Swimming parallel to the boat, it takes some time before I am able to feel in sync with my stroke. As these anxious first minutes of my journey tick by, I try my best to reassure myself that this is expected. With adrenaline now surging forcefully throughout my entire body, I feel awkward. My breathing and swim stroke are uncomfortably accelerated and short. While this is normal as I attempt to control my nerves, I know it is important to settle into my stroke as soon as possible.
Unlike previous swims where I have deliberately spent the first three hours swimming as relaxed as possible in an effort to warm up my muscles and calm my nerves before speeding up to a comfortable pace, my strategy for Tsugaru Strait is much different. Only 15 people in the world have completed a swim across this stretch of water. This is in part because Tsugaru is infamous for unpredictable and notoriously strong currents, in addition to equally notorious and strong winds. All of which could create an intense struggle for me across the Strait.
Hoping to avoid the possibility of swimming in place – or even backwards – for hours, or not finishing, my plan is to move across Tsugaru as fast as possible. I have spent many weeks and months improving my speed (a modest 2 miles per hour), but in order to keep this pace, I must protect my body from injury by paying careful attention to technique. One of my beloved coaches’ mantras amplifies over my heavy breathing. “Make each stroke count.” Reaching my arms through the grand expanse of dark blue water, I catch the water with my hands and push the fluid mass past my hips. I repeat this mantra all the while marveling at this mesmerizing and serene space that encompasses me. Noticeably buoyant due to the high salinity of the water, I revel in this glorious weightlessness. Gradually finding my rhythm with each stroke, I feel like I am flying, thousands of feet up in the sky.
Tilting my head to the side above the surface of the water with each breath, I gaze appreciatively at the operation around me. On my left is the main boat, carrying my Mum, Akira, Aya and Tomo. They are organizing and situating themselves on the boat while Captain Mizushima and my observer Mika keep watch. On my right is the support boat and crew, which will later relocate ahead to chart the optimal route based on the movement of the water.
Swimming between these commanding units, I feel purposeful and grateful. Here I am – swimming Tsugaru Strait - supported by a group of friends and new friends (and my Mum!) who have generously donated time from their own lives to help me pursue my dream. My mind drifts to thoughts of friends, coaches, colleagues and family from around the world watching over me as they follow my GPS tracker online. Carefully guarded by this squadron, I charge confidently into the endless blue atmosphere.