Thursday, July 28, 2011
It's a lot of work preparing, quite a bit of time organizing. That's all out of the water. The next part is in the water. The amount of dedicated time and training that goes towards completing goals like this is the most incredible part. Anywhere from 2-6 hours a day swimming, 1 hour lifting, 1 hour core, teaching spin classes and this is what my training schedule for the 2010 season looked like.
2011 training season was far different. I was lucky if I made it to the pool 2 days in a row. Even more luck if I could find the will to stay in longer than an hour. Everything was different, especially my priorities. The very best way to explain the lack of training...real life got in the way of my hobby life. It happens. There are years that your life gets so busy and there are shifts in priorities where it's very difficult to maintain the same level of training. It's sad, frustrating and detrimental to your mindset. I'm not at all making excuses, it is what it is, plain and simple. Luckily enough all of my hard work towards my professional life ended up paying off and I achieved the goals I set out. So going into the swim I was already up one!
A week and a half before Catalina I swam 19.8 miles in Stage 5 of the 8 Bridges, Hudson River swim (see 8 Bridge, Hudson River blog for more info). The last 3 hours of that swim took a lot out of me but I did a TON to help recover as best as possible! Well, I should say I did a lot; a ton would be an exaggeration since I had my brother's wedding the week before!! Thankfully I hung up the party shoes at the beginning of the week and started thinking about my next huge goal.
This swim was the most overwhelming of them all. This was it…this was the big one to finish the Triple Crown! The Triple Crown club has fewer members than US Presidents! This is big time in our sport. I also know that I am all about the one and done principle. Finish the first time and then move on. The only problem, I was so out of shape...would I be able to withstand the elements? I'm getting older, my body isn't reacting like it used to (laughing that it has come to the point where I am actually saying that out loud.) Recovery time is longer, injuries are easier to come by. How much longer can my body hold out? I had to sit back and put it all of out of my head. I had one focus, one priority...finish Catalina no matter what happens! I should tell you, I have a terrible case of sea sickness! I know...who the hell chooses this sport with sea sickness? Yeah, that would be me! I have never done anything the easy way.
So, to back up a bit, I land in LAX on Thursday morning. My swim is scheduled for Sunday night around 11pm drop time. Thursday I just tooled around, checking into the hotel, got the rental car and got situated. Once situated it was time for dinner. I traveled for 10 years on my own and got very used to having to have meals alone on the road. So I decided to grab a bite to eat in Long Beach. I found this little Italian Restaurant through Zagats that was unbelievable! I was so excited! All I wanted was some good pasta and that hit the spot. I went to bed early because I had a big day planned for Friday. I was heading to La Jolla! This is my favorite place on earth to swim. The people are beyond wonderful, the views are incredibly breathtaking and the swims are truly 5 star! If you're lucky, you will even have fun sea life to play with. I usually get to play with Dolphins so I get incredibly psyched to see what is next when I am there. When I swim in La Jolla I meet up with the GREAT Anne Cleveland to train. This woman is incredible. She is a role model to all of the open water Swimmers. She has swum more miles than people log on their cars! She was also inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame a few months ago! She was going to be one of my observers for my Catalina swim and I was thrilled about it!
I got to La Jolla early in the day and decided to look around and go shopping. That didn't hold my attention long because I really just wanted to go swim. I went to the La Jolla Athletic Club and asked them if they would let me check in early as Anne's guest and they were more than welcoming! All I kept thinking was, honestly, these people are so damn sweet out here! I got dressed and went down to the beach. I decided to take a swim alone. I was a bit petrified seeing as they were looking for a 16-foot Great White right near the swimmers area earlier in the week. But I figured I was faster than some of the people out there swimming laps so that would work in my favor. I decided to head out on my journey to the first buoy and back. Nice and short. On my way I stopped because I heard something under water. Right next to me a Sea Lion popped up and started barking at me playfully. I just started hysterically laughing! These things are absolutely enormous! He swam away and I decided to finish up my swim. I chilled out on the beach and waited for Anne to show up. She came with my other observer Gracie. We hit it off right away! Her husband would be kayaking for me on the swim and I was so put at ease meeting her. Again, all I could think was, these people are awesome out here! I explained my lack of training and mindset. They got in with me to swim anyway. We went out to the sticks, then out to the caves where I got to practice my finish on the beach inside the cave. It was hysterical! I don't know who laughed harder, me or them!
On the way back I swam up to a sun bathing Seal Lion and took a few underwater photos. He was looking right at me just chilling and taking in the sun. True CA breed! Unfortunately, I just missed my dolphins. They were out there with us; I just didn't get to see them. Glad they showed for the occasion! But it was time for some grub. We headed over to Bubba's for some great pulled pork and drinks. We got to sit and gossip like school girls for a few hours and then it was my time to depart. I had such a wonderful day with Anne and Gracie. I was so psyched they would be coming on the boat with us for the swim. These are the exact personalities I need on the team!
Saturday was my day with my parents. Dad has never been to CA so I decided to give him a "European Christmas Vacation" style tour of CA. Man, if their cameras weren't up and ready, they missed the shot! We started in Santa Monica and Malibu. Gorgeous Coast line but all the development took away from the natural beauty. Next up we went to Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach (which they LOVED), Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach and finally Long Beach. It was 5 hours of driving but a great day. We stopped in Huntington for lunch at Duke's and Ice Cream. My mother said that I always swam my best if I had Ice Cream the night before (mom's know everything). Finally we were all exhausted. l had a Catalinaversery dinner to get to for David Barra. His entire crew was out in CA so he decided to get everyone together for the anniversary of his swim. I rushed back to the hotel, changed and a got back on the road.
I drove back to Venice Beach to meet up with David Barra and his Catalina crew for dinner to celebrate David's amazing 16-hour swim last year. A true testament to his physical and mental strength!!! David became the 40th person to complete the Triple Crown and did it in spectacular fashion. He swam all three swims in less than 3 months. INCREDIBLE!!! Dinner was so much fun. Beth Barnes (Kayaker) came with Lynne Cox (modern day pioneer in open water swimming, and one of my role models. I read Lynne’s book for my first open water swim.) Roz and Harris, friends and crew for David, were there along with John Huminek, David's wife Clare and I. It was such an amazing evening! What a great group! We got a pre-view from Lynne about her next book; we got the pleasure of catching up with Beth, Roz and Harris. It just was an A+ evening! But the fun had to come to an end. We were all exhausted and tomorrow night was my planned swim.
Game day!!! I had confirmed with John, meet the boat around 7/8pm, launch at 9pm, and drop at 11pm. I spent the day in bed sleeping. Honestly, I don't think I have slept so much in a single day since I had mono! I wanted to make sure I was fresh as possible for an overnight swim. Finally 6:30pm arrived along with all of my crew. The plan was to review the feeds, schedules, medications, roles, basically everything that everyone would be doing on the boat. I went through my agenda and tried to give them as much possible info about me as a swimmer as possible so they knew what to expect (that's half the battle). Questions were asked and answered and then the phone rang. The boat will be an hour and a half late getting back from the fishing trip. My first thought...will this affect the swim? Everyone assures me no so I go with the flow. Not at all upset because it gives me an additional hour and a half talking to my crew. They are all so awesome so just getting to hear their stories is entertainment enough.
Around 9:45 we all start moving down to the docks, the boat had just arrived and they were spraying it down from the trip. It would be another hour before we depart. I am surprisingly relaxed. I have learned that swims can be delayed for many reasons, you just have to go with the flow. We loaded the boat and next thing I know, other than the Captain, I am the only one on the boat awake. I'm actually thankful my crew is getting some down time to relax and I'm getting some alone time before the swim. It takes about 2 hours to get to the Island and by the time we arrive people are milling about starting to get everything ready. I am dressed and ready to go. First they need to get into place for the drop, next they have to get the kayaker in the water, and lastly they get back into place to drop me into the water. John Huminek will be doing his first leg with me at the beginning of the swim. The rules changed this year and a swimmer is only allowed 3 hours of support swimming. So we knew John would start me off with the first hour and David Barra and John would both get in the last half hour with David getting in for an hour when I was suffering at some point in the swim. I was standing there at the gate waiting for John and when he was ready it was time to go. We jumped in and swam to the Island right underneath the Boy Scout camp. I can not tell you how much kelp was in the water. It was like trying to swim over prickle bushes that had long vines that would get wrapped around your limbs. I couldn't put my face down because my goggles kept getting ripped off. We landed and John took a few photos before we got started. I stood there waiting for the horn and finally I hear Anne's voice yell, "What the hell are you waiting for, go!" I yelled, "No horn start?" she said, "No… go!” I started to laugh and said, "Ok, John, let's go!" We crawled over the kelp and made our way back to open water. I had to stop to clear the kelp out from my suit. Then the swim began. I was so thankful John was in with me for the start. That kelp experience in the pitch black alone would have been a lot for me to swallow.
