“Ok, Kim… are you ready to jump in?” asks Vito.

My answer is delayed. I can’t help but think to myself… Jump in?? What? I thought the “Chief Warmer Upper” is supposed to stay warm and dry so I can help warm up Joe when he finishes his swim…

While I LOVE swimming in the ocean, I wanted to make sure I was in the best possible condition (mentally alert and warm) to help Joe when he got out of the water.

But Patti, Darrin, David and Phil have each jumped in and swum next to Joe. And they need time to warm up to ensure that they are ready to help Joe again later in the swim. Joe needed an escort swimmer with him. And it was my turn.

Joe has already been swimming for 5 hours in water that is now 47 degrees. Unsure exactly how I would fair in water this cold, my heart starts beating furiously. I’m extremely nervous. I’ve never swum in anything colder than 49 degrees. But I know how critical it is at this stage of the swim to have someone in the water next to him, monitoring his wellbeing, in case anything goes horribly wrong.

I quickly change into my swimsuit. Cap. Goggles. Earplugs. Check.

“Okay Vito. I’m ready.”

I wait for the signal from Vito that the boat is in neutral. “Neutral!” yells Vito. I jump feet first into the water. My head pops up through the surface and it takes me a second to catch my breath. The water is absolutely freezing. I spot Joe and swim hurriedly towards him, switching places with David Holscher, who is “relieved” of his post and swims back to the boat.

Joe stops briefly when he notices me next to him. His face is completely frozen and his eyes are bulging from within his goggles. “Where’s the fucking rocks?!!” he blurts out. (We call the Farallon Islands, the "Rocks," so hadn't lost it completely). Slurring and hardly decipherable, its yet another indication of just how cold he is. “Swim Joe. Swim.” I encourage. He needs to keep moving. Normally he’s so much faster than me, and, whenever we swim together he always slows down so we can swim side-by-side. But today is quite different; today, I’m slowing down for him.  

It’s bittersweet.

Because when we swim together in the open ocean it’s very meaningful for us. We share a unique passion and appreciate that greatly. But today I know he’s struggling. I know he’s in excruciating pain. And it’s difficult to watch.

I focus intently on Joe… the water is so clear and I can easily see his body when my head is below the surface.  As I swim, I see my arms stretch out in front of me. The ocean glistens in the sunlight. It’s beautiful and dreamlike. The occasional giant jellyfish lingers around us and I feel like we’re swimming in an enormous aquarium. Breathing primarily on my left to keep a watchful eye on Joe, I sneak a few glances underwater to my right. I can see FOREVER. I take a few more strokes and with my head down I can see 30-40 feet underneath me. I imagine what creatures swim in the depths below...

Oh, God. A vision of a “guy in a grey suit” flashes in my mind. I tell myself to just keep swimming. There’s nothing to see here. Move on, I tell myself. Joe and I continue swimming.

My hour escorting Joe goes very quickly and I spot Darrin on the back of the boat getting ready to jump in and join us. “THANK YOU JESUS!” I’m feeling cold, ready to get out, and wondering how on earth Joe is continuing to swim when I know he’s in excruciating pain and extremely cold.

I swim back to the safety of the boat. “OMG… that was so cold. I don’t know how Joe is still swimming!!!!” I exclaim. As the words leave my mouth I realize just how cold I really am. My lower jaw is so numb that I’m pretty sure I could have major dental surgery right now, and not feel a thing.

//Photo credit: Open Water Source


Kim Kirby

London, UK