Gratitude

I’m a firm believer in expressing gratitude for the individuals, places and events that have been meaningful to me.

Life’s short…nobody knows what the future holds. If someone is important to you, tell them. If they’ve helped you in some way, let them know. If there is something you admire about them, make their day and say what that is.

I wanted to highlight a few people who have always stepped up to the plate since day 1 (and especially recently), and deserve a lifetime of thanks from me.

Family is incredibly important to me. As my Papou once said, “If you are a tree, family are your roots. These roots help you stay strong in any storm, or stand tall on a nice day.” To me, family isn’t always blood. Family are the people who are part of the process no matter what the outcome…make your happiness their happiness, and the people in life who want you in theirs.

The love and support of my Mom, Dad, and older brother Cam, is indescribable. Not only are they a huge source of inspiration to me, but they are also the world’s best mentors. If any of us say we want to do something, be something, achieve something, we all do what we can to support that dream….while simultaneously keeping each other loyal to the goal we proclaim.

My best friend Kyle, who has been my rock, reality check, and favorite person to talk to about literally everything…. You are such an irreplaceable person in my life and an incredibly loyal friend. You don’t find people like that that very often, if ever. I admire your realness, confidence, and ability to see all sides of a situation.

My incredible sponsors: GRRRL Clothing, BRL Sports, Vermont Peanut Butter and VOmax. I have been absolutely blown away by your generosity and enthusiasm. Having the backing from companies who are eager, interested and excited about what I am working to accomplish… as well as passionate about getting to know me on a personal level and supporting my career aspirations has exceeded any expectation I ever had about the athlete-sponsor relationship. I truly believe in your amazing missions and products and am so grateful to be a part.

To everyone deserving but not listed here, thank you!

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What They Don’t Talk About….

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It’s 3:45am in mid-January of 2009. Even for an early bird like myself, my body attempts to protest.

I’m awakening by the sheer fact that I am uncomfortable, sore in every way possible, and exhausted. In addition to the pain of leaving my warm bed, I then have to slide on my still damp (from last night) uniform practice swimsuit and waterproof heart rate monitor. I go over and wake my mom up, who gets the pleasure of driving me at this God-awful hour before her full day of work starts. I am headed to the pool at 4:30am to make sure I am not late for my 4:45 am swim practice. If you were late, you’d get locked out. You’d allow your teammates, who were also your fiercest competitors, to get the extra training… those extra milliseconds that may be the difference between success or not.

A “normal” high school experience (I imagine) consisted of going to school, doing your homework, having relationships with your friends, participating in clubs, holding a job, and going to the school dances. That’s a lot. Ours included all that but also completing it in the slim-to-0 window you had between practicing 2-3 times a day (depending on if you swam for your high school team…that was additional and not replaceable for a Crimson practice). Whether you liked it or not, you had a 98% attendance policy to uphold if you wanted to stay at this elite level on this team. We practiced 8 times a week/ about 24-28 hours weekly. If you were going to add that element of risk by going to that dance or having that party you better make sure you were at 100% in the morning …excuses were nothing to Coach Spring. Crimson Aquatics was and is still one of the most elite teams in the U.S.

At Crimson, we lived by a few mottos: “the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle,” “always expect the unexpected” and “if you’re not doing it, someone else will be.”

These quotes taken in literal form consisted of our weekly 3×1000 on 11 minutes test set, 100,000 yards over 7 days of Christmas vacation training, Saturday practices including 6-mile runs followed kettle bells, TRX workouts and then 2 ½ hours of intense threshold sets, or having Coach Spring ask his young daughter at a weeknight practice what her favorite number was, to which we would do that amount of repeat 300’s (her favorite number was 20 by the way).

We would push our limits, wearing sneakers and ankle bands having to tread water hands-out style for 28 minutes because someone miss-counted a set, used nets (which were screen door-like objects that clipped to the lane line) which made sure we got past 7-meters off every wall, and did on-land dolphin and flutter kicks continuously for 14 minutes (due to people putting their feet on the ground during the usual 5 minutes of kicking) before we got in the pool. You had to check your ego at the door because on deck you were a nobody (including swimmers with trial cuts, or olympians). Your a$$ was going to get kicked.

Why would you stay? First off, nobody was forcing you to do this, you could leave at any time. Sure, you could go to a team with less commitment, but at the end of the day nothing would replace the hustle you were taught at Crimson.

Simply put, we expected excellence because we trained though anything that could ever scare us. You learned to improvise, adapt and overcome any obstacle you could ever dare to imagine.