Before I go on with the story I want you to understand my goal for this swim. I'm out of shape, my mind is very nervous about this swim and my body is still exhausted from 8 Bridges. My goal was to finish. I didn't care if I had to swim double arm backstroke half way while dragging a biting shark...I was going to finish. The boat Captain asked me what my goal time was before we started and I had such a hard time answering...as fast as humanly possible wouldn’t work as an answer!! Just finishing would have me thrilled. People threw around numbers for times as to what they thought I should finish in and I just nodded. I have no freaking clue how long it will take me to finish! How's this....I'll finish when I finish? LOL!
On the way out the conditions were nice but the swells had kicked up and I knew it wouldn't be long before the sea sickness kicked in. I had taken all of my meds but that is never a sure thing. It was a beautiful night and I was trying my best to make the absolute best of the situation but truth be told...I was sea sick...bad! The lights on the boat were making me incredibly dizzy; the rolling swells were absolutely killing me! Within the first hour every feed I had taken was back in the Ocean. It sucked! I knew I was screwed. I have never made a come back from being sea sick to finish more than two miles of a swim. This was not good. An hour later, I lost the rest of my feeds. This process repeated for up to 5 hours. The last time I was sick I thought to myself, “You need to pull yourself together if you want to finish this swim!” I had just tried to take more medication but it bounced right back up. The swimming was fine. I have swum in far worse! I just could not keep a thing down.
Finally as the sun started to come up the conditions started to flatten out. At no time did I consider getting out; at no time did I consider quitting. It wasn't in the cards for that day. I just needed to figure out how I was going to stay in the water. Finally, I decided my course of action. I was going to change everything! I was going to chew a dry pill and sip water every 15 min. I started drinking about 1-2 ounces of water each feed. Finally, after about an hour of water I had them start adding fuel back into the feeds. They were hounding me to have GU but I knew it would never stay down. So I refused. Finally, I was over being harassed so I started to lick the GU. It was the only way I could get the calories in without sending them back out. I was WAY behind the 8 ball when it came to calories burned versus calories taken in. I could slowly feel myself losing weight. Not good! Water is still 66 degrees and when I can't fuel I have tremendous troubles managing my body temp. I knew I was starting to enter very dangerous grounds. I needed to start keeping fuel down. I was starting to get pains in my torso and fluttering heart beats warning me that things needed to change and they needed to change NOW! At this point I had about 10 NM left. I just had to keep swimming and keep the fuel down. Next check point I had 8.2 miles left. I asked for David to jump in for an hour and I swear Gracie was reading my mind because she started to laugh and said, “We actually planned to get him in at your next feed.” I started to laugh and thanked them. Off I went. When David jumped in I was at a low point. I had zero fuel in me. I had struggled through a painful 12-13 miles with nothing but sheer will to go off of. Things had to change quick! I started trying to take in a bit more fuel each feed so I could get calories in me. Swimming with David that hour was a god-sent. He got in and put together a pace that I could hold. He helped get my head and body back to the same place and keep moving forward. At the end of the hour I was sad to see him go but excited because I knew when I saw him in the water again that meant I was close enough to finish.
People always say it is so much harder to watch land in the distance because it never gets closer. I feel so differently. Seeing land kept my eyes on the goal and helped me never take my mind off the goal. I was finishing. No questions, no double judgements, I was finishing! Seeing land once it was light, even though it was a silhouette, kept me focused and determined.
The next three miles I struggled but held myself together. I could feel the lactic acid building in my muscles. When I didn't get calories in everything hurt, even my toe nails. I didn't complain. I was stung over 200 times (little electrocutionists), I didn't complain. I was freaking starving but so nauseas. I didn't complain. I tried very hard to be positive and polite. Here are all these people working their butts off with no sleep and probably not feeling well from the earlier conditions. None of which are complaining. None of which have wavered. I needed to stay strong for them. I needed to finish this swim as much for my unbelievably rocking team as I did for myself. It was our swim, not my swim. It was from the start and it will be at the finish.
Thankfully, this is where all the excitement started! We saw a family of whales! AND THEY WERE 50 yards away from me swimming!! Talk about AWESOME! All I ever wanted was to swim out in the open water with whales and I finally got the opportunity. I was so damn excited! But back to work. Finally we hit the 5 nautical mile mark. I told them I would need them to start ticking down the mileage each feed to give me something to look forward to. I started to pick up the pace...way too early but I did anyway. I started my swim at 2 knots per hour (2 miles per hour) somewhere in the middle dropped to my low of 1.7 but brought it back to 1.97. All of a sudden I looked up and got a bit nervous because it looked like a scene from the movie Birds! There were freakin birds EVERYWHERE (if you look closely in the photo you can see a Dolphin tail as the Dolphin is diving down)! When I stopped everyone was screaming my name so I got a bit nervous but they were telling me that there were dolphins diving underneath me near the boat. I saw them pop up in front of the boat and dive down right below me. This is now officially the BEST SWIM EVER! I don't care about everything from before, these moments with my sea creatures made the entire swim for me. But back to work.
We were less than 4 miles left. I brought my speed back up to 2. I wanted out. I wanted to be done. No qualms about it, I wanted TO BE DONE! The land was getting closer each feed, just not fast enough. I caught myself looking at David on the boat screaming in my head, "Take off your shirt! Come on already! Get in the freakin water!" Then all of a sudden he was right next to me (in swim time things actually do happen all of a sudden). You get to a point in your swim where just everything comes together and you are completely overwhelmed with what is going on. I had hit that point. He said to me, "I can see the red roofs." I started to laugh and said, "I think I said the same thing to you on your swim." He said, "No, you got in and said Let's go for a swim." I started to laugh and all of the overwhelming feelings melted away. I had 1.4 miles left and David was going to do it with me while John swam next to us and took pictures! Thank god for my team, I never would have finished without them! That was my last feed; it was time to finish hard. David got in and put a swift pace into effect right away. I did everything in my power to stay with him. I knew there was a plan in place on the boat and I should respond to the challenge. All of a sudden the boat stopped forward movement and started honking. Everyone on the boat was screaming. I could see the beach. I could see the rocks on the beach. I could see the bottom. I could see the shoreline. I could see John standing there taking pictures. I could feel the bottom. I swam up to the shoreline and the water was pulling back hard with each wave so I grabbed a boulder and held on. I didn't want the current to pull me back out so I would to have swim in and finish again.
I was done. When the water came back in I got up and started to pull myself up the rocks. It wasn't easy but I was able to get out. I cleared water and sat down. A wave came up over my toes so I got up and climbed another 10-yards up to dry rocks and sat down. It felt so damn good to be on land. There were people on the beach watching that we joked about. David came over and gave me a hug. John got a picture of us both then David jumped up and got a picture of John and I. I was thrilled!
Now I had to choose a rock (it's a marathon swimming tradition, kinda like our trophy). I couldn't figure it out so I grabbed a few boulders and put them down my suit. I tried to get back in the water but fell on David. So I waited for the surf to go out and just allowed it to pull me. I swam straight over to Neil who had put up with me all day and congratulated and thanked him. I proceeded to double arm backstroke to the boat so I could stretch out my shoulders. When I got to the boat I had to unload my rocks before I could get back on the boat. I was proud I still had enough energy to hoist myself up into the platform and back onto the boat. Man did that hurt like hell! Throughout the swim I tried my best to be McGyver and tell time by the location of the sun. I was sure I swam a 12+ hour swim. I said something to John and David on shore and they both just shrugged. My first thought was, "OMG I went slower than 12 hours and they are just trying to spare my feelings!" I shrugged it off and was just thrilled I finished. After I showered on the boat my observers had my final time...9 hours 49 minutes and 58 seconds! I was shocked and asked them to do the math again! Everyone was laughing. Reason being...everybody spent 10 hours watching my be sick, take 20 minute feeds because I couldn't get anything down, stop countless times to re-plan or watch whales and dolphins play. There was no urgency, there was no attempting to break the 10 hour mark. I was able to power through the tricky currents to bring it home as quick as humanly possible :) I was absolutely thrilled...saved the best for last!
The celebration begun! It ended a few hours later with everyone at In and Out Burger! It's official, I am the 43rd person in the world to complete the English Channel, Manhattan Island Marathon and the Catalina Channel! Now that's America baby!
I share the success of Catalina Channel with my crew:
Anne C.: Thank you for all of your supportive advice and enthusiasm throughout the entire event! You are a fantastic role model and someone I truly love splashing around with! :)
Gracie: Welcome to the family! I knew right away you would be a fantastic addition to this crazy group. I can't thank you enough for your motivation throughout the swim!
Neil: I can't thank you enough! Your expertise on the kayak was noticed immediately and appreciated throughout! Your calm nature kept me relaxed and determined to finish. Thanks for all the laughs and your protection all night/day!!
David: Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This has been a fantastic journey that started last summer and will never end! Your timing was impeccable and your support was incredible. Thank you!
