The Belton Swim Team participates and raises money for Team FARA.
The Belton Swim Team participates and raises money for Team FARA.
On April 6th, 2014 I competed in my first OWS of the 2014 season! The swim was in Tempe Town Lake near ASU in Arizona. The event is one of three open water swims included in the AZ Open Water Swim Series. I’ll have to miss the next swim due to the dates overlapping with SCAR, but plan to compete in the last of the three – on June 8th in Lake Pleasant, AZ.
This swim was scheduled to start at 8:30 am, but due to a slow moving registration line the race was postponed until 8:45. After getting checked in and marked with my race number I sat my gear back on a grassy hill near the start, I had brought my sleeveless wetsuit but was on the fence about wearing it. Everyone else seemed to be wearing some sort of wetsuit, so I assumed the water was cold. I should’ve asked before putting my suit on because the water temp was a comfortable 65 degrees F. It would’ve been fine to go sans wetsuit.
We were allowed a short warm-up before the start; I swam for about 2 minutes then treaded water at the start line until 8:45 when the wave of 4000M swimmers started together. The course was extremely well laid out- almost a perfect rectangle following a wall the entire time, with small sighting buoys along the course and large bright turn buoys to sight off of. All turns were 90 degrees, which also made sighting easier.
The first 300 meters were scary… it was a new experience for me, and I was very happy to be as comfortable in the water as I am. I was pushed under, grabbed, boxed in, cut off, pulled backwards – I hadn’t planned to take off so fast right away, but it was almost a necessity to get away from the brutality! After about 3 or 4 minutes of the thrashing, most of the group began to fall back, but I still had someone on either side of me and they both kept swimming inward, towards me. It was claustrophobic, but I held on until the first turn buoy (about 400 meters in) to stop and make a move toward the inside of the two swimmers. I was able to drop one of the swimmers over the next few minutes, but found myself also being dropped by the leading female swimmer. I was already at my planned pace so instead of pushing forward with her, I settled in for the next 2000 meters.
The race set-up was planned well, but definitely made it more difficult for the faster 4000 swimmers. Every 3 minutes another wave was sent off after we started, each wave was a shorter distance (2000 and 1000), typically this means the swimmers may not be as experienced as the longer distance swimmers. After my first smooth lap (13:47) I ran into heavy swimmer traffic. Most of the swimmers were travelling very slow and stopping abruptly or were swimming in a zig-zag pattern. This made my own spotting significantly more challenging! I was now playing a game of “dodge the swimmer” as well as “find the correct buoy” which continued through until the end of the race.
After my second lap (14:35) I started my “back-end” strategic push to catch the leading female. What this means (for me) is that whatever the distance of the race is, I consciously hold back for the first half of the race, if I still feel decent by the middle, I allow myself to speed my pace up and descend to the finish if possible. I sped up on the third lap and clocked a 14:00. I think sometime during the beginning of the 4th lap is when I passed the leader, although it was a guess due to the number of swimmers in the water – I could’ve missed when I passed her altogether. Regardless, I felt confident that I had passed her but that she wasn’t far behind so I continued to speed up throughout the race. My last lap was around 14 minutes as well, and I finished in a total time of 54:26, second place was 54:52.
I was very happy with my results from this race, and definitely feel a little confidence boost in regard to my SCAR training. This race was very different as it was only a 4K and took me less than an hour, but my tactical skills and OW technique got some good practice and I felt fantastic and strong in the water.
I was able to do a lot of networking after the race and saw some other swimmers I have met in AZ through various master clubs, meets, and other open water swims. Overall, I had a great experience and am looking forward to the June race in Lake Pleasant (much pleasanter than Tempe Town Lake!)
A special thank you to blueseventy to providing me with comfortable goggles, tasteful swimsuit, fast wetsuit, and a classy gear bag! To buy your own blueseventy gear, visit www.blueseventy.com and use my code: bluecrewkj for a 25% discount on all blueseventy gear!
