SwimMS 2015.... what can I say... THERE IS NOT ENOUGH HOT CHOCOLATE IN THE WORLD! Ok, now that that is off my chest.
I won't lie... I was cocky. I was all "Ah. I've done this before.. I'll be enjoying my large beef pho in no time". Boy was I wrong. The swim in 2014 was 12 hours long. The swim in 2015 was 12 hours long. The swim in 2015 felt like 30 hours. I first stepped into the water with my good friend Ron. Ron swam with me last year for 3 hours during the swim and then casually popped off to a wedding (no biggie). Ron is pretty amazing! When we were waist deep there was a slow turn of our heads towards one another. A hesitant look on both of or faces indicating sheer terror while attempting to remain optimistic is a memory I will never forget. It was really cold! Not only was it about 4 degrees colder than the previous year... it was 3 degrees colder than the previous day. WHY I ask? WHY?
After slowly wandering up to chest deep we dove into the ice cold water. The shock hit my head and caused laboured breathing almost instantly. It's a feeling I know well, but often it's in preparation for a swim no longer than 6km. We estimate that on this day, I swam roughly 30km (down slightly from last year). Another feeling that I am familiar with is one of comfort when your body gets used to the water and no longer experiences frequent chills. I waited, and waited... This never happened. For 12 hours my body was stiff. I could feel rushes of cold water hitting my back on the inside of my wetsuit. It would move up and down with the rotation of my body, never allowing me to forget that little pool of water. By hour 4 I began having a sharp pain in both hips. The cold had kept me so tense that these joints and muscles just would not relax. I did a lot more breaststroke kick than expected to try and break up the tension. I also had to stop frequently and roll into a ball in an attempt to stretch out my back. These were all great short term solutions, but the pain always came back.
In the first 3 hours of the swim I was joined by Ron, my younger cousins, Alex and Tim Woinoski, who showed up in their itty bitty speedo's and lasted a deserving one lap. In all honestly I am impressed they got past their waists. My Cousin who lives with MS is their Aunt. I cannot explain how special it was to have these two with me. Alex is younger and took off with a shot of energy. It was also the most reasonable tactic to stay warm. Tim did the same, however I quickly noticed that after sprinting ahead he would swim back and do a circle around me before sprinting off again. Alex stopped often to let us catch up and both managed to avoid hypothermia. I loved swimming with my cousins. I am so happy that in this second year, they were able to come out and help raise awareness! In the final laps of that first 3 hours I was joined by Chantal Lauzon. Chantal is a woman I met through masters swimming (the same group where I met Ron). When I originally began planning the 2015 swim, I had hoped for a 12 hour long relay where athletes tag off and there is always someone in the water from 7am-7pm. This idea started to look unlikely when in late July I still didn't have enough support swimmers to accomplish this 12 hour relay. When Chantal heard this she stepped up to the plate and told me she was determined to make it happen. Chantal arrived at 6:45am at the beach. She cheered on the first two sets of swimmers and then joined me for the third rotation. During the course of the swim she probably swam about 6 hours and took every open shift to ensure the relay never broke. I frequently said to her, "Chantal, don't worry about the relay. If you need a break or are cold just stop for a while." She did get breaks when others were in the water with me, but she was always ready to jump back in... and did! We were also joined by Mark Everitt, an awesome young man from the UK who I have learned a lot from. Mark was in town for a year on a work visa and made a mission to meet everyone and experience everything. Mark saw my ad for swimmers at Kits Pool and took a chance on us. I learned that he had never swam in the ocean and hesitantly met him for a practice swim one Thursday night. Thankfully he surpassed my expectations. I gave him a loaner wet suit and his ocean swimming experience began to grow! Poor Mark's suit had no sleeves and he too had a very hard time keeping warm on the 15th. Mark has gone back to England now, and we miss him!