This kind of intense training took place every day over the 11 years I was at Crimson Aquatics.

This is why I am confident in my predictions, because I am so confident in my preparations.

This is why I was able to go from no marathon swimming experience to accomplishing what swimming aficionados call “the greatest open water swimming challenge in the world” on my first try… with no protest during the swim.

This is the reason why when someone says: “naturally talented,” I laugh. This is 16 years of maximal effort.

When I pick my big swims (like the 120 miles of the Hudson), I know if its up to me, I can accomplish it. That’s not because I feel that 6 months of focused training will be enough, but it’s because I know I have had 11 years of being broken… which is why I am unbreakable now.

When you have that ammunition, no fear or doubt will ever be in your mind.

I dedicate this to the ladies who have been there through it all: Samantha Hall (College of the Saint Rose, Captain), Carah McClure (UVM, recent LA Marathon completion), Selene Chilton (CCSU), Kasey Chilton (CCSU), Danielle Tagarelis (Assumption College), and Allie Hall (MIT). We’ve laughed, cried, celebrated victories, supported each other through defeat and gone through training that nobody will ever fully understand. Even this post doesn’t do it justice.

To me, having this kind of unconditional friendship is the biggest success story. I owe a lot to you all, and words will never do that justice. I am incredibly proud of where we all are today.

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Know Thyself

Recently I was asked in an interview what I thought my greatest strength was/is? Immediately I said, “my mental game has been crucial to my progress.”

In any endeavor, people will have opinions good or bad. It’s whether you give those opinions power or not that will determine your success. 10 times out of 10 you will suffer if you take to heart other people’s opinions and have an emotional reaction to them. A great strength of mine is to be able to observe, use logic, and be rational. If you let other’s opinions control you, you give them the power. I will never let that happen, and hope you won’t either.

17 years ago, I strapped on my Speedo Hydrospexs and slowly lowered myself into the water. My toes barely touched the 4 ft bottom but it was my first swim lesson and I was ready to go.

Secretly sliding off my arm floaties, fearless and flirting with danger, my mom knew it was time to learn proper swim safety and technique.

As the lessons went by I loved the feel of the water, the challenge each lap brought, and how I could dolphin kick like Ariel in the Little Mermaid (only to be cut short by getting heel kicked square in the nose to which I needed some medical attention to stop the bleeding).

I made major improvements over the few weeks of the lessons and had gone from a fearless novice, to a focused swimmer who managed to learn the basics of all 4 strokes. As the lessons were winding down, my hunger to keep swimming was just revving up. After diligently watching the older kids and hearing about the summer league team, I craved the opportunity.

However, when my mum asked the instructor about it after the lessons were done, the instructor responded: “In my opinion, I don’t think she’s good enough yet.”

My mum, being the saint that she is, didn’t want me to be discouraged, but also wasn’t going to sugarcoat it. In the car when I asked her what the instructor said she replied, “In her opinion, she thinks you need more practice, honey”

I didn’t give it too much thought, and I remember thinking to myself very plainly, “I’m going to work on my own to be able to swim on a team. I’m not doing any more lessons.”

If they close a door, crawl through the window…

After countless trips to the library checking out books on swimming mechanics… to hours and laps at Auntie A’s backyard pool with my dad serving as “coach,” we covered everything from putting on a bathing cap to technique. My dedication to making the team was unwavering and my skills improved. When my dad saw an ad in the Sunday Eagle Tribune about the top ranked New England U.S.A. club team (then called the Pirates) holding tryouts, I was there on a late August evening with my parents and older brother supporting on deck.

Long story short, my dedication was rewarded and I made the team. I had incredible coaches who truly believed in their swimmers (I’m looking at you Brenda Hogan and Patty Spring). I won state medals at 8-and-unders, broke a team relay record and even won the Coaches Award at the All-Team Banquet in the first year. I stayed with the Pirates (now Crimson Aquatics) under the guidance of even more renown coaches (Mike Spring, Sean Geary, Mark Taffe) for the following 12 years. (Blog post on that coming soon.)

Moral of the story, all that matters is how you see yourself and how you work towards the goals you set and proclaim. Opinions are opinions, and while they can be valuable, they can also be unnecessary noise.

As the Ancient Greek aphorism states at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, “know thyself.”

 

The 120 Mile Hudson River Grind

Hello Friends!

