I have said before that swimming 8 Bridges was a transformative experience. That’s not a term I use lightly, and I use it because this experience has taught me so much about limits, trust, your support system, and the greatness that can happen when individuals work together to do accomplish goals.
There are a few things about the swim that are important to understand. In order to swim in 8 Bridges, you need a swimming resume, which proves your qualifications based off of your past swims. This swim draws a worldly crowd from elite triple crowners, to iron men and women, to individuals who have pioneered the marathon-swimming world. Each stage can only have a certain number of swimmers in the water at once (for safety and escort reasons), so the race directors want to be sure you are qualified because finishing is the goal. That being said, in order to succeed in any stage during 8 Bridges, you have to be able to make the ebb and flow currents. What this means is that you typically start swimming against the current, make a little headway, and then the current changes and you are swimming with the current. However, there are only so many hours the current is favorable, so if you don’t make enough headway while the current is in your favor, the current changes again and could push you backwards when you are even when you are close to the bridge. At the final mile of a 19.8-mile stage, you best hope the current doesn’t change on you because that would mean even after 8+ hours of extreme effort, you would have to be pulled. In addition the wind factor is crucial. In stages 2 and 5, during the portion of the swim that was supposed to be favorable, the wind was opposing us in the water, which felt as though any favorable conditions were cancelled out due to backwards pushing waves.
When swimming back-to-back marathons, there is an extreme emphasis on recovery. Typically my family and I would leave the hotel around 6am and be back around 4pm. In this window of time between swimming and waking up the next morning, I had to make sure I was rehydrating, eating, icing, stretching, showering, unpacking and re-packing your swim bag, washing out your bottles, re mixing your feeds, and sleeping. After a marathon swim the only thing you want to do from the above is sleep. That being said, this event is a team effort. If it weren’t for my mom locating the routes we would take to the start of each session, helping make dinners, and always staying positive, my dad helping me work through the aches and pains, making sure my head was in the game, and my brother serving as the mixology drink master, comedic relief, weather and wind checker and cheering section scouter, this event would not have been achievable. To me, there is no such thing as self-made. It takes the individuals helping you on your journey to make it successful. My family always goes above and beyond to support each other in whatever each of us sets our minds to and works towards. I am blessed to have grown up in this environment and would never ever take that for granted.
Each day of the swim was rigorous. You are not only doing 1 marathon swim, but 7, in a row. I had prepared in my training for this event to be more than I have ever done, and it met even my toughest expectations. As I said before in my pre-swim blog posts, my goal was simple: get to the bridge each day. There were many external factors I could have been thinking about, but at the end of the day your job is to get in the water, and swim for however long it will take you. When I finished each stage (you have to swim slightly past the bridge, not stop right when you are under it), I felt gratitude for the Hudson River for giving me a challenge, for Margrethe for helping me navigate that challenge and keeping me in the game, for David, Rondi and Captain Greg for keeping the swimmers safe and being their advocate while they were in the water and on the boat, and for my body and mind for allowing me to get through a days work. You have to have a moment to be thankful before moving to the next step.
“A river cuts through a rock not because of its power but because of its persistence.”
Each day required persistence, control and trust. Persistence was found in every stroke regardless of the conditions. Control came from making sure I could temper my 17 years of racing energy. Since it was unclear the exact time you’d be in the water you had to over estimate to prepare. You had to control your mind in order to stay in the present. The present stroke, the present mile, the present stage…because naturally your mind will want to wander into what’s next, which serves no good in the present. Trust was critical in the swimmer-kayaker relationship. Margrethe and I established the trust in each other early on in Stage 2, when the conditions got to the point where not finishing the stage due to currents may have been a reality. I had to trust Margrethe when she said, “keep your head down and get there.” This trust created a force that perpetuated into the following days.
I came for the swim but stayed for the people.
Every day was the same but different. You’d go to the Launch 5, but each day there were new faces I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing the water with. From swimmers who were trying their first marathon swim, to swimmers who have done stages annually, to swimmers who never gave up and finally achieved completion in a stage that they had tried to complete for years, was hands down one of the most inspiring situations I have ever been in. The camaraderie of the event was truly remarkable. Regardless of what had happened the day before, everyone involved was positive, supportive of each other and excited for the day ahead. To be surrounded by so much love for a common denominator made me feel like I had already succeeded, by just meeting and getting to share the experience with everyone. Even in the days after the swim, I have still been able to keep in touch with the swimmers, kayakers, volunteers and directors, who not only care about my well-being as a swimmer, but as a person. That distinction is important.
