And so with each evening, the lights dimmed on the iridescent blue stage, and, unbeknown to our team, the curtains began to close on our performance. A new enemy that we had not counted on was slowly grinding us down and was destined to cut the cord on our swim.
The cause for our decision to abort our attempt to Santa Barbara was the simple jellyfish. While beautiful, they eventually become a terror. I would watch them rise to the surface of the water during my 7pm- 8pm shift, yellow-brown orbs with 4-5ft tentacles but still a safe distance away, bobbing below me.
This all changed on Wednesday night when my 1am – 2am shift became jellyfish mardi gras. I felt a sudden slap across the face by 4ft long tentacles… Stretching into the nothingness my hands would bump into huge gelatinous blobs; massive gelatinous ghosts floating through the darkness.
I was stung every 3 seconds and became frenetic. Snake like jellyfish (Siphonophores) would wrap around my arms and legs, others would slap me in the face and slip in my swimsuit. As I swam I would stop to pull them out of my swimsuit. Joe and Patrick who were watching described the horror of seeing them glow from my blinky light as a veil of jellyfish covered me from head to toe.
Very soon it became increasingly difficult to breathe… it was EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL! My whole body felt as if it was on fire. It was as if I was constantly being tazered. Still, I finished my shift. Joe jumped in after me and had a few minutes of stings but then luckily for him, the waters cleared.
The next night we only experienced mild stings. However, on Friday evening everything went wrong. Due to an adverse current we literally swam in place for the entire day, traveling no more than 9 miles in a 24 hour period. And as the sun set, the jellyfish came back in full force. The snake like jellyfish were back, lacking the large tentacles and blobs but the pain was all too familiar and every bit as extreme.
Again I was tazered across my entire body and I felt that familiar intensity of excruciating pain with the burn. I yelled to Joe to warn him of his next shift “JELLYFISH!” Then I kept swimming. The numbers seemed to only increase. I stopped a couple of times and put my head up to breathe as the stings felt as if they were literally sucking the air from my lungs. Still somehow I continued to swim. I knew I just needed to finish my 1 hour shift. Stopping to lay on my back and catch my breath I noticed Vito and Holscher standing on the back of the boat with Joe.
“I’m ok – it really hurts – but I’m ok,” I told them, stopping again for a breath of air after another particularly nasty barrage.
Searching for air again I stopped to breath and saw the panic on the boat. “I’m ok!” “I’m going to finish my shift!” “I’m not getting out,” I said - “2 minutes,” Joe replied. Again more stings as I pushed my arms through the water. Before I knew it, I saw Joe swim past me. My shift was done.
Still struggling to breathe as I my teammates helped me warm up on the boat, I was given the crushing news: our swim was over. Careful not to risk the rest of the team who had all been exposed to multiple jellyfish stings and mindful of the fact that we were not making any headway, our team decided to return to shore.
In a grueling David vs. Goliath reenactment on the high seas, in the end, David won.
But perhaps the greatest sting of all was the disappointment I felt in the aftermath. I thought about all the injured marines and their families who would benefit and wished that our swim had lasted just a few more days and raised more money to support them. I thought about the record that we had so tirelessly aimed to break. And I thought about my teammates.
But I know from experience that some of our greatest achievements come from our greatest disappointments and setbacks.
And so, that in mind, I know without a doubt, that I can harness that emotion to drive me forward into my next challenge.