I can remember reading about Swim Across the Sound for the first time in the Summer of 2011, before my first 10 mile swim. I clicked on the link online and my heart leapt in my chest – I was just so excited! It was perfect! 15 miles. A saltwater swim. AND… ESPECIALLY… a fundraiser to benefit cancer patients and their families. It was something that meant so, so much to me and I hadn’t been able to find another fundraising swim like it. So I was thrilled. Ecstatic! Ready to sign up!
…Until I saw the time limit. And my world fell, briefly. I couldn’t swim that fast. But you know me, I’m only ever sad for a moment before I start just trying to figure out my next step. I can get faster. There must be a way to get faster.
Kingdom Swim came and went, and I found myself getting a lot of help on my technique and my speed. I signed up for Swim the Sound, pretty close to the day the registration opened, I think. And I was so excited when I was accepted! I think my quote was, “This is the best life, ever!”
I was going to Swim Across the Sound!
I felt that I was really making a difference to somebody who needed it. I remembered my childhood friend who had died from cancer. I heard stories of families in need. I looked at my friend who survived leukemia twice and now works with kids who have cancer. I had a reason to get faster, and it wasn’t just that I was slow. Every time I got in the pool, I knew that all of those hours and the constant smell of chlorine on my skin and the 2 ½ hour commute to Masters… it had meaning beyond me. It was making a difference to somebody who needed it.
I immediately set up my fundraising page on the St. Vincent’s website. I stumbled over my words, how could there be enough space to say what this meant to me? How could I ever convey its importance? I wrote that I wanted to help people the best way I could; by swimming. I stared at the words and thought that it didn’t make any sense. No, helping people by swimming doesn’t make any sense, but, for whatever reason, it does make a difference. And if swimming was going to be such a gift to me, then I just wanted to give it back to as many people as I could.
Then I found myself writing that I didn’t want to just Swim the Sound, I wanted to be a sound. One of endurance and strength and especially “no quit”. I thought to myself that, time and time again, that’s what people most need. Beyond money and time and volunteering – people need to hear a sound, a story, a song of somebody or something that inspires them to begin, to become, to face the day, to overcome a challenge, to reach, and to believe. I wanted my life to create that sound for people, to inspire them. Money can be spent, time can be wasted, and volunteering will be temporary – but if you are the sound that whispers encouragement on a dark day, that seed is planted. Sometimes, it becomes the beginning of small steps that lead to decisions that lead to changes that just lead to great things!
I spent the hours in the evening after swimming writing letters, trying to raise funds. I took the time to write to people – friends, co-workers, and family – individually. I got some responses I could not believe! But most people were so generous and their willingness to donate to the cause inspired me to work as hard as I possibly could. I kept that clock never far from my mind, and I cursed at it every time it told me I wasn’t fast enough, and then I would put my head down and go again.
I was going to Swim Across the Sound. I was going to be a sound.
Then we were there. Standing in Port Jefferson, NY, listening to the swim being called off. The realization washed over and through me. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t believe it. My heart was aching with every beat. I kept thinking that it couldn’t be over. My hope is never broken. Well, okay, so I can’t swim across the sound, but they were going to let us swim. And I came here to swim. I came here to be a sound. That was what I really wanted.
I was so grateful to get in that water in that tight, narrow harbor. There is something about the saltwater that I just love. I was happy as a clam, though a little self-conscious, now that I was swimming in a group and probably the slowest one. But I fell in with a couple of other swimmers. The boats were still getting into place and one boat came alongside to escort the three of us slower swimmers along. I thought the fumes I smelled that made my stomach turn were from him and I tried to get away from the boat in some way. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t get away from the smell, no matter where I went in that harbor.
When the boat pulled away from me at long last, the smell lingered. And I realized, then, that it was the water. It was the water that smelled so bad. I wouldn’t be able to escape the water and I wouldn’t be able to escape the smell. I had trained for this, though. Flowers, Bethany, not fumes. Gas can flowers.
I continued on, coming to a boat tethered in place, marking the end of our course. I looked up at the people on board, searching for a familiar face. It had been about 7-8 hours since my only meal that day, and I had been drinking enough water and eaten a granola bar, but I was ready for some perpetuem. But Natalie wasn’t there. Neither was David. I didn’t know who was on that boat, and I was sure they didn’t have anything for me. What do I do? If they weren’t there, where were they? How would I find them?
