Goodness! It’s so hard to know where to start with this story. I guess let’s start with Plucky, the beloved kayak, who gets us where we need to go out on bodies of water far and wide. We are able, my steadfast kayaker and I, to fit Plucky in my Honda Civic with us. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is possible. The back seat folds down and Plucky’s nose pokes out between the seats like a puppy dog wanting to see where we’re going, while his rear end sticks out the back about a foot or so.
The important thing is that he fits.
Now, Plucky is a little bit self-conscious. He’s not the sleekest, fastest, longest kayak. He and I have similar properties: we get the job done, but we don’t really look like what you expect. So when we pulled into the hotel parking lot to face mobs of crazy, intense, EXPENSIVE, “serious” kayaks, Natalie and I were definitely sensing Plucky’s sudden insecurity. We took him up to the room that night, while the other kayaks stayed outside on cars, and he felt much better by morning. Especially once a cheaper looking, about-the-same-size kayak lined up next to us on the beach.
After getting Plucky situated, we made our way over to the main tent where registration was. I had registered the night before, and I had brought them 840 dollars in checks and cash; much to their glowing approval and startlement. It was AWESOME! The one guy’s eyes went so wide when he opened the envelope and looked at the wad of cash I brought him! We hung around and watched the guy count it; including the total from the online pledges, I had $1150. The guy in second had close to $900, and I was a little nervous of him scrounging up the last bit and taking the lead. Some hurried announcements on Facebook by my trusty friends back home, I was sure, would yield some fruit.
While we’re on the subject of trusty friends back home, let me tell you, I was so excited to paint my toenails this year! Natalie – the aforementioned, steadfast kayaker – and I had started a tradition of painting our toenails in the hotel room the night before the swim last year. This year we had coerced a friend of ours – Ken – to stand with us in solidarity of spirit by embracing the toenail tradition from his position back on the homefront. Over the distance and via a slew of hilarious text messages, it came about to fruition. Since I couldn’t leave Ken the only male member of the toe-nail painting crew, some black ops techniques generously and systematically executed (i.e. crawling across the floor to his unsuspecting open-toed sandals) led me to paint my brother Seth’s toes as well.
These are the types of things that must be done prior to any major swim event. Absolutely one hundred percent. You have to be top of your game for the big day. No doubts, no worries, no fears, no imperfections. No toes left behind.
Kudos to my brothers, by the way, Nathan and Seth, for taking such good care of Natalie and me. We never had to lift a finger; they were always there to take care of us and Plucky. It was really, really great to have them there. Just amazing.
Anyway, back to the registration tent on that glorious morning; there was my name, first on the pledge leader board! It was sooooo exciting! Because, let’s face it, I wasn’t going to be first at anything else! Besides that, having the most pledges was so important to me too, because, that was the part that I couldn’t do alone. That was the part where all my friends and family chipped in. That’s the part where they believed in me, they saw greatness in me and responded and we – my church, my family, my friends, my co-workers – we took the day. I had all of them behind and beside and in front of me. We won it. All of us. Together. After the swim, I found out later, that the other guy did scrounge up some more money. He ended up with $1050, but because winning by $100 isn’t good enough for us; we totaled $1250 by the end. Which won me my choice of prizes! Of course, I picked the English Channel training camp in Ireland.
However, the training camp in Ireland was conditional to completing the 10 mile swim. I had no doubt of being able to complete the swim, but I did doubt that I could do it in the amount of time they had given me. Everybody had to be off the lake by 3. That gave me 7 hours. They said there was some wiggle room with that, but that was the time that Central Command would start breaking down. I told Natalie she would have to push me. Before the swim, though, I kind of felt like anything was possible. Anything at all. Maybe, maybe I would finish in 7 hours. Maybe I would.
We were all given numbers. I was number 9. On July 9th. Very cool! We chit-chatted with number 1 while scoping out the buoys from our place on the shore. There was some easy conversation and much laughter. She professed to being very slow and I kind of thought to myself that she hadn’t seen anything yet…
Our safety meeting was brief and informative. I hugged Natalie and went to help her get in the water with Plucky. As I helped to push her off, Number 1 came up behind me.
“Hey!” She said. “Good luck, Number 9!”
“Thank you,” I replied, “And to you!”
“I’ll probably be way behind you,” she said.
I marveled at the thought that somebody could be slower than me.
We stood in the chute, from whence everybody would start. Two flamingos, Pinky and Philomena, marked the line in the sand that we had to cross to both start and finish the swim. I looked around at everybody, feeling a little like Plucky. A lot of people seemed to know each other, like they trained together. Big, buff guys, skinny, wiry girls… I was a bit intimidated. A lady next to me had a rubber ducky attached to her wetsuit. I felt way more at ease talking to her. I think I asked her about the buoy.
“Yes,” She said, “Go straight out and the make a right around the buoy and head straight out. You’ll see the next one on the far side and pass it on your right, too.”
“Oh okay,” I said. “I’ve never really done something like this before.”
“Oh,” she smiled. “You mean you don’t swim 10 miles for fun in your spare time?”
“No, I do,” I replied, not thinking that perhaps she was joking. “I think I’ve done it twice now, and then 9 miles, once.”
She didn’t really reply. I suddenly wondered if maybe swimming ten miles twice prior to the event wasn’t good enough. Or maybe… it made me sound like I could swim fast. I just wasn’t sure.
Luckily, somebody else came along and asked her about her rubber ducky. To which she replied that her kayaker would find her. It would have been a bonus, I thought, because the kayakers looked to be all discombobulated out there. I was wondering, in the mayhem of the start, how I would find Plucky and Natalie out there somewhere.
Then, they asked if we were ready. My heart jumped to my throat and settled back in my chest. I was so ready. I can do this. I just know I can. I just know it, body, mind, spirit, heart. This swim is mine. Everything calmed to that realization.
And the buzzer went, and we were off.