Also, I’d like to give a quick update on fundraising efforts:
I am VERY excited to officially announce my next big swim …
THE S.C.A.R. Challenge!
This swim will take place in four lakes across Arizona May 7th – 10th.
Saguaro Lake: The first reservoir is Saguaro Lake, a 9.5-mile (15.2 km) swim at 1529-feet (466m) elevation, which is rimmed with canyon walls. The lake is home to large-mouth bass weighing 12 pounds, small-mouth bass, rainbow trout, walleye, black crappie, tallapia, yellow perch, and carp weighing as much as 30 pounds. It is within the Superstition Wilderness of the Tonto National Forest. It was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam, a concrete thin arch dam located 41 miles northeast of Phoenix, Arizona. The dam is 1,260 feet (380 m) long, 208 feet (63 m) high, and was built between 1928-30. It was named after a ranch that used to be located nearby known as the Old Stewart Ranch. The swim begins at the east end of Saguaro Lake – the base of Mormon Flat Dam below the Mormon Flat Heliport. The swim ends at the buoy line guarding the Stewart Mountain dam.
Canyon Lake: The second reservoir in the swim challenge is Canyon Lake, elevation at 1,660 feet (505m), formed by the Mormon Flat Dam. The dam is 380 feet long, 224 feet high and was built between 1923-25. The dam is named after nearby Mormon Flat, a place where settlers from Utah stopped to camp. Canyon Lake, with a surface area of 950 acres (380 ha), is the smallest of four lakes created along the Salt River. It is within the Superstition Wilderness of Tonto National Forest and is a popular recreation area. Fish populating the lake include rainbow trout, large mouth bass, small mouth bass, yellow bass, crappie, sunfish, catfish and walleye. Wildlife in the area includes big horn sheep, deer and javelina that roam freely in this area of the national forest area. The swim begins at the buoy line below Horse Mesa dam and ends 9 miles (14.4 km) at the buoy line protecting the Mormon Flat dam.
Apache Lake: The third reservoir is beautifully isolated Apache Lake. Apache Lake was formed by Horse Mesa Dam which was completed in 1927. The second largest of the four Salt River Project reservoirs (Theodore Roosevelt Lake is the largest) and by far the most difficult swim if the wind picks up. The swim begins at the eastern end of the lake at the buoy line below Roosevelt dam and continues for approximately 17 miles (27.3 km) to the the Horse Mesa Dam. The lake separates the Four Peaks Wilderness from the Superstition Wilderness and is considered fairly remote (dirt road access). The picturesque canyon is framed by the Mazatzal Mountains and Superstition Mountains. The Horse Mesa Dam, a concrete thin arch dam, is 660 feet (200 m) long, 300 feet (91 m) high and was built between 1924-27.
Roosevelt Lake: The last reservoir in the Arizona S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge is Roosevelt Lake. Unlike the previous swims, this lake has only one dam so to make it interesting, there is a 10 km night swim that begins at a very small boat dock approximately 5 miles east of the marina and finishes under the stars and moon at the Roosevelt Dam. Both the reservoir and the masonry dam that created it, Roosevelt Dam, were named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who dedicated the dam himself in March 1911, one year prior to Arizona being recognized as the 48th state in the union. The lake is home to a variety of game fish including crappie, carp, Sunfish, flathead, channel catfish, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass.
Obviously a lot of excitement and training to get done!
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,
The travel from Juneau to Sitka was a quick and painless mid-morning 20 minute flight on Friday the 2nd of August. I was traveling with my Mom – Lisa, and my youngest brother – Trevor, both of whom were also competing in the swim the following day. We had a nice afternoon in Sitka sightseeing and relaxing at a family owned lodge on the dock. The event organizers decided to have a salmon feed / potluck that also served as the pre-race meeting. The dinner was located right next to the Salmon hatchery and was a beautiful evening! There were hundreds of jumping fish right in front of the building we were meeting in… incredible.
