Turning to look out at my crew, I am exhausted and dazed. I feel as if I have just emerged from the recovery room, post-surgery. Though now awake from the general anesthesia, the mental "fogging" effects of the drugs are still very much in effect. Without saying a word, I sit down immediately on the nearest big rock. Cupping my hands over my face, I cry. I am in utter disbelief; completely overwhelmed - amazed - with what has transpired over the last 13 or 14 hours.
Forrest gives me a big hug, and I continue to cry. Moments later I hear a familiar voice. "You were amazing, I'm so proud of you." It's Joe. He and Forrest had determined my landing spot by diligently observing my online GPS tracker. I’m informed that my swim took less than 12 hours. 11 hours 26 minutes to be exact. Far quicker than I could have imagined.
I continue to cry as a friend and former co-worker, Jocelyn, emerges - seemingly out of nowhere - to greet me. Jocelyn drove all the way from San Diego to experience this moment. Again, I cry.
I followed my plan and trained as hard as I possibly could for this swim. I was very prepared, yet none of that training can ever possibly brace myself for this moment of completion. I have a habit of crying after all my big swims, and I can't help it. I am not supposed to be a swimmer.
6 years ago, deep within the wounds of my life-threatening injury, I made an unexpected discovery. Out of all the exhausting pain and fear of the inevitable as being permanently debilitated and disabled, emerged a burning nugget of desire from within. Post surgery, a mere 30 minutes from amputation and left with the extremely high likelihood of never walking unassisted again, I began digging for hope. Shoveling away the excruciating nerve pain, frustration and despair – one day at a time – I proved all the medical experts wrong. It wasn't pretty and it certainly wasn't easy.
3.5 years ago I decided to swim. For the first time. 18 months ago I began following a training plan and swimming masters. For the first time. Fast forward to today, July 18th 2013. I just swam the Catalina Channel. All 20.2 miles of it.
“Here, you earned this,” says Forrest gently as he hands me a souvenir. It is customary for swimmers to bring home a small rock or pebble from the beach where their swim is completed. Except this is not a small rock. Larger than a softball and weighing at least a pound, I accept this gift with an enormous grin and tears streaming down my face.
It is time for me to return to the boat as my crew is waiting patiently for me a few hundred yards off shore. Without thinking, I shove the rock down the front of my swimsuit. A few tearful goodbyes, and I am once again inching my way across the rocks towards the water. Gently gliding my depleted body into the Pacific Ocean, I notice how much colder the water now feels. A short swim and I arrive at the stern of the boat cheered on by my wonderful crew. Trying my best to haul my body up onto the small metal swim platform, something keeps getting in the way. Without hesitation, I dig my treasure out of my swimsuit and plunk it victoriously onto the platform. My crew laughs hysterically at the size of the rock and my transportation method. My tears give way to an enormous smile.
Photo #3 by Forrest Nelson