Intrepid Athletics sponsored a Benefit Concert for my English Channel Crossing this past Saturday, March 23rd, 2013. Featuring Gypsy Reel, Extra Stout, and Rick Redington & The Luv; it was a lovely evening of fun, family, and friends.
I must thank so many, many people for such an incredible evening, that I am not sure where to begin! I was so impressed by all the support and the turnout – friends, family, co-workers, community members! What an amazing experience to have you all come and stay and party and participate in this journey with me.
Halfway through the evening were some memorable speeches. David, who knows my improvement, hard work, and passion for swimming better than anybody, gave me a stellar introduction. I, too, was asked to have a speech prepared. I have included both of them in this (sorry!) very long post. They may appear in standalone posts at some other point, but for now it seemed fitting to include them in this recap.
I do just want to say that I was very, very nervous about this event. It occurred to me, more than once, that I could do the swim much more quietly and with far less attention… if I didn’t want to build an Aquatic Center for Rutland, Vermont. However, at some point on that beautiful evening, I turned around to look at the faces behind me. I found there were more that I could name than not. I could remember all the good times we’ve had together: working hard, playing hard, maybe even swimming side by side. My heart was so warmed, feeling such support from as far away as Newport, VT to Glens Falls, NY, to Amsterdam, NY to Sharon, VT to Wilder, VT to dear, dear Rutland…
Connie’s words that she had written to me bubbled up in my mind, and I’m sure I laughed out loud:
“This will be one day that you review in your mind when you swim the Channel.”
Truer words have never been spoken. This was just the beginning. And all of these people came, because they had some kind of a connection to me and wanted to be a part of what I am doing. It was such an honor, just knowing these folks believe in me.
Lots of people came because they, in some part, knew my story. Some folks came because they, in some part, knew my dream. Whatever the reason that you came, I hope you left with a heart full of goodness, empowered to become whatever it is about you that was created for greatness.
By now, it probably won’t surprise you that I first met Bethany at a swimming event. It was summer 2011. Newport, Vermont, at the Kingdom Swim – a 10-mile race in the open waters of Lake Memphremagog.
As in all open water swimming, Mother Nature had something to say that day. The skies were gray, the water was cold, and a wind kicked up not long after the start so swimming through the waves was tough.
A number of hypothermic swimmers were pulled from the water. Others had their fill of misery and quit the race, exhausted.
But not Bethany. She kept going and going, until she was the only swimmer left. We actually started the awards ceremony without her, which turned out great, because we were all there to celebrate the moment that Bethany swam into shore 7 hours and 43 minutes after she started.
It was a really nice moment, so what did I do? I went to congratulate Bethany, and some of the first words out of my mouth were something like, “You’re an awfully stubborn young woman, aren’t you?”
I’m still trying to get her to forgive me…
Bethany’s swim wasn’t the end of her surprises for the day. She had an even bigger goal in mind. You see, she had also won an award for her fundraising, which gave her the choice from several prizes. Her choice: entry into the Cold Water Distance Swimming Camp in Ireland. Now, a lot of people want to go to Ireland. But I can’t say there’s a long waiting list of folks excited for a week of hard, cold swimming. 50-60 miles of it. Unless, that is, you’re interested in swimming the English Channel.
I was shocked – and honestly a little worried. This girl wants to swim the English Channel! I mean, it’s possible, but it’s really hard. It’s long – 21 miles long. By the time the currents push you around, it’s more like 24 or 25 or 28 miles. And it’s cold – the water temperature is around 60°. Most of us think an 80° pool is chilly. And the weather creates notoriously miserable –often impossible– swimming conditions.
In fact, swimming the English Channel was thought impossible until Captain Matthew Webb succeeded in 1875. It wouldn’t be crossed again for another 36 years, when Thomas Burgess crossed – on his 16th try.
I guess “stubborn” goes with the territory…
Believe it or not, though, it’s gotten harder since then. The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world with 500 vessels traveling through each day – and when I say “vessels,” I mean “VESSELS.” Cruise ships, massive tankers and huge container ships all cross your path in the Channel.
So like I said, it’s possible. But it’s hard.
And you have to train hard.
– to swim for really long distances and whatever it takes to get your body and your mind through it
– to swim in very cold water
– to swim in very rough water
– to swim in very salty water
– to feed without touching anyone or anything
– to feed quickly so you don’t get cold and the currents don’t push you too far off course
– to swim in the dark of night – because when the weather clears and the boat captain tells you your best chance for a crossing is to launch at 2am, you go.
And along the way, you have to arrange for a boat pilot to accompany you across. Someone who can calculate a route that considers Channel conditions, your speed, and the tides.
And with the exception of some very fast swimmers, you are limited to swimming during a small 6 day window during which the tides are predicted to generate somewhat slower currents.
