Lake Saguaro – April 27th, 2016
Hollie, Taj and myself arrived at the Lake Saguaro marina around 6:50 am. Most of the swimmers and support crew had already arrived, but the speed boats were still being dropped into the water. Everyone was busy getting gear bags ready and discussing their feed plans for the day. As we approached the end of the parking lot, I smelled the unmistakable scent of the aerosol can sunscreen, there were quite a few people spraying it all around themselves. The sun was not quite hot yet, but we were all starting to feel the heat of the day.
Around 7:15 am Kent (the race director) started to call out the names of wave 1 swimmers. He asked them all to line up with their kayakers and head down to the dock where the speed boats would load them and their gear. This whole process was repeated until all 3 waves of swimmers, gear and kayakers were boated out to the beach near the end of the lake.
The beach was tucked back in the canyons of the lake, about six or seven miles from the marina. The kayaks had camped out overnight on the beach (with supervision of course!) and were already waiting for their occupants to arrive. This process went incredibly smooth! It seemed as if every detail had been thought of and before long, the first wave of swimmers boarded the pontoon boat assigned to them and were being shipped off to the REAL starting point, by the dam about a mile further down.
Another 45 minutes passed before wave 3 was on board the pontoon and heading toward Mormon Flat Dam. At 10:05 am wave 3 started. The water felt very cold at first, like, “take-your-breath-away” cold. But after about 30 minutes of trying to control my chaotic breathing, the water miraculously warmed up. The remainder of the swim was warm, with a few cold patches.
Taj found me right around the 30 minute mark, I had been drafting off of another swimmer until then, and was also spotting off of his kayaker to conserve a little energy. When I saw Taj beside me, I gladly broke away from the mystery man’s feet and bubbles to pursue my own path!
I was feeling really great; I was warm, I was hydrated, the water was calm, the sun was shining… I kept thinking the conditions would change but they never did. There was one section around mile six that had a strong headwind, but other than the 15 minutes we spent battling the wind, the conditions honestly couldn’t have been better.
There was one rather annoying lesson that I did pick up on today. If there is not something major bothering you, than all the dozens of minor things seem to be more bothersome than usual! For example, I expected to be cold. I didn’t expect to allow the pressure from my normally comfortable goggles to agitate me. I suddenly noticed all of this soreness and discomfort in my shoulders and hips… looking back on the day, I am thankful that these were the problems I had…
I finished the swim at 1:35 pm, my time for the day was around 3 hrs 30 min. I am having a hard time remembering my exact time from 2014, but I think it was almost exactly the same. Overall, the swim went very well and I am looking forward to successfully finishing the next THREE days of swimming!
As far as my fundraising goes, I am very thankful and humbled to say that I reached my goal of $5,000 today! There have been so many generous donors that I would like to personally thank, but for right now I am happy to have accomplished one of my goals… now to finish the other one – Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt!
The night before the race, I was feeling very good. The day before I had gone for a warmup swim in the Allegheny River with Darren, Chris and Kim. The water temp was very warm but still comfortable. I later learned it was the coldest of the 3 rivers at 75 degrees F. This was supposed to be the strongest current, but myself and Chris both noted at a break during the swim, that we could barely feel the current going against us! This was a nice surprise as I had been mentally preparing for a tough current in this river.
Later, back in the hotel room I was sharing with my mom, I mixed my carbo-pro beverages (3 water bottles, 1 gatorade) as well as my electrolyte mix (nuun). I stashed all my cliff bars, snickers, applesauce pouches and drinks in my swim bag along with my cap and goggles. I slept very well, but 5 am came early like always!
Everything was already packed and ready to go when I woke up, all I had to do was put my suit on, down my instant berry oatmeal bowl and chug my doubleshot espresso. The walk down to the start of the race was about 10 minutes for my mom and me; she helped carry the cooler bag that was going in the kayak to keep my drinks cool. She carried her own gear for the day (she would be on the main motorized boat with Darren, the captain and another mom). The race was ‘scheduled’ to start around 7 am, but a couple of the kayakers ran into parking trouble and did not arrive at the starting point until around 7:10.