Clare: I'm so sorry you missed David's journey last year but I was absolutely thrilled you could be part of my journey this year! Thank you for all your time and effort! The pictures and videos are phenominal!!
John: Thank you for all of your support and all of your motivational words throughout the past year! It has been such a blast swimming with you guys and I am so thrilled we were able to share this experience together!
Mom: I wonder if you are the first Triple Crown parent??? Can't wait to get our tattoos together :) I can't thank you enough for everything you have done from these crazy swims to my complete and utter melt downs. You deserve this Triple Crown as much as I do. THANK YOU! I love you Annie Fannie!
Dad: FINALLY...I was able to get you on the boat and for the best one too! Thank you so much for coming and supporting my swim (and my crazy hobby)! Love you Dad!
I share number 43 in the Triple Crown club with all of my crews:
Anne: Catalina Channel
Gracie: Catalina Channel
Neil: Catalina Channel
David: Catalina Channel (and technically Manhattan if we count us swimming against each other)
Clare: Catalina Channel
John: Catalina Channel
Mom: English Channel, Manhattan Island Marathon, Catalina Channel
Dad: Catalina Channel
Deni: English Channel
Jaime: English Channel (and every other swim I have done that isn't on this list)
Suzanne: Manhattan Island
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Heading into this swim I was absolutely petrified! I had put less training in than I do to sprint a 100 Breastroke at 1 swim meet and I was just plain out of shape! How will this affect my mind, my body, my soul?
Tuesday July 12th, a week before my 36th birthday, I put the lack of training and questionable mindset to test. I swam from the Bear Mountain Bridge to the Tappan Zee Bridge as Stage 5 of the 8 Bridges Swim, Hudson River.
The night before the swim I was working late at the Country Club (I'm a Waterfront Director with 3 pools and 2 beaches I manage). It was late, I was exhausted from the 90+degree weather day and I was starting to make small mistakes. I picked up a broomstick to mix sodium bicarbonate and water for one of the pools and when I did the top part of the broom hit a florescent light with no cover above my head. My initial reaction was to look up. When I did, glass rained all over my face slicing my lower lip in half. It was already 9:30pm. Unfortunately, I couldn't go to the hospital right away. I needed to finish the chemicals because I wouldn't be there the following day. At 11pm I finally got to Greenwich Hospital. I was dead last on a waiting list of 8 people...freaking great! I explained my issue to the nurse...I had to be out of the house in 5 hours for a marathon swim...and she put me on the "fast track". When I finally saw the PA I told her: I need stitches, I need to swim a marathon in the Hudson River in a few hours passing Indian Point (one of the largest Nuclear Chemicals plants in the US) AND most importantly, I need the stitches out before Saturday for my brother's wedding! She looked at me like I had 10heads and just started to laugh. She said, "Wait a minute, you are swimming a marathon in the Hudson River?" LOL! It was 2am and the hospital was starting to get to me. Recognizing the shock on her face I realized this conversation alone would be another 5 minutes of disbelief before the stitches started. I do have to say my PA was awesome and I was totally entertained by her so it was actually a fun conversation...I was just tired and had a big day ahead of me. Finally, she put in 6 stitches and allowed me to swim only if I took antibiotics. I agreed, grabbed my script and ran to a 24-hour CVS. Seeing as I have yet to eaten dinner, I grabbed the dinner of champions...McDonald's! I sped home, Mixed and packed my feeds and organized all of my stuff. Finally at 3:30pm I laid down for a quick nap. I needed to be up at 4:45am to make my way to Ossining to catch the boat. I'm still shocked I woke up! But I did, and my day was in fast forward.
I got to the boat, unpacked the car and settled in. We arrived at Bear Mountain Bridge and awaited our start. I was lucky enough to be doing this swim with some very close friends, Rondi Davies, John Huminek and David Barra. That alone was enough to be excited! We got to jump off the front of the boat to get the swim started (totally my highlight)!
The swim started and we were ready to go! We all started swimming together which is the very best way to start a swim. David started to move to the side while Rondi, John and I kicked it to the first feed. At that point I dropped back a bit. My goal in this swim was to have fun, see the scenery and use it as a warm up swim for Catalina. I had zero intentions of swimming all 19.8 miles of the swim. I was chilling with my kayaker Teddy; we were watching the birds, talking about the area, dissection the Nuclear Chemical plant from the water, praying no one would escape Sing Sing prison via water (another stop on our swim). It was just another fantastic day out on the water!
Then it happened, we turned the corner and the bridge was in sight! Anyone who knows me well enough knows that, NOW, I'm not getting out until I finish! There is just something about swimming to a bridge that is so exciting! 360 Bridge in Austin TX, our Lake Lilanonah Bridge, they all are just so exciting to see in the distance and sprint to the finish.
Well at this point I had already put in 13 miles, what are 6 more? I had always wanted to swim this strip of water. Every time we pass it on the Tappan Zee Bridge I wonder what it's like to swim there. Now I was getting the chance!
I picked up the pace a bit and settled into the next stage of the swim. We had a push pretty much the entire way. And then the unthinkable happened...the tide started to change! That is when I knew we were screwed! We were swimming 2 knots per hour against a 1.6-1.8 knot current! That means you are making VERY LITTLE HEADWAY FAST!!! I asked my kayaker is he thought I would finish and he said, "No, David is a ahead of you and he is making no headway. I don't think you will finish!". I said, "Ok, let's swim until I stop making forward progress!” So off we went. Well, that statements makes it sound like we made forward progress, we did but very little! Finally, I said, "Are we still making forward progress?" He said, "Yes, but very little!". So I again asked, "Do you think we will finish?" He turned to me and said, "I bet you $5 you won't finish!" My first and only thought...GAME ON, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH! So out of sheer stubbornness (did I mention I am half Italian and half Irish...he didn't have a prayer!), I put on the after burners and picked it up.
Some say it took us an hour to make half mile headway but who cares, I was still moving forward. Now I was racing the sun. Each stroke I took the sun would go down just a bit further. We were not set up for night swimming so I knew I would be pulled from the water if the sun went down. So I pushed harder. I was going to finish this swim!!!! Finally, close enough to see the bridge up close. Finally, I could see the stations! Finally, I could see the cars on the bridge! Finally, I could read the signs on the stations...DANGER: Swimming Prohibited! Watch me sweetheart! Finally, I could see where the shadow of the bridge starts! Finally I can see underneath the bridge! Finally....the horn blows on the boat...I'm done! I turned to my kayaker and said, "I learned at a very young age NEVER to bet against myself. I highly recommend never betting against me again!” He started to laugh and agreed!
It was so exciting getting back on that boat and to be sharing such an amazing day with all of my friends. David and Rondi had swum 4 Stages already; John had swum 1 Stage already. I was so humbled being with them and seeing their amazing accomplishments. John had finished a little over an hour and a half before me. The others gave in but with good reason, they had 2 more Stages to finish so they could accomplish the entire 120-mile journey.
Overall, that was the best mindset I had ever had in a swim. There was zero sea sickness and just an entire load of fun!
Sunday, June 13, 2010
It started when my eyes flew open and I looked at the clock...4:22am! I had to force myself to go back to sleep, it wasn't time yet! Finally at 4:45am I turned off the alarm and got up. My crew was up and getting the final things together before heading out to meet the boat. Today my crew would consist of my mother Anne and friend Suzanne (yes, the same Suzanne from the Channel stories). Once they left I got back into bed and tried to sleep for another half hour. Luckily, the swimmers didn't have to meet until 6am (although I could have showed up at 7am and nobody would have noticed the difference). I just didn't have any more sleep in me...I just wanted to get in the water. So I got my suit on, checked to make sure I had everything, had a protein bar and was off to the races. Luckily I found a cabby willing to drive me the 1-mile to the start.
At 6am I walked up to South Cove and David Barra and a few other fellow swimmers were already there waiting for the start. We were all anxious to get in the water. We waited a little over an hour before it was time to strip down and start applying the suntan lotion and A&D. It was actually quite humorous looking down the benches lined with swimmers as the clothes started dropping and all the lotions a goop came out. It was a mess!!
At 7:20am all I wanted was TO GET IN THE DAMN WATER!!! I'm not the patient type (shocker) so the waiting is really tough on me. I was able to locate both kayakers and get their attention as they came down from North Cove. The team was in place and ready to go. I was psyched...it was finally time to get in the water. MIMS is different than the English Channel and Catalina because it is a race. This race is very difficult to get into. It takes time, patience, qualifying and then finally being selected. It was all coming to a head as the lucky 26 were lined up in numerical order and asked to jump off the wall into the Hudson at South Cove. We were then lined up in the water, there was a photo and a countdown. 1....finally....GO. GO. GO!!!
