Deep in my inmost being, I knew that Tampa Bay was not going to be what it was projected to be. In the days up to the swim, I felt that I would be surprised if I ended up swimming the entire course from the Magnuson Hotel to Ben T. Davis Beach.
I attributed this ‘knowing’ to self-doubt. I ascribed it to nerves. I thought that I was faithless and lacked confidence. When I stole a quiet moment to myself before the swim, I battled for understanding of what was yet unknown. I could find no words to complete a reasonable explanation for the gnawing suspicion that things would not be the way they were intended.
Rather than dwell on it and worry, I put the feeling to good use and was certain to check and double-check things. My gear, my rest, my nutrition, my hydration; anything I could possibly think of to have at 100%, I did. I reassured myself that I was supposed to come here, for this. I positioned myself to continue forward and to be ready for whatever happened. I would arrive ready.
I would be ready.
We were busy as could be those first few days, getting everything in order. Our preparation had no end, it spilled into every crevice time could provide and hurtled us forward in a whirlwind. I felt myself barely its master and sought only to navigate it as efficiently as I could instead. There were precious, sweet moments of laughter and fun where we could just enjoy the moments as they built towards an expectation of the swim. I treasured them up – what boundless joy they provided to me! My soul could not have been more full than it was with my brother, Seth, and his wife, Stephanie, and Natalie and David around me. I felt safe. I felt strong.
I was ready.
The morning of the swim was barely a whisper of sun on the horizon. I woke up feeling rested. I was singing Katie Herzig’s song, “Best Day of Your Life”. I got out my iPod and listened to it once. It reminded me of my childhood. Of being innocent. Where anything and everything was possible! I haven’t outgrown waking up feeling like the day is an adventure and love that about myself. I hope I never do.
The weather had been forecasted to be sketchy. And I was oh-so-glad when the swim officials announced that the swim would begin on time at 7 am! Apostle Jim, my family, and Ruthanne – who had gotten up at sub-four to drive over to surprise me and watch my swim – were all there at the starting line as I waded into the water.
I felt such a profound relief walking into the water in those moments before the race began. I thought that most of the battle of marathon swimming is just getting to the starting line. If I could just begin, then I could swim. And if I could swim, I could swim until I got to the end. I knew myself that well. I know I can go forever.
Such gratefulness filled my heart.
“Thank you for your faithfulness, Yahweh.”
In my mind, I heard the answer returned, “Thank you for your faithfulness, Bethany Bosch.”
I was so moved by the words that whispered to my spirit that I could hardly receive them. …Really? I was ready? I trained well? I worked hard? Oh, yeah – that’s right – I did! I was certain, then, that I was prepared. I did not know what was ahead, but I knew that I was equipped and at the ready… for anything.
Weather for Bethany’s swim looks good for now.
We’re off!! Start @7:02am.
Tracker is live @ http://bit.ly/BBosch
The swim began, and I slipped off into the quiet morning merrily. When Natalie found me in the kayak, I was comfortable and glad of her company. It wasn’t long after that we picked up our boat and boat captain. I waved to David and Kyle during my first feeding.
I felt safe. I felt strong.
Katie Herzig’s song was playing on repeat in my head, and I sang along.
“This might be the best day of your life.”
Almost 2 hours in & getting close to 4 miles. Fighting a bit of a headwind, and doing great
Somewhere about this time, the waves picked up. I can’t really tell you how high they were… I believe they gradually increased to 4-6 feet. I was having fun with them! They would pick me up and slam me down. One time, I turned to breathe, turned back, and as I reached forward with my next stroke I was suddenly completely submerged. I laughed, wondering how I got down here. Goodness, what fun!
As we made our way along, though, the way that the waves were hitting me started to be at an odd angle. I was then just punching into them, and not moving through them the way I would have liked. I tried different things to remedy this: rotating more, relaxing my recovery more…
During one stroke, my left arm tried to reach forward and met a rushing wall of water that yanked it out of my control, back and away. A knife point twinge awoke in my shoulder and I soberly paused. I knew that twinge. I knew it would grow into pain. I knew it would grow into ridiculous, agonizing pain. And if I kept swimming, it would not go away. And if I kept swimming, tomorrow I would not be able to lift my arm. I knew that.
