I never said it would be pretty. I never said it would be easy. And no one else did either. And just as well, because that’s exactly what I wanted. I remember a conversation with my pilot, Philip Rush, in the days preceding my swim. “You have absolute full license to do and say anything to me during my swim. ANYTHING.“ I said. “You can even hit me on the head if you think that will work. I’m not getting out of the water until I reach the other side.”
Philip agreed. “Don’t worry, I used to be a fireman, so I can resuscitate you if necessary.” Perfect. We were on exactly the same page, and I loved it. He understood my desire and motivation for giving it everything I had. Everything. I wanted to know that when I finished the swim I had expended every ounce of my being, and left nothing in the tank.
And, while I was certain that I would be pushing my mind and body into and through new territory, I wasn’t sure how I might respond. I wasn’t quite sure what I might say or do when things got really tough. I told Philip specifically that if – at any time – I told him I wanted to quit, to ignore me and not let me anywhere near the boat. I didn’t want to be pulled out of the water mid-swim. Quitting just wasn’t an option. And again, he agreed.
I have little recollection of the remaining hour of my swim. Beaten up by the relentless waves and wind, and unable to inhale adequate oxygen with my lungs rattling, I remember switching from freestyle to breaststroke. Correction. An arm and leg movement that vaguely resembled a swimming stroke called breaststroke. I remember coughing up seawater with every breath. I was physically and mentally spent. I was completely dazed.
The next thing I remember is Joe standing on the edge of the boat, pointing excitedly to shore. I was no more than 20 feet away. “Touch the rock!” Joe shouted, pointing to a rock closest to the boat. “Touch the rock!!!!!!” But my frozen brain had a different idea. Somehow I zoned in on the rock furthest away from the boat but, most important to me, this rock was as close to the treacherous rocky shore as possible. Hours seemed to tick by as moved my aching body through the blackened cold water, and focused my blurry vision on the earthy green and brown colored flora that decorated my trophy.
“DID YOU JUST PULL ME??!!!!” I exclaimed with sheer panic. Joe had just pulled my frozen corpse into the inflatable boat and I was head first in the boat, staring at Philip’s gumboots sitting in about a foot of water. I lifted my weary head and looked up at Philip. “Um, no…" assured Philip. "You just finished your goddamn swim. Congrats, girl!”
2 minutes prior I had touched that rock. I had swum the Cook Strait and claimed my trophy. 8 hours 26 minutes. And not once during those 8 hours and 26 minutes did I say I wanted to quit. Not once.