Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Laura Swims Home

Swimming the English Channel, around Manhattan, or across the Catalina Channel was not the swim that made me want to become a marathon swimmer. No, it was a swim that seemed far more personal. The Ederle Swim, a 17-mile swim from Battery Park, New York City (the tip of Manhattan island) to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, a tiny sand spit south of the city. Gertrude Ederle swam this route when she trained for her historic crossing of the English Channel in 1926.
Sandy Hook is a national park and recreation area that still serves as one of the first lines of defense of New York Harbor. I grew up (and Trudy spent her summers as a child) only a few miles away, and spent countless days on the beautiful peninsula. I swam, explored an old gun battery, dissected a shark at marine biology camp, performed in plays, and learned to drive all on this seven mile long sandbar that is the start of the Jersey Shore.
The night that my crossing of Cape Cod Bay was postponed, my friend Rondi Davies of New York Open Water reached out to me, expressing her sadness and understanding how difficult it is when a swim does not go as planned. She asked if there was anything she could do, and I jokingly said that helping me organize an Ederle Swim would be great. She, however, was not joking and said it was a definite possibility. Exhausted from such an emotional couple of days, I said I would sleep on it before we moved ahead. Sure enough, when I awoke that day, “swimming home” was one of the only things on my mind. We began to coordinate the logistics that week, and set our sights on August 28th. Getting back in the pool after the crushing disappointment of my swim being called off was not easy. I wanted to just swim for fun without worry for the rest of the summer, but I now had some serious work to do.
On the morning of August 28th, I jumped off the zodiac right in front of Pier A in Manhattan. After a quick countdown, I was on the move. Terry O’Malley, one of the most experienced kayakers in the area was at my right, and Coach Bonnie, my boyfriend Francis, David Barra, and boat pilot Sean Makofsky were all in the zodiac on my left. We also had a full escort from the NYPD Harbor Patrol and the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. I felt safe and sound, and knew I had to do what Dory said and just keep swimming.
We flew out of the harbor! We made amazing progress, as Terry, Sean, and Dave are expert navigators. But like with any swim, there is always going to be a dark place. Mine occurred as we rounded Brooklyn and the Verrazanno Bridge was in sight. I suddenly felt like I was not getting anywhere, and that it was taking far too long. My mind was filled to the brim with negative thoughts. I was convinced we were going to miss the tide, and the swim would be unsuccessful! In the middle of this mental maelstrom, we also had the task of getting safely across the Ambrose Channel. The Ambrose is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, and these tankers are not just going to stop for a crazy lady swimming to her hometown. At one point, I had to delay a feed and swim at a full on sprint towards Staten Island to get out of the way of oncoming vessel traffic. It was terrifying, but we got across safely, and were more than halfway there!
The rest of the swim went on without a hitch. My feeds worked well, boat traffic cooperated, and then the best part of all: Terry told me that my family was already on the beach waiting for me. Hearing that filled my heart with more joy than I can possibly describe. I knew this would give me the mental boost I needed to get home. About a quarter mile to go, and I could see them: my mom, sister, and good friends Keith and Tom were all there on that hot and remote beach. I put the kick into high gear, upped my stroke rate, and gunned it for home. As I looked to my left, I could see the hill where we lived, to my left was my crew telling me to keep going and I was almost there. The water was still really deep, and I knew had to wait until I could see sand to even attempt standing up. When I could hear them yelling and saw the murky sand below, I stood up. Landfall. The NYPD blew their air horn, and I was there. I swam home. A dream over four years in the making had come true, and so many of the people that I love were there to see it. I thought that it had taken over 6 hours, so I immediately apologized to my mom and sister for taking so long. They informed me that they actually were afraid they might miss me because I was going so fast. 5 hours and 48 minutes to be precise. The good news kept rolling.
So a summer that started with a major disappointment got to end with my successfully completing the swim that made me want to be a marathon swimmer. The happiness even continued two weeks later when Francis asked me to marry him. He followed my serious but not really serious declaration that I did not want to get married until after I swam home. I really could not ask for a better way to end the summer.
Hold Fast.