This June/July 2016 I will be attempting to swim the lower 120 miles of the Hudson River! This summer is the 6th annual N.Y.O.W 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim. It is the longest marathon swim in the world. It is a bridge to bridge swim with an average distance of 17.2 miles per day, over 7 consecutive days. For you geography/bridge buffs, it includes: Rip Van Winkle | Kingston-Rhinecliff | Mid-Hudson | Newburgh-Beacon | Bear Mountain | Tappan Zee | George Washington | Verrazano Narrows Bridges. The Hudson River has played a fundamental role in the rich history of our great nation, and during the swim I will be passing iconic sights such as: West Point, Manhattan Island, and The Statue of Liberty (huge motivation)!

The 8 Bridges Swim promotes the health and enjoyment of the Hudson River. Swimmers can sign up to swim as many days as they want… or they can attempt “The Odyssey,” all 7 stages over 7 days. This swim is a new challenge for me, and one where the recovery training is just as important as the swimming training itself.

After swimming the English Channel in 2014, my dear parents, brother and I needed to have a year to recharge, organize, and graduate from our respective colleges (Cam from University of Washington, and for me, Smith College), before deciding on a new swimming challenge. After much consideration and planning, this summer provides the best opportunity to do a big swim.

I have been training for the past few months, and am proud to be sponsored by  GRRRLVOMAXVermont Peanut Butter Co.BRL Sports Nutrition.

I will keep this blog alive (even though its still called theenglishchannelgrind.wordpress.com) and continue to give updates and answer questions! Thank you so much for all the support, and I look forward to taking you along on this journey!

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Hudson River via The Bear Mountain Bridge near The Hastings Center (where I did my bioethics  fellowship late 2015!)

 

 

A Summary!

Keeping alive the Seven Sisters tradition (started by Emma Reim and Mackenzie Bradley from Smith College and continued by Ika Kovacikova from Wellesley, all whom I consider my Channel godmothers) is to write a brief synopsis of the swim. Enjoy! 

If there is one thing that I have learned these past 12 days it is that even the best, most well trained and prepared swimmer can never be 100% ready for what the channel has in store for them. There is a reason that only 1 out of every 10 individuals who attempt the crossing make it. You are not only fighting the obvious: winds, waves, and fickle weather, but also hypothermia (a big risk for me due to sheer size), jellyfish stings, swelling/burning of the lips and throat due to salt water, chaffing, exhaustion, sea sickness, mental thoughts and the cruel illusion that is the French coast  (visible at the halfway mark, only to appear the same distance way for 6 hours, no matter how hard you feel you are swimming).

But this challenge is much more than the swim itself, it is the mental tax of waiting day after day for weather that will cooperate for 12-16 hours. Bad weather, not good, is the norm in Dover. The decision is solely the captains. You live in 12-hour windows. No matter where you are you can get called and told you must be ready because you will be swimming the next night or day, which means you could swim the entire course in the dark if that’s all the weather provides you with.  We (my dedicated family, coach and support swimmer) experienced this at its finest with 2-3 false starts. My official window was August 17-24, we arrived on the 12th, and the very last day of my window I finally got my chance. As the swimmer, I knew what my job entailed, but I can only imagine what my coach and parents had to go through…. Simply grueling.

Once we arrived to the dock in the morning I met my boat captain for the first time. Captain Oram was as I had expected: hardcore, opinionated and ready to do whatever it takes to make the crossing successful. My former Smith Swimming captain Emma Reim had also had Mike, and told me that”he is the best for a reason, you may not want to hear what he has to say at times, but know that your success is his success”. Thanks Emma ;) 

Jumping out of the boat and swimming to Shakespeare beach (for the official start) was very surreal. Four years in the works and it was finally my time. While standing there and waiting for the captain to sound the alarm indicating the start of my journey between two countries, my heart was pounding, those are the moments you live for. 

The first mile I was burning off total adrenaline. The channel has the reputation of giving you the early rounds, knowing that you’ll tire later in the match. There is absolutely no gimme here. My strategy was to take the swim in pieces rather than any thoughts of the entirety: swimming from the beach to the first shipping lane- 6miles, swimming through the first shipping lane-4 miles, through the transitional lane-1.5 miles, through the second shipping lane- 6miles, and finally to the French shore- 5miles. The English Channel shipping lanes are the busiest in the world. You have to contend with the supertanker and cargo liner’s enormous displacement of ocean and wake. This was every 25-30min.  Captain Oram remained in constant communication with all vessels as well as the British and French coast guards.

My swim position was always on the wind-less side of the boat. Captain Oram did his best to keep both heavy wake and wind from affecting my forward progression. This was not possible at all times and I had to get used to the high swells at 3-4 meters, created by the passing ships wake.