At 7:30 Darren asked us all (five swimmers total) to jump in the river… after giving us a few moments to uh, “relieve” ourselves before starting, Darren did the final countdown and with as much gung-ho as a small gathering of marathon swimmers can muster early in the morning – we were off! I even remembered to start my watch!
The first thirty minutes flew, which is unusual for me – normally I need to adjust to the long, slow pace that I find most comfortable. However, myself, Chris, John and Sarah were swimming almost next to each other for about forty-five minutes, which made navigating somewhat challenging. The four of us had eight kayaks combined all trying to get into the positions on either side of us… I felt a little claustrophobic.
Heading down the Ohio river took about an hour and a half – we swam around Brunot Island then turned around and started the upstream battle. I was quite disoriented when we started the turn around, when I felt the current change I asked Max “Where is the island?” I didn’t realize we had already swam around it! I immediately felt the current change, and realized the next few hours would be tougher than I had anticipated. I would have to swim the 5k upstream in the Ohio, and then go directly into the next 5k up the Monongahela River. While the current wasn’t terrible, it was definitely noticeable. I continued with my 30 minute feed-times as I made my way up the river.
When I thought I must be getting close to the turn around buoy in the Monongahela, I started watching my clock, “3:45….3:55….4:10” Finally, I saw the tiny little orange buoy bobbing around in the distance. I was really excited as we got closer and closer because when I touched it, I knew I was halfway done! As we neared it, I could see the main boat was there waiting for us to hit the turnaround mark. I swam into it with my head up, saw Darren dive off the boat and start sprinting towards me… I wished he could give me some of his energy…
I decided to take a few minutes to relax and have some water and a cliff bar right after I touched the marker. After I felt ready to go, I turned around and headed downstream (YAY) the Monongahela River. I was hoping I would make it back down the river a little faster than it took me to swim the upstream part, but in reality it took about the same amount of time – I think I was getting pretty tired and sore at this point in the swim. I tried to rest a little on my back whenever I passed underneath a bridge, but that didn’t really give me much of a break.
My left arm really started to hurt at about the 18k mark. I had to stop and allow it to rest for a few minutes; it felt like I had pulled a muscle in my bicep. Everytime I tried to stroke, my arm would give out and shoot intense pain upwards. I tried breaststroke and backstroke, but nothing felt good. I asked for some Advil and allowed it to rest more. I did one-arm freestyle for a minute then tried my left arm again and it felt fine!
After I had gotten past that little setback, I realized I was starving I asked Max and Liz to change my feeds to every 20 minutes, and to give me half a cliff bar at each feed until I felt better. I also had a small snickers bar, yum.
We rounded the fountain at Point State Park and started the toughest river – the Allegheny. I was mentally prepared for a tougher current and started out feeling very strong. The main boat went past a couple times and cheered us on. Other than that there were quite a few larger boats travelling in the middle of the river as well as dozens of recreational kayakers all around us.
I stuck with my 20-minute feeds for the majority of the 5k upstream. But after we passed the initial starting point I felt like the flow of the river got stronger. My joints were starting to really hurt at this point, but my energy level was getting better after taking in more calories. After swimming for another hour I asked Max & Liz if either could see the orange turn-around buoy yet, “I think it’s just past that blue bridge up ahead”. I looked up; I saw the bridge but not the buoy. “Okay!” I replied enthusiastically… I knew I still had about another mile to go before I got to it, I said, “I’m just going to keep going until I get there, I’ll rest after we get there”. I put my head down and started to increase the power in my stroke. I did a mental ‘body scan’ to figure out where I could be more efficient in the water. My shoulders hurt, my hips hurt, my calves were on the verge of cramping, so I started to focus on my core – I tightened it up and worked on rotating through my stroke. To make the time pass a little more quickly, I would count my strokes up to 100 before I lifted my head to spot for the buoy. I saw the bridge approaching, we reached it, passed it, and I could still barely see the buoy… I was disappointed and it was mentally tough to keep up the pace I had set for myself, I was getting hungry and thirsty and knew I still had about 10-15 more minutes before I would reach the buoy. This was the hardest part of the swim for me, I didn’t want to slow down right before turning around and heading downstream, so I powered through until I touched it.
