Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2014
What does it take to be unconquerable? Prior to MIMS I read a poem over and over that really tugged at the strings of my heart. The poem is called Invictus and it’s by William Ernest Henry. I recommend that you read it if you haven’t. It’s short and it’ll make your heart stop. The first verse of the poem is:
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
9 hours and 54 minutes. It took me 9 hours and 54 minutes to swim around this island. For 9 hours and 54 minutes I asked myself this question. Of course as I was asking myself I was also panicking inside that something might occur and I would have to be fished out of the water as I was last year. Was I still eligible for unconquerability if I had been conquered in the past? For those of you who do not know, last year at this time I attempted the same swim where 3 hours in I was pulled along with many other swimmers due to bad conditions and unfavorable tides. Ever since the day I enrolled for the 2014 MIMS, I had this feeling—more like a deep seeded fear— that something bad would once again happen against my will as I tried to swim around Manhattan. Last night I lay awake in bed trying to talk myself out of the voices in my head doubting everything about today’s swim. I lay there with my eyes open praying to the Universe that I would do anything to finish. I wished for predictability and perfection before I laughed at myself. Open water isn’t about either of those things. If you want predictability and perfection you go to a pool. Open water is pure and you take what’s thrown and or tossed at you. You go out and do everything you can but in the end you are forced to abide by what the universe wants (i.e. Possibilities include:marine wildlife, fast currents, mavericks, plastic soda bottles floating around, lightning storms, rip currents, etc. ). Open water has been quite a journey for me because of how I want to have control. Yet all the while open water has taught me how to respect the universe and how some things are simply to big to handle.
This morning at 7:30 AM I jumped off a boat and began the 28.5 mile “lap” around what I believe to be one of the most beautiful, perfect places in the world. My stomach had been jumping since the moment I hit the water due to my fear of Hell’s Gate (which I would approach 2-3 hours into the swim) and which had been the place where I was pulled last year. I treaded water side by side with the other swimmers and looked at each and every one of them. We all said good luck and wished each other safe and good swims and 30 seconds later the horn sounded. With that I began my journey around the island. At first my stroke felt wobbly, but I knew that the beginning was no place to slack off and I picked it up so that I would not be stopped by outgoing or incoming ferries in the ferry terminal. Thankfully I was not stopped. I turned left and I saw one of my favorite scenes of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. In front of me stood 3 mighty bridges. Their giant statures cast a beautiful contrast against the bright blue sky. I continued swimming and at last found my kayaker, Mike. He gave me a huge smile and I smiled back. At this point, my boat with my dad and Robert was on my right and Mike on my left. All of the East River felt awesome. Nothing hurt and there was a nice current pushing me forward. I took my first feed at the Williamsburg Bridge and they told me I looked great. I turned on my back as I drank my Gatorade and looked up at the Williamsburg Bridge, cars rolled over it making a large echoing sound. I continued swimming and at my next feed after the Roosevelt Island Bridge I asked Mike if Hell’s Gate was soon. He told me yes, it was literally right in front of me. I felt my stomach jump. I told Mike that I wanted to go fast, this is where I had been stopped last year. He told me he was cool with that and I started to swim, grabbing more water and digging deeper than I had ever before. Dad and Robert cheered and smiled from on the boat. Hell’s Gate turned out to be one of the easiest parts of the whole swim. How’s that for Irony? I felt so relieved as we passed under the footbridge and I didn’t have to worry about Hell’s Gate and the devilish waters that can come out of no where and end your swim anymore. Welcome to the Harlem River! The Harlem River was ONE LONG RIVER. The thing about the Harlem is that even though it’s long it really shouldn’t be considered “boring and long”. There are so many bridges and landmarks. However as I was swimming I was forgetting all of them and just getting confused. I decided to enjoy each one and see each one ahead as the next point I must get to. And that worked out. We passed a lot of fishermen and encountered many strange looks from people on the walls of the river who were biking and walking and running. At this point my neck was starting to bother me so I asked for Advil (which didn’t actually help calm it down