Taking one last deep breath before I jumped into the sea, I felt my lungs expand with ease. Despite being mere seconds away from beginning my first shift in this historic swim, I was overwhelmed with a glorious sense of personal consciousness. I knew I really shouldn’t be there. Less than 8 months ago, I was discharged from a respiratory ward, only to be admitted into a specialized cardiac ward a few days later. It took four long months but against all odds, I made a remarkable and full recovery. Following official confirmation of my unexpected return to full health in February, I set in place a training plan almost immediately.
An invitation to participate in the relay just a few months later was the reassurance I needed to know that I could once again return to the sea. And, equally important, confidence my teammates believed in me. A relay swim relies on the strength and endurance of all teammates to persevere and complete the challenge; if a teammate can no longer swim – for whatever reason – the event is over.
Seconds away from jumping, as oxygen filled every sac within my lungs, drawing life into my being, lingering remnants of self-doubt and nervousness were stifled. All that remained was the most beautiful ether of calm. And I was reminded – ever so briefly – of gratitude.
The wind had picked up significantly in the 20 minutes prior to my shift. Despite these challenging conditions, Vito continued to expertly navigate the boat through the infamous Potato Patch, a notoriously rough stretch of water between the Golden Gate Bridge and Point Bonita. Massive swells challenged the boat (and the effectiveness of our anti-seasickness patches), heaving us forward and sideways, devoid of rhythm. Only one hour into our 30 hour adventure, this was a well-timed reminder of our very small and insignificant presence in the Pacific. With my penchant for rough water a worst–kept secret, Vito assured me that I would most certainly get my money’s worth. I could not have been more excited. Seconds later, I plunged myself into the wild turbulent cool 55 degree water.
My world for the next hour became a powerful and endless blue-green expanse littered with energetic white caps. Completely and utterly at the mercy of Mother Nature, I was immediately tossed side to side. I felt my body launch across the crest of a massive wave. As the erratic waves slapped my face, swallowing seawater was unavoidable. I must have swallowed at least a gallon. Moments later I caught myself laughing like a crazy lady with each unexpected gesture from the sea. An awkward dance ensued as I tried my best to decipher some choreography. Yet I soon realized Mother Nature was determined to deny me the opportunity to lead, or time to catch up. Pushed near the starboard side of the boat, only to be forced back into the sea, I continued to stroke forward. At times disorienting, I found a certain pleasure in surrendering to the sea; it was exhilarating. Unfortunately for my teammates, however, this meant listening to my involuntary yelps of “Woo!” for an entire hour. I was so happy. And I was so delightfully alive.