The transitional zone between the Channels shipping lanes is known as “jelly fish alley.” Up until that point I thought I had maybe dodged this well-known nuisance. Then, the stings began. Their greeting was a light reminder, then followed by more potent assault on any exposed skin- face, chest, hands, legs.  I counted a total of 48 seen, from the size of a baseball to a basketball. Because there is no shipping traffic, the jellies flourish here. I picked up the pace, as I was cattle-prodded through. 

Into the second shipping lane (about hour 5-6) I found it more difficult to hold down my liquid nutrition on the 30-minute by 30-second feeding intervals, due to the roll and tumble of the waves. Seasickness had taken its grip. My hope was that I would be digesting whatever I could to prevent a dreaded “bonk” due to insufficient caloric intake. I was so nasceous. The liquid designed for me was a combination of high carbohydrate, some protein and some caffeine. Most importantly, the solution needed to be at a stomach osmolarity of 30 or less which allows for quick absorption. Occasionally I would try to devour and digest a Twix or Mars bar due to the high caloric value of both. The Brit’s seem to favor Mars bars.

I don’t recall ever doubting my ability to finish the swim, however the tides, water temperature, winds and physical capacity would determine that fate. I just needed to move forward trying to remain in a thought process of success. Communicating with my support crew became more vital as the hours went by. Human connection and positivity were so key into the later rounds of this challenge, and that was my support crew’s specialty. Coach Bierwert definitely gets the best supporting role as he stood dutifully along the boats rail for the full 12 hours and 55 minutes I swam (the channel official said, “how can one go so long without using the restroom?”). He was incredible. 

At hour ten, the sun began to set as I felt whatever warmth it provided begin to dissipate- it was like the channels last chance to break me, the dreaded hypothermia challenge. There was no denying it; I was beginning to get cold. I was well aware of Susan Taylor’s 2013 Channel attempt and resultant death at this very point in her swim, hallmarked by initially by her decreasing stroke rate, and eventual collapse in the water resulting in her death. I fought those thoughts back as much as I could. My dad and I talked about how this may feel, as the body goes into a survival mode; blood drains away from the extremities and the brain, you become incoherent, confused and then motor weakness to loss. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t frightened at this point. The support team continued to raise the temperature of my drinks, but the effect was short lived.  I did not want an astute observer or Captain Oram to suspect a chance of hypothermia and stop my attempt, which by right they could and will do at anytime. At this point in the swim, the challenge is all above the shoulders. I told myself that I just needed to pound this out and reached for the last bit of energy I had, “not much longer, not much further, I am strong and I can do this.”  I remembered the repetitions of positive affirmations one of my Channel godmothers, Ika Kovacikova had done at this point. It picked me up in a way that was indescribable.  

At hour 11 my support swimmer Mackenzie Bradley (Smith College ’13) was called in to swim alongside, but never ahead of me (your support swimmer is crucial at a time like this). The rules are very specific, she is not allowed to lead the way, so she remained two feet behind but still making eye contact. Mackenzie deserves a badge of honor for not only entering the dangerous waters of the Channel again, but for also being a constant source of positivity throughout. I will be eternally grateful for her generosity and dedication. From his cockpit, Captain Oram began to snap the whip, I knew I was closing in on Wissiant beach, further south than Calais, France, due to the end of a Neap tide raising its ugly head once again- thus the serpentine swim pattern typical of a crossing. Captain Oram knew that picking up the pace would allow a soft sand finish, but any longer could cause me to drift further south onto the large, sharp rocks of Cap Gris Nez, France. With a voice that could be heard all the way back to Dover, Captain Oram yelled, “1800 yards, get your a** in gear.” I knew I was on the homestretch when the boat stopped moving forward, as that is as far in as they can go without striking bottom.

Like an opponent accepting defeat, the beach waves of Wissiant pushed from behind at the last 50 yards as I felt my knees strike sand. I stumbled to my feet and cleared the water, onto dry beach, turned and faced the boat and signaled with both arms up that my bout with the channel was over. I was emotionally and physically exhausted as the boat blew the triumphant horn, done for only successful crossings. As I looked back at the boat, I could see the silhouettes of my coach, my family, my observer and the boat captain with their arms waving. This swim was truly one part Paige; three parts the support of my team. The flurry of thoughts and feelings were just overwhelming as I stood there is France realizing I had beaten the Channel. I was one of less than 350 women who have actually done this,…. No WE did this.