And I smiled to myself as I wondered how far I would make it.
I came here to swim Tampa Bay. I was going to swim as long and as far as I could. I can take Advil. I will keep swimming. I will, I will. And I will not doubt my ability to get across this body of water. I will not.
“This might be the best day of your life…”
Natalie and David switched in the kayak. I got confused and swam off in some wrong direction while this occurred. But I found a patch of cooler water and that made me so incredibly happy! Tampa Bay was somewhere just shy of 80 degrees and far too warm for me. David corralled me back on course.
I was still merrily riding the waves, singing to myself, and trying not to think about the pain in my shoulder. I told David during the next feed that I would need some Advil.
I was off in my own little happyland of Ethany Bay when David stopped me.
He said something about the conditions only getting worse ahead. Kyle was having trouble with the boat in the waves. They had to find a way to get me safely on board and head back to the hotel.
“I’m sorry, kiddo,” he said.
Not comprehending, I asked, “I have to stop swimming? It’s that bad?”
“Bethany,” he said. “A boat is sinking.”
“Five boats are sinking,” Natalie called from the boat.
“Five?” David and I both turned to her.
Not kayaks. Boats. The Coast Guard was towing boats to safety, yelling for swimmers to be pulled out of the water. It sounded like kayakers and swimmers both were getting separated. Boats were leaving swimmers to help other boats that were swamped. There was mass confusion and chaos not even a mile ahead of me. At that time, we thought that the event was being called off.
I was stunned by the serious nature of the situation. I let my feet fall and touch the bottom of Tampa Bay.
The swim was over.
I had to swim a bit to get to a safe place to get on board the boat. Every cell in my body insisted against it even as I reached up for the handle to climb aboard. I felt the sadness tangibly slam me inside of a prison cell as I did.
The swim was over.
3:30 and 6+ miles in.
Unsafe to continue on the course. Headed to the start. Sad faces here.
The good news is that dolphins are greeting us
I knew it was right. I knew it was the best choice. Once I had touched the boat, I was withdrawn from the event. There wasn’t any more pressure then really. I was still rather content to have been in the waves and the saltwater. To be with my friend, the sea.
“I’m as happy a man as the sea will allow,” I thought. I sang the chorus of Wave over Wave by Great Big Sea to myself as I sat in the bottom of the boat. Later, I learned that there had been water in our boat, too. Sloshing our stuff around everywhere. The bilge pump couldn’t handle it. It would have only gotten us all into trouble if we had continued.
From the boat, I could see the Coast Guard rescuing other boats as we sped back. People’s things floated about in the water. Kyle radioed that he had pulled me aboard, and we were heading back to the hotel. He looked down at me, wholehearted sadness on his face.
“Sorry,” he said.
I didn’t mean for my disappointment to be so tangible. I thought about joking that it was possible to be safe AND sorry, but thought that the atmosphere was too grim for that. I sat, instead, contemplating. David read me text messages from folks: Denise, Dennie, Deb. He pointed out the dolphins as we sped by. I’m always a fan of good news, and like to point it out… but, I had so wanted to swim with the dolphins…
Natalie had told me we could keep swimming once we got to calmer waters and handed me a feed already prepared with Advil in it. It wasn’t long, maybe 20-30 minutes, until Kyle turned and looked down at me again.
“It’s calmer here,” he said. “If you want to keep swimming, I’ll go with you.”
“Really?” I asked.
I don’t know what I was thinking. I was processing everything. But I wanted to swim. I so, so, so wanted to swim.
Back into the water I went, and we headed back toward the Magnuson. On the swim back, I debated. Should I keep swimming today? The event was over for me. I had touched the boat. It was an assisted swim and didn’t count for anything. Would David and Natalie and Seth and Stephanie want to go home if there was no event? If there was no more finish line?
But we came here to swim. That was what this day was purposed for: me to swim 24 miles (Except that by our measurements, the course was only 22.5 miles.). Goodness! That was why we flew to Florida and drove across the state. We all came all the way to Tampa Bay for me to swim 20+ miles. I should do it! I should.
