from the now distant, person less shoreline. As quickly as the undercurrent had pulled me out to sea against my will, I was suddenly released from its controlling grasp. Now free, but far from the recognizable shore there was to my south a jetty of man made cement blocks that reached out into the sea to create a break to protect a beach area. The closest point to safety.
My grandfather used to say to me “Roberto, dare tutto cio che hai!” Robert, give it all you got! Swimming slow but steady while trying to stay calm I made my way to the cement jetty, stopping every so often to get my bearing and stay on course all the while hoping I would not get swept away by another current or that a passing boat would come by to relieve my tiring body. I was quickly running out of energy and becoming quite fatigued. I kept getting a cramp in my left calf muscle and I would have to stop and try to massage it out. Then, that’s when it happened. I just ran out of steam. I felt my head go under, its like my body would just not move. I was amazing calm, was this it? Is this how I will leave this world? Quietly and alone in the middle of the sea? Then I had this vision of my kids reading a newspaper headline that said, “Doctor drowns in Amalfi on vacation!” The next thought that went thru my mind was “F–k That!” I wanted that next breath of sweet air more than I wanted anything else ever!
It was like someone shocked me with a car battery! I shot out of that water and started swimming on my right side. I got a massive surge of adrenaline that was powering me thru the crystal waters of the Mediterranean Sea. I kept swimming on my right side, eyes burning from the salt water, reaching out, and waiting to touch those cement blocks of the jetty when a wave suddenly slammed me into one. Relief, I made it. Now I had to climb up these cement octagon blocks the size of Volkswagen beetles. While trying to climb up on this first block that was covered in barnacles below the surface, I cut both of my feet. Little did I know rather deeply.
It was about a 200-yard climb crawl up and over and around this disorganized collection of cement octagons to a wooden dock that lead to the safety of the boardwalk and still person less shoreline. My feet stinging like they were full of razor blades from the cuts and seawater. When I made it to the end of the wooden dock I looked back to see my bloody footprints following to where I stood. I didn’t realize how badly I had cut my feet, but while I stood there looking back at what I had just swam through and climbed over blood pooled around my feet. I headed back to the hotel, not passing a soul, wondering, Where was Stefano?
I walked right through the lobby of the hotel leaving bloody footprints heading for the front desk to find some assistance, unbelievably not one single person! So I headed for my room to find my then resting wife, who asked, “how was your swim?” “ I lost Stefano!!” “Have you seen him?” I wrapped my feet with two hand towels and forced on some shoes and headed back down to the lobby and the beach to find my friend and get some help. As I exited the hotel, I spotted one person walking from the north end of the beach, opposite from where I struggled to reach safety. It was Stefano! Amazing! He never made the cave either and swam to the north to escape to undercurrent, finally reaching the beach.
On the flight back to the United States I had time to reflect on what had happened that day and the realization of how lucky I was and that being in reasonably good shape, exercising on a regular basis, keeping my cool and some luck on my side may have made all the difference. If not, the outcome may have been drastically opposite. I also realized I was not a good open water swimmer. I have always tried to my turn weakness into strengths. My near drowning experience in such a beautiful location sent me on a quest to become a better swimmer, which lead me to total immersion swimming and triathlons. http://www.totalimmersion.net/ I highly recommend this style of open water swimming if you would like to learn. Triathlons became my new passion and few years later little did I know I would be tested again! Being a triathlete saved my life and prepared me for a 2 year battle I didn’t see coming. I’ll save that story for another time.
As for living a healthy lifestyle, you never know when you are going to be tested physically. When your life may depend on your mental, physical and spiritual abilities and outlook. You have to want fitness like you want that next breath of air! I think back on that day and how differently things may have turned out. I think about the bloody footprints I left on the boardwalk after I climbed out of the sea and how my fitness, determination, and spirituality made all the difference. Which is why I say, “Fitness is the Footprint of Life…Follow It!”
Dr. Rob Kominiarek, America’s Fitness Doctor®
As a physician that specializes in male hormone optimization, I have witnessed first hand the true power of healthful living and the intelligent optimization of male hormones and the profound effects on individual patients lives. This is truly an exciting time for men’s health and fitness.
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