The next morning was very leisurely – we were able to sleep in until 7:30 and didn’t need to actually leave for the start line until around 8:30. In true Alaskan style, the rain returned on race morning, luckily it didn’t matter so much to us – we were going to be getting wet one way or another!
The plan was to start the 5k swimmers “around” 9:15, or about the time the first 10k swimmer would be rounding the buoy to start their second lap. So, around 9:10 we all waded slowly out into the water as we watched for the first place 10k-er. As we were cheering and watching from shore, a large head popped out of the water very close to the swimmer… “Oh, that’s just Earl” Kevin (the race director) said coolly, “he’s a sea lion that likes to hangout in the harbor, he won’t bother Patrick (the swimmer)”. I thought this would’ve been really cool to hear/see IF I wasn’t about to swim the exact same course that Earl and Patrick were on… Oh well. The start whistle blew and we all took off towards the breakwater.
For how small this race was, the start was particularly vicious – I was being jostled around quite a bit, especially by two other swimmers. The three of us took off, away from the pack. I let the two other swimmers set the pace, which was pretty quick. They seemed to know the course well – I later learned that one of these swimmers had actually set the buoys . . . I would hope he knew where he was supposed to go!
I made it out of the harbor area with no Earl sightings, and had connected with Jeff – my kayaker. I was still following the two bobbing pink caps in front of me, but somehow I found myself in the middle of a dense kelp bed, denser than anything I had previously swam through. At one point while navigating through the forest I was almost completely out of the water, the kelp was so buoyant and hard to swim through I thought I might get stuck in it . . . I gave up on trying to find a clear path and just muscled through it, after a couple more minutes of swimming though the thickest water ever, I made it out and felt like I was flying!
After getting through the dense kelp, I was able to swim through the other beds with relative ease, swimming with my head up or looking forward so I was able to plan ahead and find a clear path before I was trapped in another dense area. When I rounded the farthest buoy the water temperature dropped quite a bit and the chop increased – it wasn’t anything awful or unexpected and was managed with minor adjustments to my stroke.
I decided to hang onto my 3rd place until I rounded Battery Island and was sure I knew where I was in regards to the course. While rounding the island I followed very closely to the two pink caps in front of me, they were seasoned on this course and knew how close we needed to be to shore in order to avoid the kelp. This part was very rocky and filled with dozens of varieties of starfish to look at! It seemed a little sketchy to be swimming so close to such a rocky area while the waves were crashing around us – but it wasn’t for very long and the waves were realitively small.
After rounding the island it was a straight shot to the breakwater right outside of the harbor. I increased my power with each stroke, doing this helps me keep my breathing under control while speeding up my pace. I passed the first pink cap shortly after the island, but had to chase down the next cap for a few minutes. I checked my watch – :53 minutes had passed since the start. I felt I had roughly 1/2 mile left in the race. I felt strong and within another minute or two had passed the 2nd pink cap.
Another minute passed and I was back in the harbor, I could see the final turn buoy, but Jeff kept steering me straight into shore. I knew we were supposed to turn one final time and then swim straight into shore, but sometimes things change while the race is going on, so I stopped briefly to ask Jeff where I needed to swim to, “Straight to shore!”. I put my head back down and did just that! Another minute passed, Jeff yelled at me to swim towards the turn buoy, I didn’t stop to ask any questions and just did what he said. So with a little confusion I swam where he pointed – back out towards another buoy, and THEN I swam straight to shore and through the finish buoys.
Overall, I was very pleased with this swim, having my mom and Trevor swim and travel with me was a blessing – they kept it interesting and more importantly FUN! They both had great experiences for their first ocean swims and I was glad I was able to share the day with them. As always, we are all a part of Team FARA and are raising money to help fund research for the rare degenerative disease that is currently incurable. As of right now Team Ryan and Owen have raised $6,795 to help this cause, I hope to raise much, much more in years to come.
