I have been trying to figure out what I would write to summarize all that I have felt over the last week and how to describe the experience. I have come to the conclusion that I do not think I could ever find the exact words to convey just what I am feeling. The journey itself, moving down the river with a fun, supportive, responsible, driven crew of people, far exceeded my expectations. Karen Throsby did an excellent job in trying to describe the 8 bridges operation in all its logistical complexity, in her blog: Metaphors. So much goes into each and every day that it is a wonder we were able to ship-off each day on time…but we did. How? Well, first, I think we need to go back to the beginning. This swim started as a thought by David Barra and was carried to fruition with the help of Rondi Davies. After testing the waters themselves, the event evolved into a well-oiled machine.
I believe these two alone, and what they created, is what makes this event special to its core. They have felt the water, they have swam through each stage, they understand – mentally and physically – what is involved and what each swimmer goes through. They are there, each day, on the water, going through each stage with the swimmers and their crew. They have given all of us in the open water swimming community, an opportunity to chase our dreams. For some, it is tackling one stage, for others it is getting through multiple stages, and most have far deeper reasons for attempting any of the stages.
For me, I cannot fully explain the “why” but I will say that this journey has changed me. It has taught me that my mind is stronger than I thought and while my emotions still remained soft, physically, I fought harder than I believed I could and won those fights. You learn a lot about yourself as you spend hours upon hours swimming. You also learn a lot about others. I learned that not everyone is out for themselves, and on this river, in this event, no one is. I learned that there were people that genuinely wanted to see me thrive, grow and achieve – and when I though I was not strong enough, I learned that I had those that knew I was and reminded me during my most difficult moments.
I can close my eyes and remember the moments down the river. All of it. The nervous times, the cold times, the relaxed times. I can see smiles, hear voices of those that cheered me on and feel the embraces of those who hugged me when I finished or before I Started. I can hear Margrethe asking me if I was warm during my feeds–being sure to keep the word cold out of the question. I can see John Humenik and Janet Harris after I finished stage 4 standing on the boat with big smiles on their faces…as happy for me as any could be.
I also learned that strong bonds can be forged and fortified in a very short amount of time and last forever. Swimming is NOT an individual sport. The kayakers, the boat crew, the other swimmers, we are all a team and any weak link of that team can damage a swim no matter how hard the other parts are working. For this swim, I remember all of the crew that came and went — all of the kayakers – not just my own because everyone was helping everyone. We cheered for one another, we sat silent with one another, we cried if needed.
The week-long swim journey down the Hudson River was THE MOST physically, mentally and emotionally challenging event I have ever done and I tried to appreciate every minute of it. Each day brought with it a new challenge and a lesson in just have much the mind and body can adjust when pushed.
Every day, the best part of the swim was feeling the shadow of the bridge on my back and knowing I had completed another stage. With each completion came a greater anxiety leading up to the next one. Day after day, the anxiety-relief-anxiety cycle played out. For the last stage, Andrew Malinak, was there and swam with me under the Verrazano Bridge. It was beautiful for me. To see him next to me. I still cannot describe my emotions during that time but, as I made my way onto the boat and Rondi was there to congratulate me with a big hug, I remember a wave of relief finally settling over me.
I never cry during or after swims but I did after stage 4. I’m not sure why. As Rondi and I sat on the bow of the boat, she looked at me and said, “you must feel so good right now,” and with that I started to speak and just cried. I told her I didn’t know why I was crying but she understood why. It was the stress of the event, the overwhelming nature of what we, the 7-stagers, were tackling, the constant movement of it…even when we were back at the hotel and sleeping we were moving forward.
The river, the event, changed me. My swim family has grown and I still miss every one of them. Andrew and I had some ideas of how we could make a living on the river, with the group, work – put in a research grant- yeah – we would put in for a research grant about something or other and then we could move around the river together as a team…and see each other every day…and work…and swim…but…life doesn’t work that way and reality hits hard.
David Barra and I didn’t really get a chance to speak much on the river. He was operating agent orange and spent most days with Mo Siegel. Before I left though, we hugged. I started to cry again – what was wrong with me? He told me I had made them all proud. This moment was up there with swimming with Rondi & Andrew through the harbor – only crying could express my appreciation for him saying that.
Karen, in her blog, spoke about the “next big swims.” For me, I have to prepare for the swim around Manhattan on August 1st. I’m nervous as hell for that, of course, but I will have Margrethe beside me kayaking and I know she will steer me in the right direction. I also have been thinking of another swim for 1 1/2 years now. It will be a swim that I want to do, that I think I can do but with a good crew and sound advice from those who know water well. If all goes well, it will happen next spring. For now, I am going to allow myself some more time to reflect on the amazing journey that just took place and the amazing people I met along the way.