Talk about BEDLAM!!! For every swimmer there are two kayakers. We has 26 solo swimmers and a handful of relays so there were kayakers everywhere!!! We got off to a decent start and I was able to find my kayaker (taking way too much credit here...he totally found me) and we were on our way. My thoughts...this is going to be a long day! A large group formed at the front and quickly moved into the East River. We were going to catch up with our boats right around the Brooklyn Bridge. As I swam I got glimpses of the city. It was just so beautiful and peaceful that early in the morning. My kayakers located our escort boat and off we went. Conditions were choppy and the wind was howling. We knew at the start that the Hudson was going to be a force to be reckoned with especially with the wind in our faces.
We start and finish at South Cove. So we swim South in the Hudson and directly into the East River. Phase 1. We immediately swim under the two bridges and made the turn North. The best thing about swimming in this event was knowing where I was at all times. I would think...B, M, W...UN Building, Mill Rock, Foot Bridge, Randall's Island, Yankee Stadium, etc. etc. I was able to click off landmarks as I went so I could actually calculate forward progress. Once we made the turn I could feel the current start to pick me up. I could tell we were swimming fast but had no idea yet how fast. First three Bridges were gone in a flash. On my left I saw the Empire State Building. All I thought was...when you see this coming home, you know you are almost there. Next thing I know I am speeding by the UN. Cool building but no time to be a tourist...it is a race after all. Next thing I know my kayaker moves me in close to the wall near the FDR. I see him look up so on my next breath I sneak a peek at what he is looking at. It's my Dad, my sister Jaime and her fiance Dumas!!! I got so excited I was waving while swimming and giving them the thumbs up. I was praying they could see it because they were running at full speed. At that moment I realized I was absolutely hauling!!! I was actually being sucked down the river...NO JOKE!!! I didn't find out until after the swim that I was swimming 6mph and the cross suction feeling under the water was actually whirlpools from the LI Sound, East River and Harlem all coming into one place. It was actually an amazingly cool sensation to feel the pull of a whirlpool in the water!
Next thing I know I was dumped in the middle of the Mill Rock area. It's time for a feed. When I stopped I heard SO many people cheering for me! People were screaming my name from the shore, others were yelling GO EDGEMONT (the HS I teach and coach at). It was such an amazing feeling that people actually came out to NYC to watch the craziness. It's so unfortunate because people never actually understand what this is all about until they spend a day either chasing a swimmer or crewing on a boat. Then they get the first hand experience of what these athletes are really made of! It truly is pretty cool and very inspiring...that is how I got here! So I waved to the people yelling as I took my feed and was on my way again. I took no more than 10 strokes when I saw Dad, Jaime and Dumas on my left again. A mile later there was a woman screaming my name on a bridge and taking pictures. Having all these people there cheering me on really helped inspire me to work my butt off and not disappoint them. So knowing I was about to collide full on into the current in the Harlem, I picked up the pace!
Phase 2 of the swim...East River was done, now it was time to move onto the Harlem. Definitely my least favorite of the three. The East River was fine, no issues. The Harlem....well, what can you say about the Harlem???? It is very narrow, there is debris everywhere from all of the construction going on, there is a distinct chemical taste, you run into quite a bit of garbage (or tires) and on top of that there are 2 kayakers and an escort boat for every swimmer along with press boats, NYPD boats, Coast Guard boast and officiating boats. Tight quarters for all that motoring! The Harlem started off ok. We passed the Foot Bridge, came up to Randall's and then hit Yankee Stadium. Then I hit the wall. I was tired from picking it up against the current, I was really sick from the chop in the Hudson (I get really bad sea sickness when I swim) and the fumes of all the boats so close was really making me sick. From Yankee Stadium to the Boat Basin I really had a tough time. At one point I mentioned to Eric (one of my extraordinary kayakers, my second kayaker was Ned) that I was tired. Eric leaned over and said, "You can't get tired now. Not after you came all this way." I forgot how that might sound to someone not familiar with the mental games that happen in a swimmers head while they swim. I started to laugh and said, "Eric, I'm tired but I am certainly not getting out. We'll be finishing this today." You could tell it was a load off hearing that. But it was time to try something new. I switched my feed from the gatorade fuel to the water fuel. SMART!!! It started to work. My stomach started to calm down and I started to get a second wind. It was time to make the turn towards the Columbia "C". As we made the turn I made a really bad realization...normally when you take a stroke you can see the bubbles and your hand in Open Water. When I looked down, I couldn't see farther than my SHOULDER!!! I almost panicked but knew we would be out of the gross part soon. It was like swimming through a mud slick. We got to the Columbia "C" and we stopped for a feeding. Eric leaned over his kayak and said, "Well, this is where the race starts, how you feeling?" I said, "I've hit my second wind and I am ready to race!" So off we went. At this point we had to swim under the Sputyen Duyvil bridge while it was closed (moments later a train came tearing across it). It was REALLY COOL!!! The bridge was only a few feet over head and you could see every detail of every beam.
Phase 1...done, Phase 2...Done...Phase 3 Hudson River with winds against us and some nice chop! Now for the hard part. We came out of Spuyten Duyvil and made the turn towards home...which you could not see at all! We started heading down the Hudson for the second time today but it was far different from the first time! The winds had really picked up and were coming directly at us. The chop was tough but beatable (thank you Jim for the Lake training against the winds....thank you mother nature for giving me a tough Channel day). Not only did I know I could push pass the chop but I knew I could race in the chop...if my stomach allowed it. We started adding GU at the feeds. This was helping a bit with the energy level so we kept it up at every feed. Right after my feed before the GW Bridge I heard a crash up above. I stopped and looked at Eric and he said to keep going that I was fine. I heard an ambulance but didn't realize it was above me. I happened to see Eric texting and had no clue what was going on. So I just kept swimming. Swimming under the GW Bridge is truly a remarkable thing! It is so iconic and beautiful that I really just took in the moment. I started to think about my friends and family who were coming to the finish and just got so excited! I really needed every bit of support they had that day. I don't think they realize how much a swimmer pulls from their support when they are in the water! We emerged the other side of the bridge to a major surprise. There were 3 helicopters circling on the other side of the bridge. I thought it so odd because I haven't seen helicopters fly under the GW Bridge since 9-11. Next thing I know there is a deafening sound right above me. I stop because I am being pushed down into the water and getting crushed by weird waves. When I pop up I see a helicopter about 10 feet above me and the pilot looking right at me. I am blind but I could read that writing up close and personal...NYPD RESCUE CREW. Evidently, as we were swimming under the bridge someone jumped off. I didn't find out until later that night when Eric confirmed it as his friend was on the bridge taking photos of the swim and saw what was going on. The accident I heard was a car that crashed into the jumper's car. So sad!
It felt like it took forever to get to the Sewage Plant! But once we got there things started to speed up a bit. There was quite a bit of racing going on in the Hudson. I was with Lance Ogren exchanging the lead after every feed for god knows how long. Finally I hit a rough patch where more sea sickness medication was needed STAT! I felt it coming on but tried everything in my power not to allow it to overtake this swim. Unfortunately, it caught up to me. Luckily, it wasn't even close to as bad as Tampa. Got everything out of my system, put my head down, butt up and went back to work. FINALLY we reached the first Pier. I knew things were going to start speeding up. I was ticking off the Piers and started to get excited to finish. As I got excited I started to speed up. Cruise liners...check, Intrepid...check, Chelsea Piers...check!!! It's time! We stop for our last feed and Eric says, "You have anything left in the tank?" I said, "Yeup, what are you thinking?" He said, "Well we have been trailing these two swimmers all day and I would really like to beat them." (we had been about a mile behind but really made a surge in the Hudson). I looked up and they were pretty far away. I turned to Eric and said, "OK". He said, "Put on the afterburners and go get them!" I started to laugh under water and took off...I can actually say that in a literal sense. We were about 1.5 miles from the finish and I picked it up big time.
The finish....this is the best part of the entire day and worth every second I spent training over the last year! We knew that was my last feed. I had already passed about 3-4 swimmers in the Hudson but there were 2 more up front. I knew we were gaining but had no idea at that point if we even had a prayer. As I was swimming I was seeing streets tick off knowing I had less and less room to catch them. We arrived at the last marina before North Cove and I looked up. They were in range! I started to sprint as hard as I possibly could. I had no idea how long I could hold on but I kept repeating...GO!!! YOU CAN REST WHEN YOU'RE DEAD!!! Halfway between North and South Coves I caught the first swimmer....all I had to do was get in front and I knew I could hold it to the finish. I catch her and I see her try to keep up and can't. I look up and see the second girl up ahead and just in front of her the buoys marking the finish. Dare I say it...I started to kick!!! Anybody who knows me or has seen me swim knows I don't kick...EVER! I think I maybe kicked 3 times across the entire Channel! But if I was going to kick, now was going to be the time. I put absolutely every bit of training I had behind that sprint and about 200 yards out I caught her....100 yards out I passed her...at the very last part of the race I touched the ladder first. Richard Clifford told me countless times going into this race...no matter what, hold on in the Hudson. Anything can happen and it's the person who touches first that finishes first. I didn't get first but damn it felt like I did!!! I stayed in the water to thank my kayakers and gave the boat captain and my crew a big wave and thumbs up. I was absolutely thrilled we were able to finish strong and know that there was nothing else left in the tank. I left it all out on the water and was just so proud of the entire team. Official time: 8:10:41 (the next girl in was 8:10:54...IN A MARATHON!!!!!) Official Place: 5th overall, 2nd female and best of all...1st American to finish! Pretty cool if you ask me!!!