I put my head down and kept swimming. You can go without it. You did in Ireland, remember? You did! … but I felt sad. In Ireland, I slowed down. And I just knew that would happen here, too. And I battled to keep up with the two folks I was swimming with who had gotten something to drink. I felt almost guilty that I would be unable to keep myself going fast and working hard.
And the fume smell was so thick. All around me, everywhere. I felt like I could smell them under the water. Ireland’s flower training was beginning to slip and become ineffective. I felt sick, nauseous, aware of the taste in my mouth, and the energy-less feeling that was pulling me behind the swimmers in front of me.
A voice in the back of my head whispered to me, “This isn’t what you signed up for.”
Oh, now, that – THAT made me mad. Wild, Irish, Livid. And I started to swear. You know what? Those people with cancer didn’t sign up for that, either, now did they? And my dear, young friend David M. didn’t sign up for his illness, did he? And you know what… this is not a hard thing! Swimming is not hard. No, this isn’t what I thought it would be. And maybe I’ll slow down. Maybe I don’t know how to go fast under these circumstances. But I’m going to swim. I came here to swim and that’s what I’m going to do. It doesn’t make sense, but it does make a difference. Every time I swim… I’m making a difference. Even if it’s just for me, that’s good enough.
With that absolutely settled; I kept swimming. I was still bothered by my slowness, but I let it go. I told myself it would be what it would be. You know you can swim, just swim. You don’t have to be fast, just swim. And I found my space and I just swam in that happy place. I was still bothered by the fumes. But I kept going. For whatever reason, I began to re-write the Lord’s prayer to make it applicable to my situation.
“Yea, though I swim through the valley of smog and fumes,
I will fear no lung cancer, for You are with me.”
It kind of made me happy… but those were the only lines I had time to re-write. I finally found Natalie’s face and I felt safe. This will all be good, after all! Natalie said it would be okay for me to go a bit slower, if I needed to. Natalie pointed me toward where David was supposed to be. I swam toward the buoy, taking extra time to look around… but I couldn’t see him anywhere. It was just orange and green shirts on boats.
Feeling behind and slow… I just decided to do that thing I do and keep swimming rather than to try to figure out where he might be. And I rounded the buoy for mile 3.
I had made all my decisions. I had purposed all of my mental energy. The rest was just to keep going until the end. And it didn’t seem so far away, now that I knew where Natalie was. Next time, I would find David. I was happy. Content. Safe.
It began to rain. The sky opened up and danced on my shoulders and on the surface of the water. All the world was silver and water. And I was madly, thoroughly delighted. Music drifted through my mind, “Even when rain falls… even when the flood starts rising… even when the storm comes… I am washed by the water.”
I snapped my head up to look at my other two companion swimmers and our escort boat.
“The swim is cancelled.”
“…again?” I asked.
“Thunderstorms,” was the reply. “You have to get out.”
There were arguments in my head. There were questions. I wanted to keep swimming. I didn’t want to stop, now. It was just getting fun. I especially did NOT want to climb up that ladder into that boat, let me tell you.
“Okay,” I said, because I knew when I heard the news this time, that it was over. And it was over not because of the weather, but because I had learned everything I needed to at this particular swim.
So that was it. No 15 mile swim. No 10 mile swim. 3 miles. I raised over $2,000 for cancer patients and their families. I swam in the saltwater in that harbor. I swam in the rain and danced with the sky. It was a good day! I was mad happy to have swum in the rain; it made me giddy like a child!
In the days following Swim the Sound, the ecstatic “I got to swim” feeling dwindled. And I was sad. Sad to not have swum the 15.5 miles. But I was only sad because I just wanted to spend 9 hours in saltwater swimming. I was ready to do it! I know that I could have done it. And I know I could have done it in the timeframe given me. Despite the thoughts that have tried to come to tell me that I couldn’t have done it, I have not lost the confidence that I would have done this swim and finished well.
There were many lessons learned over the days of Swim the Sound. But I think that my true goal was achieved; to be a sound. That’s my life; swim or no swim. Whether it’s disappointment and sadness or success and revelry – I think I was that sound of endurance and strength and no quit. That, I can be proud of. In that, I never want to fail.
So I will not measure the success of Swim the Sound by the miles I swam; but by the adaptability and faithfulness of my amazing crew, the stubbornness of my German will, the passion and temper of my Irish heart, the character proven by my hard work to get to a place where I was ready, and the amazing and astounding generosity of my friends, family, and co-workers who helped me exceed my fundraising goal.
Miles aside, it was a perfect day.