Thanks for reading and supporting,
Around 4:55 EST my alarm went off – the plan was to wake at 5:00, pack all our bags into the car, load the two rental kayaks onto the roof, grab some coffee from McDonalds and hit the road by 5:30. The drive from Lydenville up to Newport was about 35 miles. The scenery was beautiful – rolling lush hills with endless trees, filled with sparse fog. My phone received a message from a weird number… “Welcome to Canada! You may call the US for X amount of money and use data at the rate of $15/MB!”… I switched to airplane mode immediately. While we were obviously still in Vermont, AT&T decidedly thought we were in Quebec; however, at the turning point in Lake Memphremagog I was within a mile of the border!
After arriving at Prouty Beach in Newport, VT, Evan and Nate unloaded the kayaks onto the beach in the designated area. We parked the car, walked back to registration, drank more coffee, applied sunscreen and some zinc, organized the nutrition and hydration bag for my “yacker” (Evan) and waited for the pre-race meeting to start at 7:30. Nate competed in the 3 mile swim with his Mom, Elizebeth, as his yacker – he did great too!
All yackers were to be in their boats by 7:45 and heading out past the first turn buoy where they would meet up with the swimmers. If you’ve ever seen one of these starts, you know how chaotic it is to find your swimmer/kayaker while everyone is franticly swimming around in the middle of a lake, now that I have a couple races under my belt I know a really great way to identify yourself is to use this “zinka” colored zinc to mark yourself in a unique way so it is easier for support crew to identify and spot you. Of course it’s a good idea to know what your kayaker is wearing, what color their boat is, what your number is, etc. I made a black, orange, and pink strip on my left arm – Evan was able to spot me very quickly without any problems.
At 8:00 the ten mile non-wetsuit wave (my wave), the ten mile wetsuit wave, and the “assisted” wave for the ten mile race started. I had a weird start, not sure why but once the gun went off I ran into the water with everyone else, but did a funky dive thing straight into the water right when I thought it was deep enough to do so. My goggles filled up with water – they’re open water specific goggles that blueseventy makes and are not meant to be used for diving – I was trying to get out in front of the main pack so I swam for about 15 minutes with water in my goggles. Silly me!
After rounding the first buoy I started my search for Evan – the idea was that the lower numbers were supposed to be at the front (closest to the buoy) and the higher numbers were supposed to be farther back from the buoy. I was number 2. I couldn’t find Even so I kept swimming, and swimming, and finally found him close to the back – apparently he missed that part of the meeting! It was ok, he saw me straight away and began to kayak towards me.
I focused on holding my pace back. One thing I learned from the SAKW was that I felt GREAT the first hour – go figure – but after that began to hurt (in more ways than one…). So I knew that being out front was an amazing and comfortable feeling, but being passed by dozens of swimmers still going strong after hours of swimming wasn’t… so I began to figure out how to pace a marathon swim. I focused on keeping my breathing under control – going back to breathing every 4th stroke and spotting every 8th stroke helped me do this. After the initial 15 minutes of a fast free-for all most of the competitors had settled on a steady pace. I wanted to hold this pace for the first half of the race, then depending on how I felt I would make a decision on the pace I would hold for the last half of the race.
After 35 minutes of steady swimming I stopped to get a drink of Gatorade. I kept swimming for another 25 minutes, stopped again for another chug of Gatorade and a bite-size snickers bar. The nutrition for this race was much less planned than it was for Key West. Which actually worked much better, although I wish I had a couple things while swimming, the cravings passed and I survived. I decided to listen to my body and give it things I would normally eat or drink, whatever I felt I wanted or needed I would take.
I felt great at an hour in, but kept reminding myself I had a lot of swimming left to do. I held my pace, but if I was gaining on someone I would pass them quickly then fall back into my pace. Another 30 minutes went by – more Gatorade and a bite of snickers. I was in 5th place overall at this point, I was very close to the two guys right in front of me. I swam another 40 minutes or so, I passed them both while they were stopped for a feeding – I used this opportunity to postpone one of my feedings to gain a little distance between me and them before stopping again.