It was a great day! What did I learn...after reflecting on the path I am taking...I am in the exact spot I am supposed to be in right now. I absolutely LOVE teaching and coaching my HS kids at Edgemont. I absolutely LOVE coaching swimming with the Marlins. And I absolutely LOVE the fact that I can do absolutely anything I put my mind to and then share it with all of these kids I teach!!! That alone is so rewarding! These kids inspire me to give 110% at all times, to use a soft touch and be a better person every opportunity I get. Thank you for that!
I would be remiss if I did not thank a load of people....
Yo'Mama: What can I say...you sacrifice, you feed me, you keep me in line, you protect me, you take care of me and you yell your freakin head off at me!!! LOL...in all seriousness, thank you! You were stellar out there on the water...even know you got the trees :) I love you!!!
Suzanne: Thank you for making this journey with us! I am so excited you wanted to come on the boat and be part of the team. You guys were absolutely wonderful all day! I'm glad you had such a great time on the boat as well.
Eric Capers: You were a rock on the water! You were kind, you pushed, you kept me in line, you were PATIENT and you kept me motivated and in the race until the very last stroke! I can't thank you enough for all your hard work and time caring for me on the water. You really were fantastic!!! Thank you so much!!!
Ned Moore: Thank you so much for sharing your first kayak around Manhattan with us. I was thrilled to have you there with a smile on your face and your positive attitude through out the entire swim. I know it doesn't look it but I hear every word that is muttered on the water and really took all the positive feedback to heart as I swam. Thank you for shining a bright, fun light on this swim!
Peter Muff: Thank you so much for volunteering to bring your boat all the way over to Manhattan, miss your son's baseball game to escort crazy swimmers around an Island then have to make the trip all the way back home!!! You helped keep me safe and within regulations all day long. Thank you so much for your time, your support and keeping my mother wildly entertained throughout the day!!! She had a blast with you!
Friends and Family: You were all over the course...some were running after me and most were screaming my name. I am truly blessed to have so many people come out to share in this day. At the finish I had a complete stranger pull me aside and tell me what an amazing group of people I had out here cheering for me and clearly I was the home town favorite. I was beaming with pride. Thank you for inspiring me to push harder, swim faster and not give up!!!
CT CREW: You guys are amazing! You are role models every day, every training swim, every race! I am so honored to be associated with each and every one of you!!!
Jim Bayles: Thank you for the training partner and the many Lake swims where we practiced windy conditions, race finishes (who the hell thought a marathon would every come down to the last 200 yards???), the "no-fuel" TBC 4-hour swims, the food after and mostly for all of the advice! Looking forward to more great swims to come!!
Richard Clifford: Thank you for the countless dinners and glasses of wine (more often than not too much wine)! Oh yeah in all that wine drinking there was quite a bit of advice. In all seriousness, thank you for helping me wrap my head around this race. I hope this doesn't mean we are done with our sessions...I hear Ruby's calling for a celebration drink!!!!
To all the swimmers: Congratulations on a fantastic, successful day!
Two down (English Channel and Manhattan), One to go (Catalina Channel) for the Triple Crown! Until the next big one...
Sunday, May 2, 2010
No reds in sight!!!
No cliff diving today!
When I arrived I met two guys I hadn't met yet...Rico and Michael, both triathletes. Michael turned to me and said, "You aren't wearing a wetsuit? The water is freezing!" My response. "You're lucky I'm wearing a suit!" I think he was completely and utterly petrified of me! Nothing new there!
Michael in the blue cap and John in the yellow cap. Both triathletes.
John in the yellow cap and Eugene in the white cap. Both triathletes.
Richard (right, open water swimmer) and Eugene (left).
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Below is a link from the Statue of Liberty swim (pictures still to come). Keep an eye out at 2:25, the woman with the red swedish goggles is me! So cool! Until next time....
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Cast of Characters:
Ray Brickell: Boat Captain of the Viking Princess (52-ton fishing boat) and the man whose job it is to safely navigated me to France on the Viking Princess
Reg Brickell: Ray’s brother and support
Mike Philips: CSA Observer and the one who will disqualify me if I cheat
Jaime Saracino: Sister/coach and responsible for all feedings (this job is a hell of a lot tougher than it sounds)
Deni Saracino: Sister/medical staff and responsible for photos/assisting Jaime when she needs it
Anne Saracino: Mother and responsible for videoing as much of the swim as humanly possible while holding on for dear life
YouTube recap posted by Mike Philips: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32u59DMNPVQ
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Channel swimming let me explain the torture of the wait. The way a Channel swim works…first you book a boat captain. The boat captain can take up to 4-5 people per Neap Tide (each person swims on their own day all alone). There are two Neap Tides each month. (Neap Tide is easier than the Spring Tide...which happen directly after Neap Tide...to make a channel crossing, so 95% of Channel swimmers will swim in a Neap Tide. Some people do attempt a Spring Tide but conditions can be more volatile and you want to give yourself the best possible opportunity to be successful…especially for the money spending). So I signed up with Reg Brickell and was placed in the 3rd slot for the second Neap of August. Each Neap is approximately 7-8 days (give or take a day). Being 3rd in the tide is less than desirable because if the weather acts up you can potentially miss your window of opportunity (which means you spend a fortune to sit in Dover and watch the wind blow your window away without a swim attempt)). On my tide the first two swimmers swam the first two days and then all hell broke loose. The boat captains will not take you out on the water for an attempt if the winds are 10 knots or higher. After the 2nd swimmer swam, we experienced a week of 15-28 knot winds and we had to wait…and wait…and wait for the conditions to become swimable. If you know me well, you sure as hell know I am certainly not the most patient person in the world. Add the worry of water temps dropping, potentially missing the tide/having to swim Spring, losing my crew, the crazy Aussies and the cost of this adventure and you’ll be glad your reading this post and not sitting next to me during this time period!!
I got the call!!! Reg’s famous line that I will never forget, “Put on your costume love, it’s time to swim.” The next day looked good. Weather channels were reporting air temp of about 70 degrees, sun with 30% cloud coverage, winds about 6-9 knots blowing against my back and water temp about 63 degrees. It was time to start prepping. Unfortunately, I have developed this very odd issue…becoming seasick only when swimming! I’m fine in a boat but as soon as I hit water…forget about it!!! I have to take a mix of anti-nausea and motion sickness medications that start 6 hours before the swim and continure throughout the entire swim. My bags had been packed for a week now because we knew we could go at any minute. We reviewed everything and then it was time to sleep. Surprisingly, I was able to get some good sleep before heading out. I was nervous, but just living in the moment.
06:33 (Zulu time): It’s time to get the Victoria House up and rocking!!! No breakfast before the swim today. Knowing how sick I normally get, I usually go with a small protein bar and bag everything else. Everything was finalized the night before so it’s a matter of grabbing the taxi and heading to Folkestone to load up.
07:05: Steve Knibbs (our driver for the week) picks us up at the Victoria House. On the way there we drive at the top of the White Cliffs over looking Samphire Hoe, which is where I will take the plunge to start the swim. Looking down at the water it looked very peaceful which makes me a bit uneasy. I wasn’t about to be fooled by what I saw; I knew it was a false sense of hope that we would have great conditions.
07:35: We arrive at Folkestone and there was not a person in site. I called Reg to confirm and he explains that the tide is so low that we’ll have to wait until 8:15am before he can get the boat out of the Harbour and over to the drop point. Yeah, the drop point…literally!!! We will have to climb down a 30-foot ladder that lies flat against a retaining wall while they lower all of the bags onto the boat. Nice, a little extra exercise…exactly what I need!!! My mother’s a bit nervous (scared of heights) but I know she’ll pull through in the end.
08:15: The water has risen a couple of feet and we see the Viking Princess being prepped to take the water. The water outside the Harbour is still pretty nice but it’s what you couldn't see that I feared. We saw Reg break from the mooring and head over to the wall and hook up to another boat. We all successfully climb down the ladder and cross over to our new home for the next 18 hours. Mike and Ray send the bags down by rope and we immediately start getting everything settled on the boat. I’m a bit nervous but excited and really taking it all in minute by minute.
