Four months have passed since the completion of my North Channel swim. I am still recovering physically and in fact struggling to process exactly what happened. With each passing month, I have toiled with many emotions. It has not been easy. Each day I try my best to remind myself that this is what I signed up for: a transformative experience and not simply just a swim. And in many ways I feel incredibly blessed. Each of these swims has moved and changed me in immeasurable ways. For me, that is part of the draw. I am discovering so much as I navigate this great unknown and figure out my path through a tumultuous yet exhilarating journey called Life.
The North Channel is widely recognized as a physically demanding swim. To date, over a thousand people have swum the English Channel, compared with only 26 people or so who have completed the North Channel. With water temperature ranging from 53-56 degrees, strong currents and potentially deadly Lions Mane jellyfish to contend with, I did not expect this swim to be easy. It also marked my final leg in the Oceans Seven challenge. A massive and daunting goal - yet tantalizingly within my reach - required I prepare as meticulously as possible. And I did just that. Diligently following an intensive training plan (courtesy of my friend and mentor Philip Rush) and peaking at 42 miles a week, I can hardly believe I managed the training hours coupled with an equally rewarding and demanding full-time job. I expected the cold water and strong currents. I anticipated the jellyfish (I even visualized 5- 10 “manageable" stings and carried two EpiPens in my swim kit onboard the support boat just in case). Yet never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what actually transpired.
What was supposed to be an exhilarating and momentous occasion, was in fact incredibly traumatic. I pushed myself to the very limit, experienced the most severe pain, and almost died.
Forever grateful for the unwavering support of my pilot and crew – as well as the strength from my family, countless friends and strangers, I don’t even know where to begin. This evening, I realized that there are hundreds of congratulatory emails still awaiting my response. Opening a few of these emails, tears begin to well in my eyes. There is still much to be processed. My swim was carefully documented with photos and video, yet to date I have only viewed a handful of images. Every time I think about my swim I cry.
Returning to work in October, a mere 4 weeks to the day I completed my swim following two major hospitalizations and medical leave, I have since tried to wear the bravest of faces. After all I am supposed to be celebrating, aren’t I?
Yet just under the surface of my makeup and work attire has been an inner turmoil, percolating. In early December, these emotions crested the surface of the protective walls I had tried so hard to build in my mind. I went on to explore what can best be described as “a tear.” Craving desperately to both feel emotions at the same intensity as during a swim, yet also wishing to dull the feeling and numb myself. This episode soon came to an abrupt and well-timed end just before Christmas as I boarded the plane for my trip home to New Zealand. I spent the next 2 weeks reconnecting with myself, my family and all that is truly important to me.
Today – back in San Francisco - everything is different, but better. Welcoming 2015, I am oddly mourning and celebrating so much. Not the least of which is the loss of the extra weight, which I gained in preparation for the swim, shed effortlessly from my athletic frame. Close to 45 pounds - gone. This incredible armor – which at the time made me feel both uncomfortable and yet so empowered (and in the end literally saved my life) – is no longer. Instead I am stripped and laid bare, wondering who I really am and what on earth is next.