I had Water and another snickers at around the 2:15 mark – I was craving some applesauce but didn’t have any with me. The snickers were like little energy bites! I was also having some left shoulder pain, which I had also experienced in Key West. I took two advil and tried breathing to the right side which only made it worse – I asked Evan to stay on my left for the remainder of the swim.
The next 45 minutes were by far the most challenging of the race. We had experienced some decent chop while crossing the lake, we had also been warned of the westerly winds that would most likely blow us off course. The yackers were advised to line the buoy up with a landmark behind them to help stay on course. The problem was that between buoy 6 and buoy 7 (I believe those are the numbers) there was about a 2.5 mile gap! The gap spanned an incredibly open and choppy area that made it impossible to line up any buoy, let alone see the next buoy. I stopped and asked Evan if he had a sighting on it… “no”. I was trying to focus on my swimming and keeping my strokes long and smooth, but had to switch to my “choppy stroke” which means I had to swim with completely straight arms and lift my head almost all the way out of the water in order to move anywhere. I also noticed we were being pushed substantially by the winds. I asked Evan to steer me into the winds and towards the general area we believed the buoy to be.
Mentally, I felt myself losing motivation. My shoulders were killing me, I kept getting a side ache from the weird stroke I was using to swim and I was too far behind the first two men to catch them, and was a comfortable distance in front of the two guys I had recently passed. I found myself settling back into my opening pace, whereas just 20 minutes prior had been increasing my speed and feeling very strong. This was discouraging and I knew it was because I had no visual on my next buoy. I really wanted to find it soon. We kept pushing into the winds, swimming almost diagonally to where we were trying to go. Evan got a bloody nose around here, this was distracting him and me. He seemed to be struggling a little in the dinky kayak we had rented – every time he had to stop paddling it floated off course and he would have to paddle quickly to catch back up to me. The winds had picked up more, the clouds were rolling in – I could feel us both on the brink of controlled panic – we needed to get a sight on the next buoy, quickly.
Right as the 3 hour mark rolled around we both got a spot on the tiny red bobbing buoy through the waves. I couldn’t see it every time I looked, but I had been relying on Evan to get me to the next buoy so I settled into a nice, slightly stronger and re-energized pace. The waves were still choppy, I felt very thankful for the seasickness medication around this time…
I rounded the ominous buoy and immediately spotted the next one (yay!). I began to inch towards it. The clouds had passed and the winds began to die down substantially. I began to feel hot for the first time all morning. It had been almost a perfect temperature for fast swimming – the water temp was roughly 70F and the air temp was about the same, but steadily rose throughout the race. I experienced a few cool patches while heading out on the course, but thankfully those were only patches and I didn’t experience anything like that while heading back towards the finish. I checked my watch after rounding the 2nd to last buoy – 3:30 minutes had passed since I started. I felt great, the advil had kicked in, I was starting to feel a little hungry, but knew it wouldn’t effect me while I was still swimming. I decided to have one more snickers and a large chug of Gatorade to give me a final push for the finish. I could see the final turn buoy at this point and knew the beach was just around the next corner. I put my head down and swam at a strong, steady pace.
I asked Evan to warn me if any of the swimmers I had passed earlier started gaining ground on me. I felt very settled in my current standing. This was a nice feeling to have as I rounded the final buoy – I felt strong, I was very close to my predicted time, I had very few aches/pains to worry about, and nothing had gone awry during the swim! I swam into the beach, stood when the water was shallow enough, and ran into shore across the finish line – 4:05 was my official time, first place female and third place overall finisher.
After finishing my SAKW last month, someone told me, “Now all the rest of them will feel easy!” this has proved true at least for this swim! I gained valuable experience, as always, but felt very confident and controlled in how I swam this race. Marathon pacing is quite a different and new experience for me, it may take time to learn how to swim all the different distances I will be racing, but I am excited and ready for the challenge.