08:25: Everybody is aboard the Viking Princess and it’s time to hit the open water. The air temp is in the high 50’s but we’re hoping that it rises as soon as the sun comes out. I strip down to my “costume” and start the lubing procedures. We started with a thick coat of suntan lotion followed by Channel Grease. Channel Grease is sheepskin, lanolin and Vaseline mixed together at high temperatures. Liz Fry left a tub behind after her double-crossing attempt (yeah there are people crazier than I am) so I could use it. We only coated the areas that would be prone to bad chaffing. After I was completely lubed up I sat on the deck with my hands up on the ropes above. It’s vitally important not to touch the suntan lotion or grease before you swim. If it gets on your hands it will get all over your goggles and in your eyes. Not something you want to deal with at the beginning of a really long day. We were on our way to Samphire Hoe to start the swim. Seeing as this was the first swimable day in about a week 12 other attempts were being made with other boats. There were a few relays but for the most part solo swims. There are some very strict rules when swimming the Channel: 1. You have to clear water on both sides (England and France) for the swim to be official; 2. Under no circumstances are you allowed to touch the boat, that’s an automatic disqualification; 3. You are only allowed to wear a bathing suit, cap and goggles. Your suit has to be a regular suit that does not allow any advantages (so no fastskins or any other type of newly created suits that eliminate drag or keep you warm…just a good old speedo). As I’m watching the chap in front of me start his swim from one of the 12 boats I realize that it’s freezing!!! The air temp is about 60 degrees and it looks like we are not going to see the sun any time soon.
08:40: It’s time!!! Mike comes over and says, “It’s time for you to go now. Be on it with it love.” That’s the one thing I love about the Brits, they don’t cushion a damn thing! They just keep it real. Ray was standing at the edge of the boat waving me over. I dropped my iPod into my bag and walked over to the edge. With Ray’s help I climbed up on the side of the boat, steadied myself for a second and then JUMPED!!! My first thought when I hit the water was…WOW this is cold!!! I had been training in Dover Harbour all week but this water was definitely colder than in the Harbour (due to the high winds all week bringing up the colder water from below). I proceeded to swim to the beach and when I arrived I slowly climbed out of the water onto the golf ball sized rocks (that’s what they call a beach over there).
08:50: I cleared the water, took a deep breath, turned around to face my boat and gave them a big wave. The boat horn went off signaling the start of the swim. I quickly re-entered the water and started swimming at a very fast pace. A few swimmers gave me the advice to sprint the first 5-miles and then settle into the swim. They said the first 5-miles are the hardest and after that the water flattens out. I went against my game plan of starting out slow/steady and decided to try this out. I figured since the water was still pretty flat I would have a better opportunity to get some mileage behind me.
Feed #1: An hour into the swim I stopped for the first feed. Let me give you all a quick visual…I’m treading water while Jaime sets up a few water bottles hooked to a 50-ft dog leash that is attached to the boat. Jaime throws the bottles to me right before I stop swimming. I grab the water bottles, take what I need and when finished swim towards France. This all happens within 20-50 seconds. In the water bottles I feed on Gatorade and Maxim (British carb/protein powder). Channel swimmers say the electrolytes in the Gatorade will upset your stomach during the swim due to the high amount of salt in the Channel (it’s like opening your mouth and sticking it into a bucket of salt). The back-up plan was water, honey and Maxim. For every feeding Jaime and Deni would have to climb down to the bottom of the boat and warm the fuel up in a microwave before giving it to me. This (and the 20 lbs of Channel fat I put on for the swim) helps me keep my core warm and helps fight off the threat of hypothermia. (In cold water blood leaves the limbs and pools in the core to help keep the core warm. I spent 3 years acclimating to colder temps to help fight off hypothermia as well.). I wasn’t pleased with having to put on the weight but honestly, every single pound counted and was desperately needed during the swim. Back to the feeding… I was told never to look back at the White Cliffs because it will frustrate you that you aren’t making any headway. I snuck a look back anyway. There is nothing like seeing the White Cliffs of Dover from the water 2-miles out! I quickly took my feeding and I was back on my way swimming towards France. After the first feed we would stop every 33 minutes to feed again. A little over an hour into the swim I was starting to feel nauseas and dizzy due to the conditions starting to pick up and the winds blowing the boat fumes directly into my face. I decided to stop breathing through my nose. After a while my sinuses were swollen shut, which wasn’t a surprise. Due to the concentration of salt your mouth, tongue, throat and sinuses swell. It’s all part of the experience. My stroke count was up around 75-78 strokes per minute, which is very high for me in a marathon swim. I am always at 68 strokes per minute for about 7 hours and will remain right around there for the duration. That definitely started to worry me a bit because I knew my left shoulder would not hold up to that stroke rate in the present conditions.
10:20: Surprise, surprise my left shoulder is now in pain…not hurting but in pain. My sprint towards the first shipping lane for calmer waters was coming to an end. I couldn’t hold that pace anymore. Deep down I knew this would affect my time but I stopped really caring about how fast I did the swim and was more concerned with just finishing it. Conditions had picked up and I felt like I was being pushed backwards the entire time. I won’t lie, I really was not loving the swim but my need to climb the shores of France completely outweighed my need to get out! Evidently during the feed Mike yelled out that the water temp was a steady 60 degrees, thankfully I didn’t hear him. That kind of information can play with your mind throughout the swim. Honestly though, the temp didn’t matter, I knew that I was FREEZING my rump off!!! As I was swimming, I was thinking about a few things…1. Why the hell would Liz want to swim a 2-way and Marcy want to swim a 3-way? They certainly are tipped; 2. The White Cliffs were still there but slowly (and I mean slowly) are starting to look smaller and smaller; 3. My stomach wasn’t working at full capacity anymore with digesting the fuel correctly; 4. Where the HELL is the calmer water everyone kept telling me about? And lastly…I AM FREEZING!!!!
12:20: It’s 3.5 hours into the swim and the waves seem to be coming from directly in front of me and crashing over my head. I couldn’t wait for the predicted wind change (according to wind-guru which I conveniently dubbed wind-screw-you after the swim). Luckily, at 3-hours Jaime gave me an Aleve that really gave me a boost.
British Shipping Lanes: At my next feeding I was told I finally entered the first shipping lane. How this works is you swim from shore to the British shipping lane, British shipping lane through the separation zone, separation zone to the French shipping lane (much bigger than the British shipping lane), French shipping lane to French shore. Before the feeding I knew I was close because I saw a cruise ship in the distance. During the feed I made a request I knew was not going to be a popular one with my crew. I asked them to deep six the Gatorade feeds and start with the water, maxim and honey. I asked this because the fuel was piling up in my stomach like mushy bricks and not emptying at a fast enough rate. Between the feeling of the waves jostling the fuel in my stomach and the fumes in my face I knew I was soon going to be lose my cookies. The last thing I needed was to start refusing feeds…that’s BAD news for a marathon swimmer. So it was essential we try something new. Due to the water conditions, I could see my sisters climbing up through the hatch so I knew they had just gone downstairs to warm up a few feedings worth of Gatorade. When I requested the change neither of them even batted an eyelash. They both agreed it would be fine and ready for the next feeding (I was really impressed because the way that boat was moving, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy task for them). My mother was there recording and every feed like clockwork. Up to this point there were very few words exchanged on the feeds. I was miserable and just wanted to take what I needed and keep going. It was too soon to take more medication to calm my stomach so I just had to suck it up. As I was swimming I was thinking about my buddy George Hunihan (he swam a little over a week before me) and how he said that once you hit the shipping lanes conditions will calm down. I still wasn’t seeing it!!! I was cold, in pain, and I felt like I was going to be sick. Marathon swimmers are aware that around the 6-8 hour time frame you go into a depression and it’s really easy to talk yourself into the boat. Unfortunately, it hit 2 hours into the swim and continued for an additional 6 hours. Unusual, yes, but I knew it was my decision to be out there so there was no use in complaining I just had to suck it up and deal.
14:50: It’s 6-hours into the swim and we tried for a second Aleve. We were using the gel tabs and that didn’t go over real well with my swollen, wet fingers. The Aleve was donated to the Channel gods. Lukily I was able to get the seasickness medication down which would start working soon. The conditions weren’t helping much. I knew my crew couldn’t control the weather and they were nothing but wonderful so I couldn’t take any of my crankiness out on them. So I kept my mouth shut and swam towards France. After the 6-hour mark, I was thinking how in 12 minutes I would have swam from NY to CT (in the 2007 Swim Across the Sound it took me 6 hours and 12 minutes to swim from Port Jefferson NY to Bridgeport CT). That gave me a small boost. Every time I started to really feel down I thought that I could withstand the pain and nausea because this was only one day in my life and this would not kill me but it would really hurt.
