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May 22, 2017 8:00 AM EDT

I grew up in California, so I think I was always destined to love the water. As a kid, I was always diving into pools, lakes, the ocean, anywhere I could swim and splash around. But in March 2006, I almost drowned.

At one point in my young life, I was a Red Cross certified lifeguard and even performed two rescues at a major Santa Clara pool. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d find myself pulled out by a riptide off a Hamptons beach while body surfing.

For over 40 minutes, I struggled to stay above water while a lifeguard fought to reach me. I felt like I was in an ocean-sized washing machine stuck on the spin cycle, held under dark water. “I have no breaths left.” I remember saying this to myself over and over again as I pulled in tiny sips of air, with no time to exhale. When the young lifeguard finally arrived, he looked as scared as I was exhausted.

After that day, I was terrified to get back in the water. It took me five years before I even dipped a toe in the ocean again. Body surfing was an entirely different question.

At the start of each summer, I always think about that experience and what I learned from it — lessons I hope you can benefit from, too.

First, I come prepared with the proper equipment — whenever I plan on body surfing, I bring my trusty fins.

Second, I never swim alone. Teaming up with a couple friends who are strong swimmers only adds to the fun.

Third, I let go of the fear. This was the hardest part. Fear can paralyze you and hold you back from experiences you might cherish. I love the ocean so much, it hurt to rob myself of surfing adventures during some of my strongest years as an athlete.

But on a recent trip to Punta Mita, Mexico, I went out with a local surf instructor who pushed me to go for the big waves. The fear of drowning wasn’t at the front of my mind anymore. I put the joy of surfing, my amazing swim capabilities and my love of the ocean at the front of my board, and I went for it.

Stacey Griffith is a senior master instructor at SoulCycle and the author of Two Turns From Zero. Stacey’s motivational coaching style combines a passion for dance, athleticism and mind-blowing music — all set to the beat of her voice. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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