As I recovered after my race (eating just about anything I could fit into my mouth), a few spectators came up to congratulate me – I handed out a few of my FARA donation cards, a couple people even handed me a cash donation on the spot! This experience has allowed me to explore my love for swimming and take it with me to places I never expected… it has given me the opportunity to combine my love of the sport with my love of my family and with both of those things bring something absolutely worthwhile and wonderful from them. I hope to turn these into lifelong passions and share them with as many people as I can.
Thanks for reading and THANK YOU for the continued support!
p.s. My strange Vermont prizes included: a pound of beef jerky, a half gallon of pure maple syrup and a hand carved wooden “woodel” made by a community member.
The morning of our swim started off well enough – a 5:20 wake up call at the Lexington Hotel (which also served as the race headquarters). I had communicated with my kayaker, Pam, the night before and had a bag of liquids and a bag of other miscellaneous other items to have her carry for me during the swim. Cody and I both ate a waffle from the waffle house next to our hotel, we then finished the last minute preparations and hopped in the car with my grandma to drive to Smathers Beach where we would be starting and finishing our island swim.
Once we arrived at the beach, which was around 6:25, we found a place for our gear and started to anxiously wait around. Most people had arrived by 7 and the body marking and zinc application began. Because we had colored zinc, we made a “map” of Alaska and the letters FARA on each others’ backs. The total time for zinc application was about 30 minutes… a little longer than we expected to spend doing it so the final preparations had to happen fast, last minute bathroom trip, cap and goggles, sips of water, and then we were out and into the 80 degree water. Once we were wading out to the start line, we had around 5 minutes until 8. I didn’t hear the horn to indicate the start, rather I heard someone near the back yell “GO!” and everyone took off.
I made eye contact with Pam and was able to quickly get to her side. I looked ahead to find Cody and saw him far out towards the front of the pack. I couldn’t see a kayaker by his side, after I finished I learned it took his kayaker 45 minutes and a race official to find Cody. The first 15 minutes flew by – I didn’t want to stop for water but knew I needed to stick to my plan as best I could. I looked around while sipping on my water, I was out in the front of the pack and felt great. Another 15 minutes went by, I stopped again and drank electrolyte water; I still felt great but decided to slow my speed a little bit, my breathing needed to be slower and more controlled. I started breathing every 4th stroke instead of every 2nd stroke which was my normal pattern, this allowed me to enjoy the aquatic life as well as relax and lengthen my stroke. The next 30 minutes went very smoothly, I had my first GU in the middle of growing swells, less than a minute later I realized the GU was not sitting well at all. I felt very nauseous. The swells and chop added to the queasiness I felt, less than 10 minutes after consuming the GU I felt it coming back up.
The converging waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf continued to produce large waves that rocked my stomach. From about an hour after starting until about an hour later, I was struggling to get through the first wavy section without vomiting. I didn’t stick to my nutrition plan at this point, at about 90 minutes I sipped from a water bottle, about five minutes later I vomited again. At about 2 hours the swells subsided and my stomach calmed down – I took the opportunity to drink about 4 ounces of electrolyte water and kick my stroke into full gear. I felt great flying through the sailboats as I approached Dredgers Key. I maintained lead for the female solo swimmers up until we rounded the island – I even had a chance to relax, have a couple more ounces of fluid, take two ibuprofen and enjoy some aquatic life – beautiful sea urchins, a sting ray and many sea sponges and small fish. As I rounded Dredgers Key and headed out in an open bay towards Cow Key bridge, I felt the nausea return.
All the liquids I had held down for the previous 45 minutes came back up. The waves increased and serious doubts began to enter my mind. I lost lead at this point, still holding onto second place for female solo swimmers, but I began to wonder if I would be able to finish the race at all. As far as I could tell, none of my planned nutrition had stayed in my stomach. I could feel my body physically weakening and I could feel my confidence draining. I began to struggle with thoughts of quitting, I wanted to stop the race at this point – over 3 hours into the swim and over 7 miles of swimming completed. The open bay area going into Cow Key was very challenging – partly because I was not able to figure out exactly where I was supposed to be swimming towards, partly because I was battling a slight current, and mostly because I was horribly sea-sick.
