For me, there are many aspects of marathon swimming in the ocean that make it incredibly alluring. Above all, this sport is fundamentally unpredictable. No closed course, no chlorinated and sterile swimming pool, no safe enclosure. And there is only so much I can control: my training, my diet, my boat captain and my crew. But that is all. The rest is completely out of my control.
At the mercy of Mother Nature, in an environment for which humans are ill-equipped, wearing just a regular swimsuit, cap and goggles, I am utterly and completely vulnerable. As the pilot boat alongside me guides me to my destination, I am the only swimmer - the only human – in the water. I will be fueled every 30 minutes with a carbohydrate drink tossed over the side of the boat in a bottle attached to a rope. These very quick 10 second “feedings” allow for little interaction with my crew. Risking hypothermia and battling unpredictable water currents, I must keep moving. And I will swim unaided for hours. Through the exhilarating darkness of pre-dawn, the hopeful sunlight of noon and, possibly, the nerve-racking setting of the sun, until I reach land. And as I swim I will push my mind through unthinkable realms.
For many reasons, the outcome of my swim is uncertain. Nothing more than a tiny speck on the surface of this enormous aquatic world, underneath me lives a grand expanse full of life, still to be fully explored and identified. The ocean – this mysterious and wild untamed beast – favors no one.
At times the mere thought of these swims is so frightening and so uncomfortable, I question my sanity. Most times however, I delight in the knowledge that each of these swims is a unique and transformative journey. Pushing my mind and body further than I ever imagined, I am constantly fascinated with each odyssey of self–discovery. And as each swim stretches and moves me in indescribable ways, so too does the fabric of the world that envelops me. Tightly woven fibers strain under pressure and give way to tiny holes that now litter my once protective shawl. No longer insulated, new possibilities drift deep into my soul. I feel different and know I am forever changed. It is exhausting, but worth every single moment.
Now as I prepare to surrender my Self and my body to that great unknown, I am equipped with an understanding – an appreciation – for that which now lies in the hands of fate. It is scary, but it is also very exciting. I feel so alive.
Two days away from my departure to Japan, well wishes and farewells are tinged with emotion. Mustering my courage for this next leap of faith, I try my best to fight back the tears. Overwhelmed with what I am about to experience, I sit in silence and close my eyes. Warm tears stream down my cheeks and I smile.