I thought about David M. back home. My disappointment in no way compared to the things he has gone through. I thought about the words I had written about him, asking Yahweh for the same character that I had seen in him. When David M. lost a finish line, he always, always, always happily took up a new one and continued on. I could do the same.
So then my last hurtle was my shoulder. Should I take the risk of damaging it further by continuing… or should I reschedule? I thought about all of the planning and the logistics and the scheduling. When would I ever have 13 hours of Natalie this summer? And when would I ever have 13 hours of David? I couldn’t do that to them and their families. We were here, now, ready. I could take Advil. I could keep going. I knew it would hurt for 11 of the 13 hours, but I needed to swim 20+ miles in the sea today… not in the least because I said that I would. I made a date with her. I promised. Twice as far as I’ve ever gone before.
And I just sort of thought, people should know that it’s not always about events and finish lines. Sometimes you should do a thing for the love of it. Because you can do it. Because it’s in you. Because it’s there. Sometimes, it’s not about the rules; sometimes it’s about exceptions. That’s why I want to build a pool in Rutland, VT. I want people to know the love and the joy of swimming, not just the success of first place or the achievement of records or best times. We should have a pool because people should learn to swim. Because maybe they will fall in love with it. Because maybe somebody from Rutland will be the first Vermonter to swim across Tampa Bay.
Suddenly, the words from that morning had entirely new meaning for me.
“Thank you for your faithfulness, Bethany Bosch.”
I will make my own finish line, I determined. I will. I will keep going.
Seeing as how the only way that I could have ridden on the boat and have it be okay was if I was in a relay, I decided I was in a relay with myself! And I’ll fill out the observer report myself and send it to Bob, because he likes data after all. I laughed again, almost making myself choke. Yes, yes! I came here to swim.
So when we got near the Magnuson, I advised Natalie and David what I was thinking, some of my concerns, and they told me they would support me in my decision. Kyle was going to head home, and Natalie and David were going to take turns kayaking around the much quieter bay. This made me so happy! Maybe this swim wouldn’t mean anything to anybody because it wasn’t official… but it meant something to me. I thought to myself that in open water swimming, you need three things: flexibility, a crew that’s willing to go rogue, and, when they take down the finish line, the ability to create your own.
I burst out laughing, the bubbles billowing out and around me, as the thought occurred to me that a friend of mine had called me stubborn once… I guess he must just be right about that.
So we continued into shore and then turned and headed out toward a point. This was to be our new course. News trickled in piecemeal to those on shore about the swim. It wasn’t canceled after all, but it was madness. Most extreme, a swimmer had been abandoned by his kayaker, picked up by the Coast Guard, and left on a public beach with nothing but his speedo, goggles, and swim cap, no phone or other means of communication. He finally borrowed a phone and was brought back to the hotel by his power boat once it had been cleared of water.
I was dismayed by every news clip I heard and resolved not to think about what was happening elsewhere. I knew Kyle had been right, and I was okay with the decision that had been made, and now I was a part of a new swim.
I sang to myself “Best Day of Your Life” over and over again. It helped with the pain I was experiencing in my shoulder. It ached and throbbed. I told myself that I was safe. I told myself that I was strong. I told myself to keep swimming.
I don’t like to think about miles or time. I just like to swim and not really know anything about anything. I like to be alone in my thoughts, and enjoy the silence and the lack of sound and the lack of electronic mayhem and all of that. It’s so refreshing to be so peaceful.
My world became the saltwater. It grated against my mouth, warping my tongue. Other than that, I adored it. I didn’t fear anything in it, though I thought I saw a sting ray once and I thought I saw a jellyfish. I didn’t worry. I felt safe. I felt strong.
I kept swimming.
I made jokes to Natalie and David. They probably weren’t funny to anybody except me. I began to be uncomfortable somewhere in the unknown miles between 12 and 20. My shoulder continued to throb. I continued to push it aside in my mind. I really wanted to get to 20+ miles. That was what I wanted.
I got a cramp in my side. I breathed deep. I didn’t stop. I kept swimming.