I looked up at my support and joked, “Right past the bridge huh?” We all agreed that the hardest part was behind us. I figured I had maybe another hour of swimming left to get to the finish, and it was all current assisted! I felt some relief in knowing I would be able to finish the day feeling satisfied with myself. After have a quick bite to eat and drink, we started back down the Allegheny.
The boat traffic had increased throughout the day, and I was getting slightly annoyed with the chop they created as they flew by us. I looked over at Liz who was right beside me now, she was fighting a strong headwind as I flew downstream with the current – it looked like she was working pretty hard to keep up with me.
My watch read eight hours, I lifted my head to see the last three bridges ahead of me. Max stopped me for my last break, and said; “I think you can make it the rest of the way without another break, right?” I put my head back down and tried to focus on counting my strokes as we made our way to the finish. Underneath one of the bridges I heard someone yell for me to stop. I turned to see the main boat stopped right behind us. Because of the increased boat traffic, we needed an escort to cross to the right-hand side of the river. They motioned for us to follow them, and we slowly made our way across. Once we were over safely, the boat sped off ahead to the finish.
I now had roughly 500m left and could see the finish buoy bobbing about 10 feet from the dock. I started to lift my head to spot every 20 strokes…10 strokes… every stroke… I could see my mom videoing me from the dock… Darren was jumping up and down cheering, making me feel like a rockstar. Other than that there were just a few people watching the finish, a few guys drinking beer and fishing, and the dozens of people aimlessly kayaking watching us with curious stares. I finished my 30k, clocking 8 hours 25 minutes of swimming up and down the three rivers. What a day, what a glorious day!
While the swimming part is over and done with (for now) I have to remind myself that the search for a cure is far from over. There have been some major breakthroughs recently that give my family and others affected by FA hope, but there is still a long road ahead. Through the help of many friends and family over the past three years, we have been able to raise $13,000! I hope that your continued support will help with the research that is being done, and that one day soon, the cure for Friedreichs Ataxia will be found.
The SCAR is a 40+ mile swim over 4 days in 4 lakes around AZ. I plan on competing in this event in May of 2014. . . I need your support mentally and financially ;-)!
As always, I am swimming for a cure. FARA is closer than ever to finding it and I am determined to help them reach it as quickly as possible. Please help by donating to FARA. . . you can help deliver hope to hundreds of families that might be hopeless right now.
Even if you are unable to donate money, you can still donate your resources – share this with as many friends and family as you can. Help spread the word!
More information on the details of the swim will be coming soon… thank you for your patience as I work out the who, what, where, when and how’s :-).
I appreciate you all!
Swimming in two races, on two consecutive days, in two different S.E. Alaska towns was definitely challenging, but also incredibly rewarding…
On Saturday the 3rd I competed in the Sitka ‘Change Your Latitude’ 5k swim, the following day I was in Ketchikan, AK preparing to jump in the ocean again, this time for an 8.2-miler around a growingly familiar island called Pennock. This was the 3rd time I have competed in this race – 2006 I was a part of a 4 person relay team, in 2012 I was a solo wetsuit swimmer, and this year I also competed in the solo wetsuit division. My time from last year was 3:05 – I had hoped to finished in under 3 hours, but as luck would have it, the currents were not in our favor this time… I finished first overall in 3:26.
Let me back track for a moment – the previous day (Saturday) after watching my mom finish her 5k, we had about an hour to make it to the airport and hop on a jet to take the 30 minute flight over to Ketchikan. Luckily the race start/finish line was about a two minute truck ride from the airport… we made our flight with at least two minutes to spare – not too close! Once in Ketchikan we were able to check into the hotel and relax all afternoon, we were all very tired after the morning events!
Willie (the race director) had a simple safety briefing at 5:30, and to smooth out any last minute details swimmers and kayakers needed to know. I met Trent and Dylan, from Colorado, who were to be my escort kayakers. Dylan was about 13 and was kayaking with his dad – they both did a great job, although Trent was extremely nervous about taking me the wrong route … I kept telling him, “Well, you know it’s around an island right… if it’s not on our left side anymore, maybe you should stop and ask someone for directions” I couldn’t tell if he thought it was funny or not.
