As the boat pulls away gently from the harbor, I wave goodbye to the Japanese news crew who have enthusiastically covered my preparation for this swim. Beaming with smiles accentuated by the bright camera lights, they are my new cheerleaders. And I am so grateful. Incredibly respectful and thoughtful, they engaged with me in a way that surprised me: they truly appreciated learning about my very personal motivations for such adventures. They understood that for me, these swims are not merely athletic events, but journeys of the soul.
Motoring into the darkness, I take a seat on the floor of the boat next to my Mum. Bundled up and ready to report for duty, she looks so focused and determined. It is a beautiful sight and I am struck by our reality: mother and daughter embarking on our maiden adventure together. Broadsided by this awareness, I can hardly believe it. Sitting next to me is my MUM: my stalwart chief cheerleader. This beautiful, selfless and courageous woman who has been with me in spirit for each of my previous swims willing me across the sea. And here she is, right now, beside me. In this moment of immense pride and emotion I recall one particularly poignant interview question from the news crew. When asked if it were difficult to support me – her only daughter – essentially risking her life with many of these swims, my Mum paused and smiled. “How could I possibly not support my daughter pursuing her dreams?”
During our nearly 90 minute journey to the starting point of my swim, Cape Kodomari, the sun begins to rise. Slithers of daylight break through the gray clouds revealing ever so slowly the blue landscape of the western coast of Honshu. The water is calm and glistens invitingly in the low light, while the fresh salty air fills my lungs abundantly. My whole being feels energized as my senses heighten and tingle with nerves.
Closing in on the Cape, I locate my swim cap, goggles and earplugs in my swim kit. I peel off the warm layer of my swim jacket. Standing in my swimsuit I hand my Mum some rubber gloves and she tenderly coats the parts of my body prone to chaffing. Globules of lanolin now reassuringly cover the back of my neck, under my arms and between my legs. As the adrenaline begins to surge through my body, my heart thumps firmly against my chest.
With the boat listing side to side in the small swell, Captain Mizushima carefully positions us as close as possible to land. Juxtaposed against the glassy calm water, the jagged and barren cliff face in front of us does not look inviting. Obscured slightly by the low light and devoid of trees or bushes, it looks ominous. An intense unease stirs in my stomach. My official observer Mika explains the rules. It is not safe to exit and clear water for the beginning of this particular swim, so I will need to touch one of the rocks at the base of the cliff. As I touch the rock, I am instructed to raise my other arm to indicate my readiness to swim. Mika will sound a horn upon confirming that I can then begin my swim.
“It’s time” smiles Mizushima. A surreal moment, I am officially at the point of no return. I check the placement of my swim cap, reposition my goggles and check my earplugs. Next I thank my team for being here today and give my Mum one last hug. I whisper in her ear “I love you Mum.” “I love you too dear” she replies. Extra slippery due to the lanolin, I cautiously situate my body on the flat rail of the boat. Inching closer to the edge of the boat, I know I am about to willingly plunge myself into a potentially treacherous situation with an unknown outcome. I also know that I am right where I want to be.
Without a word, I slip feet first into the abyss of the dragon’s den.