until my second dose when I got to the Hudson). Finally there came a long stretch in the Harlem where we were without bridges. I looked ahead and saw two really tall bridges that were higher than any of the others. I recognized this as a sign that we must be nearing Spuyten Duyvil which my mom told me had meant “spitting devil” because of the choppy and harsh conditions that sometimes exist there along with all the boat movement and wakes that were created in the essence of a boat. Mike told me that there was one more bridge and once we turned another corner I saw the Broad way bridge and as I went to breathe on my right Mike pointed up. I stopped swimming and looked up. My mom, brother and Grammy were atop the bridge screaming and waving. I waved and smiled and said bye and then kept swimming. At this point the boat had to go forward so that it would avoid having to wait if the the Spuyten Duyvil bridge closed. I continued along Mike and the boat waited for us on the other side. We went under the first stanchion and with that I realized that we were finally in the Hudson. My friend and an amazing kayaker, Richard Clifford once told me that “the real race doesn’t start until the Hudson. In front of me only a few miles away stood my favorite and last bridge in the entire swim. The George Washington Bridge. On the left stood a little lighthouse. About 30 minutes later I stopped for an Advil and a Gu and Robert told me that the first swimmer had just gone under the GWB. All of the swimmers were fairly close to one another. I did what I was asked and stretched out my stroke and felt really good. I then sprinted to the bridge and took my next feed right after it. To my left there were several people at the lighthouse and they waved to me. I waved back and ate my feed and drank my Gatorade. My crew made me drink a lot so that I would be very well hydrated. Surprisingly I felt really good. Mike told me that we were basically there even though we had 10 or so miles to go and the current was dying down. I told myself that there were no more bridges to go under or no new bodies of water to swim into and this last leg of the Hudson really was the end. Determined I stretched out my strokes and swam the best I could as I passed the Sanitation department and a long stretch of land before I got to the boat basin. I told myself that if this was 79th street boat basin I MUST be getting close even though I knew I still had a ways away to go. However to my surprise, soon the piers began. I passed the Interepid and the Cruise ship terminal and then out of no where the chop began. But see, chop doesn’t scare me like it used to. After C3, chop and currents can never be as bad as that day. I took advantage of the swells. Lynne Cox once said that you can tell how someone is feeling and how they are in relation to the ocean just by looking at their stroke. Do they move with or against the water? Do they get crushed by the chop or do the ride over it and adjust the way they swim to it? I want to be the swimmer who IS the ocean. Not just some foreign body swimming around in it. I stopped for a feed and Mike said something about a “large fish” and how there were “no dolphins here for sure” and I shook my head and laughed and tried not to let it get to me. The chop continued and I continued to take advantage of it. It didn’t feel foreign anymore or bad. I felt strong. I passed more and more piers and I took a feed right around 45. Many people were standing at the pier watching me swim and then stop and eat. Robert told me that he wanted me to pick it up for the last two miles. Eating my GU I suddenly head loud cheering from the pier. I turned around and more people than I would’ve thought were standing there cheering me on. I didn’t know them but they were cheering and taking pictures. I waved and kept on swimming. The chop was growing more and more substantial but it didn’t bother me even the slightest bit. I maintained a straight line and kept my strokes deep and strong. Finally we passed Pier 25 where there were tents and lots of people waiting and which would be the place we went back to after the swim. In front of me was the ferry terminal and North Cove. I knew we were near the end. On my left was this sea wall that went all the way to the finish. Out of no where I saw a woman following me. MOM!! I waved to her and smiled at her and she smiled back. My mom always told me that I smiled when I swam ever since I was a really little kid. I guess there I was doing it again. As I passed South Cove I knew that I was only a few strokes away from success. I made the sharp left into Pier A and there it was. Bright orange and huge. The Buoy. I had dreamed about this moment since the moment I had been forced to clim the ladder onto the boat last year. And there it was only a few feet away. I was sprinting. I was close to tears and it didn’t even feel real. I smacked the buoy and when I picked my head up I saw my mom, brother, Grammy and Uncle Lawrence. They