I finally saw a decent landmark to spot off of near the Cow Key bridge, I could see it approaching and my spirits were growing – I knew I would get a glimpse of someone from my support crew to help build my confidence back up a bit. As I caught the glorious current that pushed me through the channel I floated on my back under the bridge and waved to my dad – I was able to manage a weak, but extremely grateful smile up towards him.
The current here didn’t last long – I floated on my back for about two more minutes then rolled over and attempted more swimming. At this point I had been swimming for four hours and had gone over 9 miles, I was very discouraged and was slowing down by the minute – I had serious doubts I would be able to finish the swim. The rest of the channel was extremely shallow, and I had to scull a couple times and ask Pam to find deeper water so I could extend my arms correctly underwater during my stroke. I tried to distract myself from my nausea by focusing on my stroke count and breathing rhythm. The next two miles seemed to drag on and on, the wall on the side of the island was curved so it seemed like even after 45 minutes of swimming next to it, we hadn’t moved anywhere. This was incredibly discouraging to me and my stomach. Pam did her best to keep me positive and responsive, she also did a great job of forcing liquids into me. I kept refusing the water but she made me drink a few sips every 20-30 minutes, looking back I wish I could have drank more, especially right at this point in the swim – I think it would have helped to keep me hydrated for the last mile, which I completed by sheer will and the thoughts and prayers of my friends and family as well as continuous encouragement from Pam, who was by my side the entire time.
As I trudged through the last mile (towards what I thought was the last buoy) I felt like I was swimming in a delirium, in retrospect, I was extremely weak and dehydrated and was well into my energy reserves, which were all but depleted. The nausea continued to torment my entire body even as I saw the actual final turn buoy and felt another female swimmer effortlessly fly by me. With about half a mile left in the swim, I felt the waves subside and my stomach settle a little. I felt my confidence instantly grow as I realized that I would be able to finish the race, whatever was going on mentally in my mind at this point vanished and my competitive swimming experience kicked in. I finished the last half mile as quickly and as confidently as I had when I started over five hours prior. I passed the female swimmer easily and felt energized as I raced towards my family waiting patiently for me on the beach.
Cody met me in the water and pointed me in the direction of the finish line. I finished in a total time of 5 hours and 16 minutes. I had hoped to be well under 5 hours; while I was disappointed with my time, given the circumstances I endured I can’t help but be proud of my accomplishment and take from it a very important lesson – ginger, ginger ale, ginger tablets, prescription motion sickness medication, etc. are vital components to any successful open water swim, especially for me.
My biggest regret with this swim, is the obvious – I forgot to take my bonine on friday night (as directed) and instead took it the morning of, just a couple hours before the start. Bonine doesn’t help with motion sickness until the next day, valuable experience. In addition to learning about my physical susceptibility to seasickness, I was shocked to learn about my own mental susceptibilities when faced with adversity.
Honestly, the reason I didn’t stop when the going got rough, was because of the support I knew I had on land. I knew I had a reasonable excuse, and all of my supporters would understand if I needed to stop, but for some reason I felt that this was, perhaps, the most important reason that I could not quit. Friedreich’s Ataxia doesn’t offer a safety boat to follow alongside you throughout the race, people aren’t given the option of getting a nice, warm, comforting ride back to shore. Whenever I wanted to stop swimming during the race, I thought of all those afflicted by FA and that was enough to give me the boost I needed to continue stroke after stroke, just like FA’ers do. Not that seasickness can compare to FA, but as a metaphor it does just fine :-).
Thanks to all your support, Team Ryan and Owen Jones was able to raise over $5,000 for FARA
Here is a link to my personal donation page: