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Facing your fears head on

By Mike Wilber, Special to CNN
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Fit Nation team member Mike Wilber adjusts his swim cap before entering the ocean in San Clemente, California.
Fit Nation team member Mike Wilber adjusts his swim cap before entering the ocean in San Clemente, California.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mike Wilber was afraid of flying and of swimming in the ocean
  • With the Fit Nation team, he learned to face his fears and fight back
  • Follow Mike's journey training for a triathlon on Twitter @TriHardMike

Editor's note: Mike Wilber is one of six CNN viewers selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program. Follow the "Sassy Six" on Twitter and Facebook as they train to race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on September 14.

(CNN) -- Fear is something that consumes all of us at one time or another. What matters is whether you let your fear control you or parts of your decision-making? And if so, is fear something we can improve upon?

Before I was selected to be a part of Fit Nation, I was afraid of flying. Let me rephrase that -- I was scared to death of flying.

What could possibly go wrong? Many things ran through my head. A plane crash. Oxygen deprivation. A panic attack.

Another fear I had was swimming in large bodies of water. I knew how to swim; I grew up with a pool at my house. I was very comfortable swimming in a pool because I could see the bottom. You can't see the bottom of the ocean when you swim in it.

What could possibly go wrong? A shark attack. Oxygen deprivation. A panic attack.

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I came to realize that I was missing out on things because of my fears. I would only vacation in places I could drive to. In fact, last October, my partner Joy and I drove 14 hours to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for a long weekend. We could have gotten a sweet rate on round-trip airfare and had more time at the beach, but I elected to drive instead.

I was beyond excited when I was selected for Fit Nation in December. But fear quickly took over when I realized that not only did Fit Nation involve swimming in the ocean but also two trips to California (somewhere beyond even my driving desire).

I was scared. Yet I wanted to be part of Fit Nation so badly that I knew I would have to meet both of these fears head on.

In January, I was scheduled to fly to Atlanta for kick-off weekend. As the days got closer, I grew more anxious. People began to tell me stories about their first flying experience; some had flown as children, unaccompanied, to visit family. Another friend told me she traveled often for her job; she flew more than 140 times last year.

I began to wonder what could possibly go wrong. Seeing another part of the country? Visiting people I hadn't seen in years? Finishing a triathlon?

I came to realize that I was looking at the worst possible scenario instead of the best-case scenario.

I decided that I had to take a chance. Fortunately for me, my first flight was a short one. I kept telling myself that millions of people fly every day and nothing happens -- except that they get to their desired destinations and go about their business.

I have now flown four different times, including cross-country twice. And I have found that I actually enjoy flying.

During our midway training trip in California, we started our swim training in a lap pool. I could see the bottom; I was in control; no problem.

Then came our first training session in the ocean. I was nervous -- sweaty palms and all, as I listened to our instructions. But as my coach explained dolphin diving (a technique used by swimmers to get under a wave) I began to feel a sense of confidence. It was almost as if I knew what I had to do, and there wasn't anything that was going to stop me.

Was my fear of the ocean, or of the unknown? People who have swum less than me had completed this challenge; what was holding me back? One of the lifeguards set a buoy at 150 yards. My teammate and I swam out to it without any problems. I remember treading water, talking to him, thinking: "I just swam 150 yards out into the ocean. This isn't bad."

Over the next few days, I completed four different swims in the Pacific Ocean, including a mock triathlon distance of 400 yards.

Can your fears go away? I feel completely different about flying and swimming in the ocean than I did a year ago. I actually enjoy flying now and look forward to heading back to sunny California in September. Although something can be said for long car trips with your family, I think back to the hours that could have been spent relaxing and enjoying vacation instead of being behind the wheel.

I also look forward to swimming once again in the Pacific Ocean. I wouldn't say I'm a risk-taker, but I think I am more willing to take a chance on things now. One of my favorite quotes I say to my athletes is, "If you do what you always do, you get what you always get."

Don't let your fears stand in your way of "getting" something more!

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