were cheering and Sebbie was making faces. I found Mike who had paddled all the way down to the finish with me even though kayakers usually peel off much earlier so that they don’t have to paddle upstream. Mike told me that he would come with me all the way to the finish because I deserved that and we were in it together. We were. All of us. I got back to the boat were Robert and my dad hugged me tight and Eric got me towels. My body felt like it had been hot by a truck and I could barely climb up the ladder. However in the pictures I saw, I was still smiling. When we got back to Pier 25 to unload the first face I saw was Hannah’s. She clapped for me and she looked so genuinely happy. Hannah had been there for me at all of my swims including C3. I got off the boat and everyone said I didn’t even look phased. As I walked up the ramp I saw Jim. I called his name and have him a huge hug. We both had finished. I had met Jim at Ederle last year and we had become good friends. I showered off and went to the dinner. At the dinner everyone was so happy and I was so hungry. I saw an old/new friend Anthony who had told me that he loved these posts I do post-swim. Anthony did C3 for me and he was holding the finish sign when I finished. We hugged and said congrats to each other for a great day. I finally saw my family and Mike (on dry land) and everyone told me that I must be so relieved and that they were so proud. Just as I was sitting down Salvatore, a new friend that I had made who was Australian but from Italy, started clapping for me. Lots of people joined in and it made me really happy. Then he came over and hugged me really tight. So much hugging! Ed, an awesome guy I swim with made me give him the whole story and I did and he told me that he was so proud of what I had successfully done. My friend Janine told me how inspirational I was and I told her how inspirational she was for starting to swim only recently and being so successful even in marathons already! Throughout the night I made many more friends and caught up with old ones and basically fell asleep in my food because I was so tired.
Driving home at night I don’t know how I feel. The sky looks like a painting swirling with colors and emotions. I am the luckiest kid in the world. Hell, I’m the luckiest human being in the world. I see how beautiful the world is and how beautiful my whole life is. I’m happy and healthy. I wake up and I have a full happy and supportive family. I have 2 dogs that kiss my face no matter how I feel. I have friends near and far who have my back and all of my best interests in mind. I play music from my heart. I get to swim every day. I always have someone to hug and someone to hear “I love you” from. I get to put myself up against the vastness of the universe and see how well I can be in harmony with it. This world is a beautiful balance that somehow creates something so breathtaking as the sunset I saw tonight or the amazing day I had today. I have a good life and I am so grateful. I am unconquerable not due to the will of the gods of any other person but due to my own self will and desire for the utmost beauty in the things I see and experience. Unconquerable isn’t something you’re born with. It’s not something you can keep for long because it keeps on changing. Unconquerable is something you have to teach yourself and something you can ironically only learn from being conquered. I know I will be conquered in the future but I also know that I will once again be unconquerable.
PS: I know this was a different kind of recap for me but I think there was a necessity for the reasons I had for writing it this way. However, there are so many people who I would like to show my gratitude to that I couldn’t in the way that I usually do so I think I am going to do it this way.
Thank you to my parents for supporting me as always and thank you to them for spending their anniversary watching my swim around Manhattan! Thank you to Grammy and Seb for schlepping around the island and climbing bridges and going to sketchy areas just to see me swim. Thank you to Robert, my other crew member for not only being a fantastic crew but also a great friend and supporter. Thank you to Mike, my kayaker, for always believing in me and supporting me and never giving up on me and showing me the best route around the island! Thank you to Trudy for being awesome and cute (as always). Thank you to all of my open water friends (new and old) I love you all so much and we had such a lovely group of swimmers today!! I thought it was so cool how more than half of the group was international! Thank you to this wonderful community for always feeling like a big family to me. I feel like I could have met any one of you today and still feel the way I do now about you. Thank you to my non-swim friends for always being supportive and loving even though y’all don’t know nothing about swimming. Thank you to the Dwass family for volunteering today just to see me start and finish