Tell somebody you plan to swim across Tampa Bay on a cold January morning and the first thing they'll ask is "Are you crazy?"
The water's cold — usually in the mid 50s. The currents are swift; the wind and waves unpredictable. The distance — 3 miles as the crow flies — is a challenge, even for experienced open-water swimmers.
But for some ex-lifeguards, age-group triathletes and former Navy SEALs, a swim across Tampa Bay is the only way to kick off the New Year.
"It's not easy," said Rory O'Connor, race director for the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim. "But if you finish, it's all downhill for the rest of the year."
More than 60 swimmers braved the frigid waters on Jan. 2, crossing from St. Petersburg's Gandy Beach to Tampa's Picnic Island. The winner covered the course in 1:03:20. Others took more than twice that long to finish.
Some swimmers were students. Others were stockbrokers. Their ages ranged from 16 to 77. Some trained for months; a few, only weeks. But they all shared one belief:
Attitude is everything
Take a quick survey around your office, school or neighborhood and see how many people have embarked on a new exercise program since Jan. 1.
Then, one month from now, go back and ask those same people how many have stuck to their plan. Chances are, not many.
The problem most people have with a new fitness regimen is they start off trying to train the body when they should be training the mind.
To paraphrase the great American inventor Henry Ford: If you think you can or you think you can't, either way you are right.
While it may sound like a cliche, a positive attitude is the only thing that will help you achieve your goals, whether it's a daily walk around the neighborhood or a winter's swim across Tampa Bay.
In other words, it's not just true that "attitude is everything'' — attitude is the only thing.
Set realistic goals
O'Connor, a former SEAL and U.S. Master's coach, has trained many swimmers over the years, so he knows how it goes.
"You are not going to start swimming today and swim across the bay tomorrow," he said. "But with the right program, you might work up to a mile in the pool. One mile becomes 2 miles, 2 miles becomes 3 miles, and then before you know it, you are swimming across the bay."
For those new to exercise, running a couple of blocks can be a challenge. If you're totally out of shape and decide that your three-month fitness goal is to complete a 5K, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.
But if you plan on simply doing more today than you did yesterday, each time building on previous accomplishments, you are on the path to success.
It might be as simple as walking a block then jogging two, then the next time, walking a block and jogging three. Or for you Frogman wanna-bes, swimming two laps then resting, and then the next day, swimming four laps then resting. Get the picture?
Failure is an option
You are going to get sick. You are going to get injured. There will be days when work, family or life in general will interfere with your exercise routine.
So get used to it: You will fail.
"The question is . . . how do you handle that failure?" asked Brody Welte of St. Petersburg's Stand Up Fitness. "Do you let it crush you? Or do you use it to your advantage?"
Welte encourages his clients to approach every meal, every exercise session, as an opportunity to do better.
"So you didn't have a good workout on Monday," he said. "Wednesday's a new day, another chance to do your best. Put the past behind you and move on."
Welte believes that most people are limited more by their minds than their bodies.
"Mental limitations are harder to overcome than physical limitations," he said. "You may think you can't do something, but if you ask it, your body will tell you it can."
Recipe for success
Excuses are easy to find as January turns into February and many of us give up on our New Year's resolutions.
It's too hot. It's too cold. The gym is too far, and too crowded. The exercise routine is too boring, too easy. Or too hard. The workday was too long. The kids are so demanding.
Blah, blah, blah.
"There is no magic bullet," said Welte. "In the end, there is only one thing that matters: commitment."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.