Much like last year, I took a short break every 3 hours. Due to the temperature however, some of the breaks were slightly longer than expected. I was always planning to stop shivering before getting back in the water. This wasn't always the case but having those moments of relief really did keep me healthy and able to continue. During the breaks I was also able to visit with donors, supporters, friends and family. These visits really did save me. I still had my waterproof ipod, which is fantastic, but this year was a whole different game mentally. The cold distracted me from the music, and from time to time it even distracted me from the support I was receiving in the water from the relay.
Throughout the swim I was visited my many other relay swimmers. Clair Nicol, who is a lifeguard at Kits beach chose to join us on her break. Laura Thompson a former UBC T-bird swimmer came out for the afternoon and evening. Along with Laura were a handful of other UBC swimmers, Kat Stamp, Melissa Jung, and former Olympian Savannah King. Savannah and I have had a very special relationship over the years. She was an up and coming long distance freestyler when I was looking towards the end of my career. I saw her as a big threat, and I assume she both looked up to me and also made it a mission to kick my butt! Eventually I did end my career, and today Savannah has a record of 800m freestyles faster than my own (I think I may still have her in the 1500m though!). It has been really wonderful to watch her grow and excel in the program that I grew in. Somewhat recently she did let me know that I was a role model and inspiration for her. The funny thing is that I feel the same way about her in my post swimming years. We may or may not have shared many hugs and happy tears, both at alumni events and after SwimMS. Are you having a flash back to that night at the bar when those chicks in the back were all like "You're the best" - "No You are". Ya that was us.
I need to take a moment to really thank one of the above swimmers. Melissa. Thank you Melissa! We have already done this face-to-face, but it deserves some online credit. Melissa jumped in the water when I had about 2 hours left. Actually to be honest I have no idea how long I was still required to swim for... I was near the point of closing my eyes and letting them pull me in behind a boat. Melissa is a very aware young woman. At this time I was really struggling and my body was starting to work against me. I was so close to finishing, but also so close to giving up. I spent this time crying into my goggles and struggling to keep my breathing under control. Melissa was a calm in the storm. She swam right beside me and began to match my rhythm. When I breathed, she breathed. Every time I took my head out of the water she was right there looking at me. It sounds very strange, but that eye contact was really important. I eventually began stopping every 5 minutes to ask "how much longer?". She would answer and quickly follow up with words of encouragement. Thanks to Melissa, I didn't give up so close to the finish line.
Along the way I also had the very important support of the Vancouver Lifeguard Association. Lead by Max Bibbby, the VLA brought out about volunteers who were present for the entire swim. They kept safety boats in the water the whole way, ensuring both myself and the relay team were happy and healthy. They were supplied with food and warm drinks to ensure we stayed energized and they supported us when getting out of the water on breaks. Hot water bottles and blankets were a very exciting treat they provided us! Did I mention these efforts were made with no expectation of payment? I did end up finding a bit of sponsorship money to ensure they got a small honorarium and I am trying to also contribute with some volunteer work... but they'd be happy either way. Thank you wonderful lifegaurds!
When we determined it was time to head towards shore for the final exit from the water I was both happy and still filled with pain. I think we gave ourselves 7 minutes and it probably took us 10. The pace had slowed down significantly. Melissa and Kat were with me at this time. When we got about 200 meters off shore the entire group jumped in the water and swam us into shore. This moment. This is important. Last year when I reached land It was a wonderful and happy memory that signifies a personal challenge completed. This day was so much more than that. Getting from 7am to 7pm on August 15th was truly a group effort that could not have been accomplished without everyone I have mentioned. It was very emotional for me, both because my body had entirely messed up my brain, and also because I was (and still am) so thankful. We raised just under $10,000 this year and the relay even helped with that! I was able to accomplish so much more because of these people. I am forever grateful! On behalf of my family and those affected by Multiple Sclerosis, Thank You!
To the people in my community who live with MS... we are $10,000 closer to finding a cure! I am so hopeful that this will be a reality and that all of you will be able to celebrate this.
Oh and P.S. when I finally did eat that pho, it was really good!