One week ago, on a cold, gray Christmas morn, feeling particularly fat and lazy after a week of eating holiday treats, I decided to take a swim.
The water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico was 64 degrees, which is cool, if not downright cold, to most Floridians, but quite comfortable to the majority of hard-core open-water swimmers.
There was a time in my younger days when I would not let something as minor as water temperature interfere with my extracurricular activities. But over the years I have become soft, some might say sissified, by the creature comforts of an easy family life.
Recently, I have been more concerned about catching the latest sale at Toys 'R' Us than catching a killer swell kicked up by the last winter cold front.
But that all changed Christmas Eve when my friend, Lt. Mark Lampman of the U.S. Navy SEALS, invited me on a leisurely morning PT (physical training) session.
"I figure we'll swim across Tampa Bay and then run back," he said. "That should make for a nice little workout."
Having not yet finished my Christmas shopping, I declined. To be quite honest, I had been in the woods a lot in December, lost track of time and figured that I had at least another week until the big day.
Afterward, when Lampman and his friend Tim Martin, a former SEAL, told me what great fun they had braving the chilly waters of Tampa Bay, I decided to make a New Year's resolution, hoping it would help me once again achieve he-man status.
I thought about giving up meat, beer or coffee, which would be good for my health but might also accelerate my rate of sissification. So instead I decided to swim, paddle, surf or dive every day in the ocean or some other body of water, i.e., lake, river, spring (or pool if need be) in 2010, so help me Neptune.
But why wait until New Year's, I thought? So faced with the choice of picking up a half ton of wrapping paper off the living room floor or busting out a mile swim in the cold, gray gulf, I chose the latter.
I called my friend Darry Jackson to be my swim buddy. As any Navy SEAL will tell you, never swim alone. Always bring a friend because it cuts your chances of being the one in a shark attack by 50 percent.
Jackson, an ex-Green Beret, is a veteran open-water swimmer. He recommended that since we were both old and slow, we should bring along somebody young and fast to act as a blocker, or as you fishermen might call it, a teaser.
When trolling offshore for big fish, you always drag one of your baitfish out in front of the others. It "teases" the fish and often draws the most strikes. Sam Farnan, a high school senior who recently received a nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy, was happy to swim out front and intercept any predators.
So we swam in the surf roughly a mile, from Pass-A-Grille's Hurley Park to the Don Cesar, following the course the St. Pete Mad Dogs take every Wednesday evening during the warmer months.
The triathlon club, by the way, is hosting its annual Hair of the Dog triathlon at noon today on Fort De Soto's North Beach. The entry fee for the ¼-mile swim, 10-mile bike and 3.1-mile run is one used, but hopefully laundered, race T-shirt. For information, go to www. stpetemaddogs.com.
Even if you are not up for a full triathlon, come out and do the swim. The water is cold, but that is why man created wet suits. When the water drops below 70 degrees, I put on the neoprene. My Zoot wet suit, which was built for triathletes, fits like a glove and is as comfortable as swimming naked.
However, whether to "skin it" is a matter of personal preference. Last week, Lt. Lampman decided to swim sans rubber. His swim buddy Martin, however, chose to wear a wet suit.
Martin defended his decision and pointed to Lampman's God-given layer of insulation. "He's got 5 percent higher body fat than me," said Martin, who hopes to be out of the country by the time Lampman reads this column.
In the past, wet suits for high-activity sports such as swimming and surfing have been uncomfortable at best. But advances in wet suit technology have made these second skins so comfortable that there is no longer any excuse to stay out of the water even when the temperature is below freezing.
My old surfing wet suit made me feel like the Mummy as I clawed my way into each passing wave. My new Rip Curl F-Bomb wet suit is as light and comfortable as a set of ballet tights.
But I digress. Next Christmas, no matter how cold, wet and windy it is, you will find me standing beneath the American flag at Hurley Park on Pass-A-Grille beach, getting ready for my 359th water session of 2010. I hope to see you there.
Terry Tomalin, who is expected to swim in the Hair of the Dog triathlon today, can be reached at (727) 893-8808.