Separation Zone: A little after 6-hours into the swim I had finally cleared the first shipping lane and had entered into the separation zone. Finally, something to prove I was moving forward and not backwards. Usually there are a ton of ships out on the water but for some reason there were only 2-3 ships out the entire day. The direction of the ships helps the swimmer get an idea of where they are and how far they have come. I would ask Mike every other feeding, “Am I making forward progress or am I being pushed backwards while I’m swimming?” He would always reply, “I’ll let you know if you are not making any progress.” Luckily the seasickness medication was kicking in and I was starting to feel better. The water, honey and maxim were working perfectly. The winds were picking up and they were still blowing directly in my face and at times coming from my right side to my left. When swimming in cold water you tend to loose all concept of reality so you aren’t sure what’s real and what isn’t. I have become used to just not trusting conditions as I see them and just waiting until the end to hear what it was really like. With every wave I would see the barnacles on the bottom of the boat then the boat would roll completely to the other side and I would see the entire deck with my sisters who were at the edge of the boat, nearly in the water. I knew conditions were worsening but I didn’t know to what extent. The 52-ton fishing boat was like a toy boat in a tub! There was a 15-foot drop from the side of the boat to the water. During the feedings my sisters and I would almost hit heads because the boat would roll all the way on its side. I was really freaked out that the boat would chop off my legs on the way down. It’s amazing because the only thing that kept me calm was looking at my sister’s reactions. They never looked panicked stricken which was so weird to me because I was scared to death. I chalked it up as me over reacting to the conditions…maybe they weren’t really as bad as I thought they were? Evidently, around the same time the girls were down below to warm up fuel and were tossed through the air from one wall to the other due to the waves. Jaime started to panic and asked Deni if they were going to be ok that she was scared to death. Deni told her to pull herself together that she was also panicking but there was no way they could let me know that. When they got back up on the deck they asked Mike if they were going to pull me out. Mike told them that if they had known the conditions were going to be this bad they never would have allowed me to swim. Mike said that since we were already out they were going to try to use the boat as a barrier from the waves with hopes that I would just keep swimming. Later I found out that they were thinking of pulling me and my training buddy Liz Fry was on the phone with Reg and told him to keep me in because I would still finish in those conditions (she absolutely made the right call). The conditions were really not safe and I considered calling it a day but realized there was no way in hell they would be able to get me on the boat. So my only option was to keep swimming. I figured I was beaten to a pulp all ready so I might as well keep going. My sisters went to the back half of the boat and put up Dave’s flag from the Tampa swim as a motivator. (Dave Parcells was one of my marathon swimming mentors. On April 21, 2007 we went down to Tampa to compete in the Tampa Bay marathon. After swimming about 5-miles together we split up a bit. At 10-miles Dave got out because he wasn’t feeling well…conditions were really bad. He had nothing to prove, he swam the Bay 7 times already as well as having single and double channel swims under his belt. 15 minutes after he got on the boat he had a massive heart attack and died. He died doing what he loved.) When they hung the flag it put everything back in perspective…failure was not an option.
15:20: 6.5 hours into the swim and I FINALLY hit half way. At that point I knew I was in for at least a 13-hour swim. I wondered if I had it in me to actually finish this. I honestly doubted it at the time. My crew did an EXCELLENT job of shielding me from the magnitude of the weather. I knew it was bad and continually getting worse but at the time I had no idea truly how dangerous it was. Little did I know that there was a real concern on the boat about the conditions and the safety for all involved….they were cool as cucumbers.
French Shipping Lanes: During the feedings Mike would yell over that if I kept swimming I would eventually make it to land. My head went down and all I could think was…”This is one day of your life, you can do this. You have been beaten and bruised but you still have more in you. Don’t stop, keep going. Just keep swimming.” So I did. At the 8-hour mark I hit the defining moment of the swim. I realize I have been swimming longer than any other swim I have ever done, in the absolute worst conditions I have ever seen. At this point I started to challenge myself to see how long I could keep going before I got out. I was really starting to feel the cold water closing in on me and was nervous that I wasn’t going to finish because of hypothermia. I kept telling myself to pull it together and not allow the cold to affect the body. I knew if I could block out the cold that I would have a chance at finishing this. I was starting to be able to make out an outline of France and I would be damned if they were going to pull me out in sight of my goal. I put my head down and kept swimming. At some point I had entered into the second shipping lane but it was never really announced. Mentally, the roughest part was trying to get out of the French shipping lanes. There were just no ships out on the water to get a judge of forward progress. It was very frustrating. So I kept swimming.
French Waters: FINALLY, I exited the French shipping lane and was in French waters. I wasn’t even excited when they told me. All I could think about was…when the HELL is the wind going to switch so it’s against my back like wind-guru said it would???? (It never did). Knowing I was approximately 5-miles from shore was helpful but I wasn’t fooled. Take the present conditions out of the picture entirely. Every Channel swimmer knows the hardest part of the swim is the last 5-miles. The currents near shore pick up and are almost always pulling you back into the middle of the ocean. You can get caught up in a bad current and you could be there for hours or end up just having to get out. The present conditions were consistently bad but I had grown to accept that they were not going to change. I would be lying to say I was positive I would make it or that I didn’t want to get out. Truth be told, I still had no clue if I would finish this or not. I was beaten up badly and was starting to feel it take a toll. At times I wanted to get out and put on my parka but the burning desire to climb the shores of France were still stronger. So I kept swimming. At this point I started to struggle mentally. I had to forcefully repeat, “This is one day in your life, you can do this.” I found myself bargaining “Finish this and you’ll never have to swim again…if you don’t want to. One stroke in front of the other until you hit land. SWIM BITCH SWIM!!!!” Hours 8 through 10 were mentally challenging. My body kept going but my mind was starting to get cold and go soft.
18:50: It was 10 hours into the swim. There was nothing easy about this swim. I was so beaten up physically but mentally I was hanging in there. I knew I couldn’t quit. If I did then not only would I have been physically beat up but I would also spend the rest of my life mentally beating myself up for quitting. I knew it would be far easier to stay in the water than get on the boat. So I kept swimming. It was 10.5 hours into the swim and it was time to start making some changes. We saw the sun for a total of 30 seconds during the swim so the air temp stayed at 63 the entire day. It was now starting to get dark. Between the amount of light, my dark tinted goggles and my vision going due to exhaustion I was having trouble seeing the boat. It was so dark I couldn’t see the feeds being thrown to me anymore, my sight was done. (For those of you that don’t know, I am almost blind in my left eye). While swimming I asked if we could switch to my red goggles with the head beacon during the next feed. It was time to light me up! At the feed we switched out the goggles with the ones with the light beacon tied to the back. I broke the 3 light sticks we had pinned on the back of my suit before the swim. I turned my back to the boat and asked if they could see me. Deni yelled, “You’re lit up like a Christmas tree, we’ll never lose you!” I just started to laugh and I knew what I had to do next…put my head down and swim. The boat put on its night lights so I had a better view of them. This is where the swim changed for the best. It was pitch black out and I was finally in the moment. My absolute favorite time to swim is in the dark because it is just so peaceful. The dark was blocking out all the issues we had dealt with throughout the swim. Not to mention it blocked out any sight of land (or lack of it). It was just my boat and I…exactly how I liked it. This was a blessing in disguise. I stopped looking to see if I was getting closer and just, really for the first time, swam feed to feed. I was starting to actually enjoy the swim. I was still having a ton of trouble seeing the water bottles being thrown to me during the feeds. So Jaime pinned two more light sticks to the leash and they were much easier to find. I still was petrified to feed though due to the conditions. It was bad enough in the light to get close to the boat, now I had to do it in the dark with very limited sight. But all in all, I was in my element. Then came the best part…as I swam there were these little bioluminescent bubbles coming out of my mouth, nose and off my fingers. I had always heard about this but never had experienced it first hand. It was SO much fun!! I figure out that if I stayed away from the direct light of the boat I could see them better. I wanted to bottle them up and share them with everyone but I knew this part of the experience would be all mine. The bubbles reminded me of fireworks. It was like my hands were celebrating the fact that I was going to make it. That’s when my mindset finally changed. It stopped being “if” I make it and started to become “when” I make it. Mentally I was picking up a bit.
19:50: At the next feeding I felt the energy draining out of me. I was 11 hours into the swim and knew I was coming close to having nothing left. All I could think was, “I’ll never make it if I have 4-6 hours left”. I asked my crew, “Realistically, how many more hours are we looking at?” Jaime did something that Mike ended up scolding her for…she told me the truth. She knows me better than anyone in these situations (she has been my crew for every one of my marathon swims) and knew her answer could determine the outcome of the swim. She said very tentatively, “Honestly, you are looking at about an hour and a half left.” I exploded! I think I shocked everyone on the boat when I yelled, “Hell yeah!!! I’m going to finish!!!” Mike immediately ran over to Jaime and said something. She yelled over that it could take possibly 2 hours. I told them it was fine because I was going to finish. The entire mood on the boat changed. I could see everyone up and watching my every move. From that point on they said they could see the determination and confidence coming from me. I could also see it in my crew! Right after that I saw Jaime go in and talk to Reg and Ray for the first time during the swim. I didn’t really care what was going on because I just wanted to finish. Jaime had gone in to tell Reg that he would have to come out and tell me when it was my last feed because they all knew I wouldn’t believe them if they told me (they were absolutely right)! So for the next hour I swam feed-to-feed watching the fireworks come off my hands. THEN IT HAPPENED!!! What I had watched and prayed for the entire swim had finally happened! The light went on at the back of the boat!!! Ray emerged and started to prep the dingy to be lowered to the water so I could follow it to shore. I finally knew I was going to achieve my goal. I knew I was going to make it. I screamed….WOOOHOOO, while I was swimming and alerted my crew that the dingy was being prepared. I thought it was funny though because I could not make out land anywhere around us…it was way too dark. I watched Ray prep the dingy named “UNBELIEVABLE” printed on the bottom. (I know because it almost hit me in the head 4 or 5 times during the feedings). I prayed and willed for the boat to be lowered. It was like I was being teased…here’s the boat but we’re not letting you get in it!!! I had such a surge from the activity because that was the moment I knew that Reg had the confidence that I was going to finish! It's far different having confidence in yourself and your boat captain having confidence in you. This was my first Channel attempt, Reg had been doing this for 30 years!!!