One of my bucket list goals was to be able to swim by the Statue of Liberty. And yes, I could’ve saved a lot of time by just taking a ferry out and jumping off and swimming for a few minutes, but the journey is where you experience growth.
Doing these swims doesn’t make you a “good” or “bad” person. Swimming is my passion and is something I enjoy doing. I can walk away feeling incredibly blessed to have spent a week dedicated to that passion, regardless of the outcome.
Many thanks to the individuals who made this week very special. David, Rondi and Captain Greg for your relentless efforts, and making the swim safe and successful for all those involved. Margrethe for being the Queen of the Hudson and my (s)hero. Cheryl, for being wonder woman in the flesh and always pushing me to be my best. Jamie, Thomas, Devon, Steve and Cristian, for the “going all the way” spirit and synergy all week. Charlotte for being such an all around exceptional person, friend, and teammate who is irreplaceable in my life. Mr. Samuels and the Samuels’ family for being so authentically supportive and helpful as I navigate the marathon swimming world. Spencer, for helping me navigate the legal world, and showing me that you can do both marathon swim and be a lawyer…huge! The volunteers who always had a smile on their face, especially Roy and his amazing tie dye shirts and ability to make sure that every swimmer got on to the boat and was hydrated and nourished. The incredibly dedicated kayakers who served every role from nutritionist, to motivational speaker, to navigator, to photographer…all the while paddling a kayak! The jet skiers who had halos above their head each and every time they picked us up post-swim, but also navigated the waters and kept the swimmers and other boaters safe. The NYPD for safety escorts. Auntie Amy and Mark for giving me one hell of a surprise!!!!! Jamie for being one of the most inspirational swimmers I have ever met. Tina for always cheering and keeping my mom and brother company. Kyle Kiki, for being my rock always. My Smithies for being the largest force of love this week, and for showing me that you can do anything through your own stories (especially Claire and Katharine who came ready to support!!!).Emily, who gave the best pump up speech. The homemade cookies some angel brought on Launch 5. John and Rondi for sharing the water with me and for the morale boost. My bananas for being kickass always. Addie for being my littlest fan and Smithie. The marathon swimming fempire, Abby and Eliza. Coach Kim Bierwert for opening my eyes to marathon swimming and teaching me that there is always more toothpaste left in the tube. Coach Michael Spring and Crimson Aquatics for making me into the swimmer I am today by pushing my mental capacities for 17 years. Andy Cannon for keeping my body and joints safe and pre-habbed. As well as playing quarterback while taking a holistic approach to planning this swim. Coach Brenda Hogan for taking an 8-year old with dreams seriously. Austin Prep for the prayers, positivity and love. Megan and Judy for the incredible fascial stretch therapy sessions. Miami Fitness and Lifestyle for keeping my cardio workouts bumping! My extended family, neighbors, and kids I have gotten the honor to nanny or teach swim lessons to… the videos, posts, shares, calls, texts, tweets and instagrams have been absolutely more than I could have ever expected. The individuals who were watching that purple dot go down the river…you’re amazing. That is the love and support drives me to do what I do.
All the swimmers I had the honor to share the experience with, and who all taught me a little something: Larisa, Susan, Louise, David, Todd, Erica, Kim, Leonard, Javier, Martina, Janine, Mo, Abby, Ali, John, Nicholas, Dongho, Paula, Hugh, Sydne, Capri, Andrew, Lyn, Janet, Phyllis, John, Glenn, Frank, Neil, Kenn, William, Jaimie, Teresa, Charlie, Ellaine, Laura, Kimberly, Ed, Mark, Doug, Martin, Charles, David, Michele, Mark, Ellen and Jeannie. Thank you.
My sponsors: BRL Sports Nutrition for my Tri-Fuel feeds which kept me fueled in the water and feeling stronger than ever, Vermont Peanut Butter for the post-swim fuel aka my PB and J sandwich which started the recovery process is a great way. VoMax for the custom apparel which kept my team looking sharp and warm on the water or in the rain. Knuckleheads apparel for reminding me to live life to the fullest. Grrrl for believing in me and proving that women can do anything regardless of age or size.
Mom, Dad, Cam…..you’re everything.
And if you’ve taken the time to read this whole thing…I applaud you and you likely have the endurance to be a marathon swimmer.
(Some Stage 2 clips to give you a feel for the longer swims. )