Although physically strenuous
and requiring months of dedication and training, marathon swims are far more
than simple athletic events. They are deeply personal and emotional journeys of the Self.
In the days leading up to my journey across the Catalina Channel, I had been battling many emotions. My body seethed with a powerful and unrelenting cocktail of anticipation, fear, and excitement. Forcing myself to rest as much as possible, I had no choice but to sit with these emotions as they surged through my body. With the release valves firmly shut in preparation for my swim, the primal potion within me came dangerously close to combusting. I needed to swim.
As my support crew settled in with supplies and equipment on the escort boat, Outrider, docked in Long Beach, I felt a strange akathisia. The boat crew called us together to discuss the possibility of my swim being canceled. With a Small Craft Advisory in place by the US Coast Guard and winds in the Channel exceeding 25 knots, it seemed unlikely it would be safe to swim. A group of fishermen had just returned from the Channel in a boat 40 feet longer than the Outrider and described the conditions as ugly. My boat captain, John Pittman, said that this was a highly unusual weather pattern, and kindly offered me the choice to return another day with calm conditions. Perhaps sensing my readiness to swim, Pittman suggested we head halfway out into the channel and assess the situation.
Convinced the conditions would be as expected, I feared all my hard work was for naught. I tried my best to come to terms with the fact that my swim simply wasn’t meant to happen this evening.
Just as our boat was about to leave the dock and venture into the dark unknown, a familiar, yet eerie sound carried through the night sky. “Taps,” the American version of the Last Post - a trumpet call played at the annual ANZAC day memorial services in New Zealand – was being played over a loud speaker system from the nearby US Air Force base. The crew remarked how they had never heard that before. And I knew at that moment, my late Grandfather was with me.
As the boat listed violently from side to side in the waves and as items fell from the shelves in the galley, conversations between my crew carried on as normal. Talk of breeding Labradors and hunting expeditions created a stark disparity from reality. While I had diligently taken seasickness prevention tablets prior to our journey, I felt queasy.
Sitting alone outside, the rhythmic spray of water from the massive waves provided a sequence of momentary distractions. Then, all of a sudden, the boat came to a halt. I was sure at that moment, Pittman would explain that the conditions were unsafe for my swim and we would return back to Long Beach. Instead, and to my immense surprise, Pittman explained the wind was blowing a sizable 15 knots and asked if I would be okay with that. I said as long as he felt the crew would be safe, I said yes.
“Ok then, let’s do this.” He replied with a smile.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
-- Haruki Murakami