The morning of the race went well – I was able to sleep in until about 8, walk down to the breakfast diner, grab coffee and oatmeal, and eat breakfast in our hotel room while I was prepping my swim gear. At 9 I walked down to the harbor where I was meeting up with a boat captain, along with 10 other swimmers (some solo, some relay). Most swimmers were not wearing wetsuits, which seemed odd to me, maybe it’s the warm summer we’ve had? Anyways, I certainly was wearing one! At about 10 I started to squeeze into it.
All the swimmers were ready to jump in at 10:15, but of course the start time was 10:30, and not all the kayakers had made it out to the starting “kelp” yet… so we waited until about 10:25, jumped in, swam around long enough for everyone to pee and then someone (anyone?) yelled “GO”. So then we started swimming.
I worked on controlling my pace, as I normally do during the beginning of a race, but felt myself begin to take a strong lead on the group. I tried to slow myself down but gave up on that idea pretty quickly; I was far out in front, and tried to visualize the map I had studied the night before, “did Willie say to hug the shore inside the bottleneck… or stay in the middle of the channel…?” before I had a chance to really meditate on the topic, I realized I had slunk-ed back into 4th place. I looked around at the other swimmers, and realized they were all practically swimming on the shoreline, so I called to Trent and told him I was going to “follow those guys!”. I put my head down and swim straight to shore, I was instantly swept into a slightly less aggressive current. Trent had either misunderstood my instructions or forgot them because he was kayaking almost on top of me, and ended up crowding the other swimmers and escorts before he literally hit me with the kayak. I stopped for a moment, asked him to please allow more room between me and them, then kept swimming.
Swimming so close to shore was helpful in avoiding kelp beds, but more than once I found myself almost grounded on a shallow rock ledge that I had failed to see ahead. My kayak had to back paddle when this happened. I never actually acquired “beached whale” status, but it was close.
The time it took for me to reach the end of the island was a bit longer than I had anticipated – 1:37 minutes. I rounded the corner of the island and began the ~mile long section to reach the other side of the island. I hugged the shoreline again to avoid the heavy kelp, but felt a strong current pushing against me, I knew I had made the decision to stay close to shore with the knowledge that the current could possibly be stronger here, nothing could be changed at this point so I trudged on!
At about the 1:51 mark I reached the other side of the island and tried to pick up my pace a bit. I spotted my mom and Trevor in a double kayak they borrowed from a friend. I now had five people following along with me, all in kayaks! It’s like they were my posse.
Anyways, I continued on, kept with my feeding/drinking schedule of 30 minutes and began to count my strokes. A technique I use to keep my pace going strong and to keep focused when I am basically swimming a straight line, with no need to spot. My pattern was to count every other hand-hit, breath rhythmically to my left side, with an occasional spot to my right to see the other kayak, count to 100, then lift and spot forward to see how much distance I had gained. I repeated this pattern very steadily for the next hour or so, until 3:00 hours had elapsed. I could see the end marker at this point, I allowed Trent to keep guiding me for the next 15 minutes or so, but then I told him I could spot the rest of the race, he fell back a little bit and let me guide myself.
At 3:26 I touched the final marker, I had three motorboats around and at least three kayaks as well, the crowd was pretty great considering I was in the middle of the ocean! Trent gave me a ride with a rope hanging from the kayak, the boat captain helped me aboard, and like clockwork, the sun burnt through the clouds! It was around 2 pm when I finished, it was warm, sunny, friendly and to top it all off – they gave me hot chocolate and cookies as I watched for other competitors to finish their swims. The first four place solo swimmers were all women, something I am very impressed by! I can’t tell if we’re just plain crazier, or if we like to see how tough we really are? Either way, I think Alaska brings it out of us, but always in a good way, of course.
My recovery from these two swims only lasted ONE DAY. I don’t have another swim planned as of today, but as always “just keep swimming just keep swimming swimming swimming”
GO TEAM FARA!
Thanks for reading,