Don’t Meet Your Heroes.

Susan Kelley
5 min readFeb 8, 2024

Even If They Are Turtles.

Photo by the author, Gulf of Mexico 2024.

The old adage, “Don’t meet your heroes, because they’re sure to disappoint you,” holds true even if your hero experience is silently swimming with an old sea turtle. In this case, though, the turtle didn’t disappoint me — I think I disappointed the turtle.

I love being outdoors. I love swimming and biking. I adore hiking into places I once thought only my dogs could scurry. Years ago while hiking in Zion, my son (then just twelve years old) and I scrambled up rock faces and into crevices just wide enough for us to slide through. It was glorious.

On my bucket list was swimming with sea turtles. These beautiful beings, sometimes close to a hundred years old, moving in blissful silence under tropical waters, fascinated me. Their quiet elegance and grace was something I very much wanted to observe, to be able to grasp onto and hold when I needed some of that quiet and calm in my life.

I’ve seen sea turtles of various sizes and ages in aquarium venues, of course. The Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquariaum has a gorgeous one. I now live in Baltimore, home of the National Aquarium, and it is spectacular. I could watch the graceful swimmers for hours at a time. They seem to fully embody the character of “wise, old turtle” that is in so many children’s books. But they also seem so captive, so unnatural, despite the efforts to make their surroundings comfortable and nature-like.

I am a strong swimmer, and imagined the experience of swimming with these magnificent sea creatures to be an idyllic natural moment. As it turns out, it was anything but. At least I think so.

I was scheduled to be in Tulum, Mexico for a destination wedding. The wedding was actually of a friend and former employee of my partner, so I was watching people I barely knew exchange their vows on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. My partner and I decided to turn the wedding weekend into a longer getaway so that we could bike, walk, and otherwise explore the quaint surroundings of Tulum which is still largely undeveloped and unruined by dominant tourism. As part of the trip, we booked an excursion to swim in a small cenote and go snorkeling in the gulf specifically with the promise of…



Susan Kelley

Susan is a runner, a mom of 3 grown children, and an avid traveler. She writes about humans, and wrote a book about false accusations of sexual assault.