There has never been a shark attack during a Catalina swim, but I couldn’t help and think there’s always a first. Earlier concern from non-swimmer friends about the possibility of a shark encounter during my swim resurfaced in my mind. As I swam, violent images reverberated across my submerged vision against the ebony stage, and I struggled to seize control.

The playing of the Last Post upon my departure from Long Beach, a Great Blue Heron waiting – watching me – upon my arrival at Catalina Island. And last, but not least, a small craft advisory. It was the perfect combination. All that was missing was the grand finale: death by shark.

And, it seemed, this internal tussle was being reenacted on the surface of the water. Whitewash from the waves would engulf my face each time I breathed, causing me to swallow gallons of the salty water. Swimming in between the Outrider boat and the kayak, I found it difficult to find my rhythm. A terribly disjointed and poorly choreographed sequence, it was hard to get in sync. Without warning, Melissa and her kayak would suddenly and violently materialize within inches of my body.  Minutes later a wave would pick me up and push me dangerously close to the boat.


In a determined effort to refocus and calm my mind, I concentrate on my technique. As my arms move purposefully through the water, I stretch the reach of my arms, point my head down and whip my hips. Don’t forget elbows high out of the water, I remind myself. My coach would be proud.

Minutes later my mind relaxes and I feel my body delight serendipitously. I relish in how wonderful the water – though turbulent – feels against my bare skin. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an extravaganza of bioluminescence shimmers off my arms and into the abyss. Sparkles of tiny lights glisten everywhere.

And like constellations of stars on a clear winters night, the bioluminescence begins to take shape. Spectacular and mesmerizing, I try to decipher the pattern presenting around me.

Before I can yell “DOLPHINS!” I am surrounded by the sound of my ocean friends squeaking excitedly. Behind me, underneath me, and beside me… they came to rescue me.