The Finish: They flashed the flashlight to signify it was time to come in for a feeding so I swam closer to the side of the boat. I didn’t see Reg so I figured this wasn’t my last feeding. The feed was thrown out and then I heard, “Your less than half a mile from shore love”. I looked up, spotted Reg and started to laugh and yelled back, “Reg if you were in the water I would kiss you right now!” Everyone on the boat lost it. Hell, I had nothing left physically, nothing left mentally but at least I had my sense of humor. So I did what I knew best, I put my head down and started swimming. I started thinking over and over: 1. Crawl out (don’t pass out); 2. Clear the water; 3. Grab rocks and put in suit; 4. Stop your watch. Then I realized, Reg never said it was my last feeding. I decided at that point to pick up the pace and make it my last feeding. Then I saw the dingy lowered to the water and felt a huge relief. Reg pulled it close and Ray climbed in. Everything was happening so fast. Ray pushed away from the boat and started the engine. He pulled up right beside me with the dingy. Neither of us thought anything of it but the conditions were still really bad and he was having trouble controlling the dingy. He proceeded to literally (I’m talking shoulders to feet) run over me 4-5 times. I would have to stop swimming but I didn’t care, I was going to make it. Normally you would be disqualified if you touched the boat. Knowing this I kept my hands to myself and the boat touched me. In the dark with those conditions it is considered incidental touching when this happened as long as I didn’t grab the boat. So I was not in danger of being disqualified, thankfully! I stopped and asked Ray if I would be climbing up on the boulders or on the beach. He said, “I can’t be sure love, just keep swimming until you feel land.” I asked how far and he told me 50 meters. I said, “Holy shit, I’m actually going to finish this!” I really could not believe it at all. The plan was for me to swim to shore while he waited in the shallows. Once I cleared the water he was going to radio Mike that I had officially cleared the water. Ray told me to “swim towards the light”. I just started to laugh…there was nothing that could be said to that one. Reg and Ray both had floodlights pointed straight ahead but I really couldn’t see what I was heading towards. It was REALLY eerie with this big yellow blob in front of me. Your told to keep swimming until you can’t go any further yet you can’t see 2 feet in front of you. A lot of trust is demanded in this situation. But it sounded simple enough, so I put my head down and started swimming. Nothing like adding insult to injury…my last 50 meters I was stung by four jellyfish. Luckily I had been training in the LI Sound all summer for the worst jellyfish outbreak in years (I was used to being stung over 200 times in a 4 hour training swim!) Nothing great is easy! All of a sudden I was pummeled by a wave. It was a very odd feeling because it came behind me instead of hitting me square in the face. It’s almost like my brain was switched back on and I realized I was supposed to put my feet down. It was pure sand!! I immediately went into action and started doing dolphin dives until my hands hit the rocks. Thankfully I landed just off the nose of Cap Gris Nez where the boulders are and landed on the beginning of the beaches of Cap Blanc Nez. I grabbed my first handful of rocks and stuffed them down my suit. I wanted to give a rock to each of the members of the crew. My natural reaction was to stand up but I quickly realized I might pass out (after being in prone position for so long this tends to happen to some people). I knew my only goal was to clear the water without passing out. So I started to crawl and I heard the rocks falling out of the top of my suit but I didn’t care, I just wanted to be finished. Once I cleared the water I said screw it and stood up. It took me a minute to catch my balance but when I did I looked up and about 4-5 feet in front of me were the White Cliffs of France! I turned around and started waiving to the boat. I kept hearing myself whisper, I’m done….I’m done…I’m done. But I realized they couldn’t seem to find me with the floodlights. They would criss-cross over me while I stood there but neither stopped on me. I knew that when I heard the boats horn I could get back in and swim to the dingy. Problem was, I stood there for what felt like an eternity and there was still no horn. I looked down and grabbed the biggest rock I could find and stuffed it down my suit. Then I stopped my watch at 13:34:03. Knowing that I am only allowed 10 minutes on international soil without my passport (it was in the boat in case I was picked up) I decided to head back to the dingy. I could tell Ray completely lost me on shore as I saw him being pushed in circles by the waves. I called out to let him know I was behind him. He said, “Hurry up love.” All I could think was, “Hurry up????” It was a VERY painful swim back to the dingy after my shoulders had taken a break. When I got back to the dingy I stopped, was treading water with both hands in the air and asked if he saw me clear water. He said yes. I asked if Mike knew I was officially done and he said yes. It was time to GET OUT!!! At that point I did what I wasn’t allowed to all day…I grabbed the dingy! Ray grabbed my arm and launched me in. Thankfully he had the strength to do that because there was no way in hell I was going to be able to climb in. It was time to go home!
22:23: After 13 hours and 33 minutes of battling the forces of nature I finished my swim from Samphire Hoe UK to Cap Blanc Nez France!!! According to Mike, I stopped for a totally of 20 minutes throughout the entire swim to take in feedings. According to a comprehensive list of all the Channel swimming bodies, I am unofficially and approximately the 1,489th person in the world to have successfully swam the a solo Channel swim. Cool!
Viking Princess: Ray brought me back to the Viking Princess and I climbed back up onto the boat. I was laughing and told Mom, Deni and Jaime….We will never do this again!!! Everyone started laughing and they all said at the same time…we retire! After the swim the next 30 minutes are crucial to the swimmer because once they stop exerting energy their body temp starts to drop and can become very dangerous. So as soon as I got out I was immediately brought to the front of the boat and I changed into my sweats and parka. I was so thrilled it was over and I was in dry clothes. After I was dressed, Jaime said, “Ok, now can I tell you what you just did?” I said yeah, “Was it bad or was I imagining it?” They all started to laugh and Jaime said, “You were in Force 4 conditions with steady 15 knot winds, 20 knot gusts and 10-12 foot waves that were even crashing onto the boat!” I started to laugh and said, “How the hell did I just finish that?” In the end, 12 boats went out, 9 swimmers were pulled from the water. A male solo swimmer finished an hour before me and a relay finished an hour behind me. It was not your typical day on the water, that’s for sure!!
Victoria House: We arrived back at the Victoria House at 03:00 after a 4-hour trip back on the boat. We had to climb the 30-foot ladder again to get back to land. I certainly did not mind because that meant no more water!!! Thankfully Steve Knibbs was ready and waiting when we arrived. I was so ready to go home…and boy was I going to get my wish. At 07:00 Steve was picking us all up to go to the airport (I had 4 hours to clean up, unpack and pack everything I used that day). It was a rough 24-hours and the flight home wasn't very comfprtable but I was just excited to be done and home.
Conclusion: Make no mistake about it…the Channel is COLD and very unpredictable. You must leave your controlling nature at the door and trust the people around you to keep you safe. No way could I have finished that without my EXCELLENT crew (Mom, Jaime and Deni)!!! They had 10-12 foot waves coming up over the opposite side of a 52-ton fishing boat and hitting them in the back through the second half of the swim all the while not giving me any indication of discomfort or panic (which they were)...serious dedication!!! My boat captains Reg Brickell and Ray Brickell were PHENOMENAL and our observer Mike Phillips was OUTSTANDING. They all kept me safe and swimming...that's all I could ask for. Marathon swimming is an extreme sport and should be treated with the utmost respect. Quite a bit of research and preparation should go into effect to be successful. Thanks go out to all my mentors/training buddies who helped me quite a bit along the way…Dave Parcells, Liz Fry, Marcy McDonald, Jim Bayles, George Hunihan, Dennis Dressell…you guys ROCK!!! I couldn’t have done it without all of your insightful knowledge and incredible experience. The most important key is to find a crew that you are 100% comfortable with and trust. This is not an individual sport…you will not make it across without the help of others. I never would have made it across without Mom, Deni and Jaime…THANK YOU for all your dedication and level-headedness!!! And back to my earlier point…Liz and Marcy, you ladies are CRAZY!!! Not to worry I can always change my mind and try a double in my 40’s :)