So, it’s possible. And it’s hard.
And it pays to be faster. And that doesn’t happen alone or overnight.
Now, I don’t know when or how it happened, but the dream for Bethany to cross the Channel became, at least in part, mine, too.
We began exchanging emails with questions and advice and workout ideas. And then I had the opportunity to work with her in the pool.
I’d say things like, “Try moving your arm this way,” or “Move your leg that way.” Or, “Let’s try some really fast swimming, even though you really only want to swim at a nice pace for a long time.” She’d look straight ahead and say:
“I can do this.”
“You know, Bethany, it would be really good to work out with a masters swim team.”
“Do I have to do all of the butterfly and backstroke and breaststroke and kicking drills when all I really want to do is swim freestyle across the Channel?”
“Yes!” I said. “It’s good for you.”
She hated that idea, but she said, “I can do this.”
“Maybe you should sign up to swim 25 kilometers across Long Island Sound.”
“How about 24 miles in Tampa Bay?”
“Oh, you’re going to San Francisco in the middle of winter. You should try the Escape from Alcatraz.”
“I can do this.”
“How about driving an hour and 15 minutes to Glens Falls, NY every Saturday morning, because they have a really fun masters swimming group and a great coach?”
You know what she said:
“I can do this.”
And now she likes doing this.
That coach tells her to swim as fast as she can.
The coach says, “Again. Faster.”
“I can do this.” And she does.
“Again. Even faster.”
Her thought: “That’s impossible.”
What came out of her mouth: “I can do this.”
And she did.
In just six short months, Bethany’s improvement was astounding. Her next 10-mile Kingdom Swim was on track to improve from 7 ¾ hours to under 6 hours.
And over the last year, she has improved far beyond anything I thought possible.
So, now, I’m still a little worried about Bethany crossing the English Channel, because it’s such an incredible challenge. But I have to say and I don’t just believe it, I know it –
She can do this.
Ladies and Gentlemen, a remarkable young woman who dreams amazing dreams and does amazing things:
Miss Bethany Bosch.
So, sometimes, as David said, when I’m in the pool about to try something difficult or that I haven’t done before… I say to myself – and typically out loud – “I can do this.” And usually I believe me. So, in preparation to speak tonight, for weeks prior to this event, I’ve been telling myself “I can do this.” And I think I’ve said it enough that I believe me.
I want to thank you all, so very much and from the bottom of my heart, for all of your support. It is truly very moving to be so well received.
No doubt, my life is quite the adventure, and one full of just as many exceptions as rules. I have registered for two marathon swims this year, 24-mile Tampa Bay will take place on April 20th, and 25 mile length of Lake Memphremagog in Northern VT will take place in September. All in preparation for my 2014 English Channel solo crossing. It’s been an extraordinary journey thus far! It’s a beautiful, wonderful thing – to have the opportunity to simply try to become everything I possibly can. To live the best story that this being could ever write. And not just for myself, it seems to me that our lives, our stories create a sound for others.
I was all set to swim an event last year, a 15.5 mile swim across Long Island Sound. It was called SWIM the Sound. 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 can 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!”
And one morning, as I was getting up at 3 am, making coffee, getting ready to drive an hour and a half to get to Masters class, I suddenly realized something: I realized that if I have the great fortune of inspiring people, and somebody in Rutland wants to take up swimming, where are they going to go to learn how? Few are the people with the time and energy to commit to swimming the way I have. The sad truth is that there is no indoor facility that provides us with year-round consistent swim training, instruction, competition, and recreation in our area.
I don’t know if I can accurately describe the strange pain in my heart at the realization, but something in me just clicked. That’s what I want to do. More than anything. More than swimming from England to France. More than training for four years to do such a thing. More than any event I could ever do, or any cause I could ever draw attention to; I want to help build an indoor aquatic center for this town. For the kids. For the adults. For the elderly. For Rutland. Swimming is one of the best sports in which people of all ages and abilities can participate. Whether you train for competition, or just to get back in shape, or for a triathlon, or to become an open water swimmer, or whatever the reason – swimming has so much to offer.
And so, I’ve partnered with Intrepid Athletics, Inc. to raise funds and awareness with them as I continue to prepare for my English Channel venture in 2014. There are many months ahead, many miles of swimming, and lots of money to be raised. But it will all be worth it in the end, to have an indoor aquatic center in our town.
Sometimes, when I think about it – the long road ahead – the night swimming, the cold water swimming, the ocean swimming, the pool training, the Masters classes, the hours of driving to and from all those places, it seems to pale in comparison to the enormity of the scope of work to build a pool. It’s something difficult. It’s something new. But that’s when I smile and I say to myself, and sometimes, out loud:
“We can do this.”
And you know what?
I believe me.
And I put my head down, and I keep right on swimming.