The blue light attached to Joe’s goggles zips effortlessly through the oily black water like a firefly buzzing across the evening sky. He swims an incredible 1.5 miles in the first 13 minutes. Standing on the back of the boat in my ski jacket and wool hat, I watch with wonder as the San Francisco skyline disappears behind us.
The full moon beams gloriously over the boat and the mood of the crew is upbeat and excited. He’s going to do it, I tell myself. He’s going to do it! While the air temperature is crisp, it’s tolerable. The waves are nice gentle rollers, and there’s hardly any wind. The only concern at this point is the water temperature. It’s a very VERY chilly 48 degrees.
Joe keeps swimming and his feedings seem to come and go as Paul hands him his carbohydrate drink on a pole (English Channel rules prohibit a swimmer from touching the boat) every 30 minutes. Joe is all business and barely utters a word as he guzzles the drink quickly and then continues plowing through the water.
The sun is beginning to rise; a spectacular glowing ball emerging through the horizon in the East. Everyone on the boat feels more at ease because, for the first time, we can now clearly see Joe in the water.
I tune into the metronomic rhythm of his arms slapping the water as he continues to make superhuman progress.
However, about 2.5 hours into the swim, we can tell something is wrong with Joe. He keeps stopping and switching stokes. During long swims, it’s not unusual for some swimmers go through an emotional “bad patch." The cause and the solution depend entirely on the individual. But it’s very strange to see Joe having a “bad patch” so early in his swim. Something isn’t right.
In an effort to help break him through the bad patch, Patti suggests I write messages on the whiteboard. She hands me a marker and I begin to write a series of encouraging notes. “I love you!!!” “Samantha loves you!!!” “WE love you!” Each time I hold the whiteboard up, desperate to see any indication from Joe that it worked.
At the 3 hour mark, Joe is allowed an escort swimmer. Darrin Connolly jumps in. Suddenly Joe curls into a ball and clutches his knees to his chest. He complains of excruciating back pain. This has never happened before. He continues swimming, but his pace is much slower than normal.
Paul suggests I write a message advising Joe to keep his head down to take the pressure off his back. I quickly scribble the message and hold up the whiteboard.
It’s extremely difficult for us all to watch Joe struggle. None of us have seem him look so cold, so desperate and in so much pain.
Shortly before he jumped in the water this morning, Joe was interviewed by a radio station. One particular comment echoes through my mind. “What you expect, and what you get, are always two different things.”