For the first time in these two short years I have been embarking on solo aquatic adventures, everything is coming together. No drastic pre-swim injuries (so frequent they are now officially traditional), no small craft advisories, only brief jellyfish encounters at a distance, great weather conditions, and a solid nutritional plan for during the swim. My mind and my body feel great. Finally the stars are aligning. And best of all, the positive energy from my crew, Emma and Melissa, as well as from the boat pilot, Andy and his crew James and Phil is palpable. While these swims across enormous bodies of water are solo odysseys of the self, pushing through unparalleled territory of physical and mental exertion, they simply are not possible without the care and assistance of a team. Looking after my welfare is a given, but enthusiasm is optional and a powerful gift for which there is no price. And for that I am tremendously grateful.
Yet to fully describe my joy and happiness requires a somewhat embarrassing disclosure: I yell "WOO!" as I breathe, while I'm swimming. Especially when I'm happy, but certainly not limited to happiness. Sometimes I yell "WOO!" when I'm scared. Admittedly it is a rather odd sounding expression, high pitched and a tad technical, especially because I need to inhale oxygen at the same time, as I take a quick breath mid-stroke. But I can't help it. It just happens.
Swimming up to the boat for the first time at the beginning of my swim – in the pitch black darkness of 3:30am – "WOO!" enabled me to communicate with my crew. Unsure I was swimming up to the correct boat, I yelled a desperate "WOO!" into the unknown. And in those moments enveloped in darkness, this expression of joy snuffed any fear that had been percolating within me. Adding to this joy, my crew replied with an ebullient "WOO!"
As I continued swimming into those unsettling hours that followed before sunrise, the adrenalin surged forcibly and uncomfortably through my body. A series of "WOO!" allowed my internal release valve to open gradually, providing some relief. My crew followed suit with an equally silly – and more enthusiastic – "WOO!" Catching my first glimpse of the sunrise I was ecstatic, giving way to a deserving moment of one very loud and very determined "WOO!" Perhaps my favorite recollection was when my boat pilot Andy, stuck his head out of the window at the helm, made eye contact with me and yelled "WOO!" By the conclusion of my swim, I have not doubt my team and I exchanged "WOO!" over 900 times.
Interspersed between these exchanges of "WOO!" were cheerleading routines performed by my crew with a whiteboard. An earlier joke with Melissa after we spotted a curious fox cross the road as we drove to the Dover Marina set the stage for more jokes. Mention of a viral online video called "What does the fox say" somehow morphed into the theme of the cheerleading routine. At various moments across the Channel out came the whiteboard, held proudly by Melissa and Phil each displaying huge grins. Breathing to my left I take a quick moment to read the message. The message always began with "What does the fox say?" followed by a sentence so silly it made me giggle. Sometimes I laughed so hard I almost choked on an inadvertent gulp of water. Always present at the stern was Emma, shining a fabulous smile with seemingly endless moments of eye contact with me.
Not to forget the seriousness of the situation – the reality that I am swimming the English Channel in cold water where hypothermia is a very real risk - there was something truly special about these entertaining respites throughout my journey. Everyone enjoyed themselves. Expressions of positivity in the midst of heightened emotion – rallied by my wonderful crew, relaxed both my mind and my body, and allowed me to ignore my shoulder and wrist pain and fears of being too cold to swim. An experience best summarized as a “pleasure cruise” with lots of silliness. And this is what I shall call The Power of Woo!
Sneaking a glance towards shore, spotting land, I yell "WOO!" My English Channel swim is within grasp, but not without one last hurdle…