Approaching land, with only approximately 200 yards left to swim, I take a quick glance at the shore, and spot what looks like a lone tourist taking photos. Exhausted and sleep deprived, I know that when I finally emerge from the water I'll be looking fairly fatigued and maybe even a little loopy.
Melissa calls me over to her kayak. "Ok, Kim. This is it. I need to stay back here with the boat, but what I need you to do is swim into shore but be very careful of all the rocks as you exit the water. And make sure you get all the way out of the water – you must clear the water completely. And don't let that guy help you." Catalina Channel Swimming Federation rules clearly state that the swimmer must begin and end the swim physically unassisted, and clear the water completely. Also, no one can take pity on me – including the tourist - as I struggle onto shore, otherwise I will be disqualified.
Swimming the final strokes of my long journey, and in disbelief that I am mere moments away from completion, tears begin to well up in my goggles. With the sun beaming from above, I figured it was about 1pm in the afternoon, meaning my swim completion time is around 13 hours. Where the time went exactly, I have no idea. And those final strokes play out ever so slowly, giving me time to survey the beach. Boulders cover the ground. A group of teenage boys have gathered nearby and the tourist on the beach is now standing at the water's edge, taking lots of photos. As I inch towards the shore, seemingly in slow motion, I know I need to pick carefully my moment for the final approach. The swell is just strong enough to push me aggressively over the rocks and cause injury.
Glancing up briefly to choose that moment, I recognize the tourist at the shore as Forrest Nelson. Forrest is a prominent and highly reputable open water swimmer. He is also the President of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation.
Seconds later, my body washes up on the shore. I focus my sensory-deprived eyes intently on the assortment of different sized boulders – some tennis-ball sized, others basketball-sized. Covered with dark green seaweed they were slippery and slimy. As I claw my way gingerly over each rock, I hear a gentle voice "keep going, keep going." Forrest is verbally guiding me to dry land. I couldn't believe how wonderful that was. It’s an incredibly kind-hearted gesture, to guide me – whom he had never met in person - through these final moments.
"Keep going, keep going," he continues to guide me until my hands reach dry rocks. "Ok, Kim. You're done. Now you can turn around and wave to your crew."
*Photos 5 + 6 courtesy of Forrest Nelson