My calf muscles began to lock up like rocks. My legs seemed to lose their flexibility. I breathed deep. I didn’t stop. I kept swimming.
My eyes were only half-open most of the time as I continued along.
“I am safe.”
“I am strong.”
Every time either Natalie or David brought me back to the beach, my shoulder insisted I get out. But I didn’t want to stop yet. I didn’t want to get out just yet. And every moment I waited, it was harder to think about continuing to swim.
But once I started swimming, it was like my arm was on a rail. It just kept turning over. It hurt, but it hurt worse to stop, and it hurt most to swim incorrectly. So my technique was all intact.
“I am safe.”
“I am strong.”
Then, suddenly, every muscle in my body just hardened and didn’t want to work anymore. I hadn’t ever been in such pain before. I’d never known swimming to hurt like this. I attributed it to being in uncharted mileage.
For the first time of the entire swim, I thought, “I can do this.”
Followed by, “My life is a living hell right now.”
I laughed again, sending bubbles out in all directions. Did I really just think that? Me? But I’m swimming!!! And I just love swimming!
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was becoming dehydrated in the saltwater. All of these things I look back on now as indicators should have been obvious warning signs. I should have said something. But all I did was laugh and joke… because my world was my shoulder, and it was the only thing wrong with me.
It wasn’t much later that David stopped me. He told me there were dolphins again. I looked around and watched as one poked himself up out of the water only a few yards from me. The water was dark and murky, and I couldn’t see him underneath, but I could hear his clicking sound as he sang to me. Oh I was so thrilled! That was such a dream come true…
Then… the second dream came true. I thought I was only at mile 15 or so when David told me that it was getting dark. My shoulder was now barely keeping it together. I was crying at times, and ‘limping’ for lack of a better description.
“Dark?” I asked him. “What time is it?”
“7:30,” he replied.
“Really?!” I was so surprised by this. It didn’t seem possible that it was suddenly so late in the day.
“If you want, you can come back out with Natalie for a bit before we leave.”
The lure of night swimming was so appealing, but I knew I was done.
“I have to be done after this,” I replied.
“My shoulder,” I said, feeling weak that it had such control of this situation.
“If it was hurting so bad,” he said. “You could have stopped at mile 15 or something.”
“I thought we were at mile 15.”
“By the time we get to shore you’ll be at about 21 miles.”
“Oh!” I said, my joy surpassed my suffering in that moment. My hope was renewed! I had done it! I was doing it! After all that! I was!
I did something funny in the water, and my shoulder barked at me.
“We’re not there, yet,” I said and put my head down and started swimming again.
Oh, it was a long, slow drudge against a current with my poor shoulder. I apologized to David for being slow. He said I was keeping my technique together remarkably well. I was repeating “I can do this” over and over and over and over again. Each word accompanied a stroke. I was still singing “Best Day of your Life” in my head.
Finally, finally at about 8 pm, with the lights glistening on the mirror surface of the water: we were there. I got to my feet and stumbled my way ashore. Natalie was the first one to greet me. And then I was in the loving arms of my family and welcomed by the sweet smile of beautiful Ruthanne, who was still there. I was overwhelmed by the triumph of the moment.
I couldn’t lift my left arm, my tongue was swollen from the saltwater, I was very dehydrated, tired, hungry, sore, and had ‘nothing to show’ for all of my efforts…
Except that I am AWESOME!!!! I swam it anyway! I made my own finish line. I did what I set out to do, and I grew and I changed, and I adapted and I learned… goodness! We all learned so much. Things that worked and things that didn’t. Questions to ask, things to relate, what’s important, what’s not important, what are simple distractions, and what are potential problems. I needed to know what was on the other side of 20 miles in saltwater, and I am all the better for knowing.
So, what do you when it’s not safe to continue on the course? Well, if you are Bethany Bosch, you make your own swim!!
13 hours later – after the sun has set – Bethany has made Tampa Bay her own. Great job, Bethany! I’ll let her tell the story later.
Thank you all, so much, for your encouragement and support. For letting my wild heart roam the waves. For helping me make a difference.