The last day of camp, we arrived for the 6-hour swim at about 7:45 am. Ned came right up to me.
“Are you all right?” He asked. “You didn’t look well after the swim yesterday.”
“I’m all right,” I said. “I was just feeling really sick.”
“Like throwing up sick?” He asked.
“Yes,” I confessed.
“Have you ever thrown up while you were swimming before?”
“No,” I answered.
“Try it next time,” He advised. “I always feel better. Throwing up always improves my speed too, because my head is down and that improves my body position.”
I laughed. “Oh, okay! Maybe I’ll try it today.”
“You’re still not feeling so well?” He asked.
“It’s not bad, though,” I said.
“We kept her hydrated, and she kept everything down yesterday,” Sarah answered.
“Well, if you feel bad,” Ned said, more seriously. “You can always get out.”
I nodded, grateful for the out, but I just felt confident this day. After the Torture Swim, I was pretty sure I could do this. Just a little bit longer, but with feeds and no confusion. I could make it around the island 10 times in 6 hours, I calculated. And I would see David and the faster swimmers four times, probably. And I could swim with Thomas.
Just so long as I didn’t get sick.
So off we set. I didn’t feel so great for the first 1.5 laps, I felt chilled and still kind of nauseous. But I kept swimming. I lost Thomas when we stopped to get our first feed and never saw him again after that. But that was okay, I found my forever place. I sang and thought of close friends. I admired the gray sky and the slate ocean.
David swam by, waving at me. Then Colm was quick to follow with a thumbs up. They made me smile.
Somewhere midway, I stopped to feed again, and somebody offered me a cookie. I rejected the notion, knowing full well that I would throw up if I ate it. The fellow shrugged at my ‘no’ and popped it into his mouth right in front of me. I just laughed.
“If you have to throw up, Bethany,” Ned said. “Do it on the back side of the island.”
I laughed and nodded and set off again.
Another time I came around, Ned told me I was doing really well and that this swim was shorter than Tampa Bay. He always makes me laugh. Then again… most things make me laugh.
The tide was going out, revealing a wonderful underwater garden of various seaweed and plant life. I adored the feel of swimming through the soft weeds, feeling them brush against me. They were just so gentle and soft, it was a comfort. On the back side of the island I kept spotting starfish. Starfish! How incredible that there are even stars on the bottom of the sea to guide your way home! They reminded me of Natalie. She’s always there to guide my way home…
Then, just like that, Ned said it was only half an hour left. I could stay in the bay with everyone else, or I could go around the island one last time.
“I want to go around the island one last time,” I said. “I want to say goodbye.”
And I did. To the goats and the gulls and the starfish and my bright, beautiful underwater garden.
When I arrived back at the slipway, Ned was there to welcome me with a hug.
“I’m so proud of you. I’m not going to say goodbye,” he said. “Just until I see you again. Next time you come you’ll be a Channel swimmer. When’s your tide again?”
“September 2014,” I replied.
“Oh, well, then I’ll keep you on the email list for next year.”
It was a triumphant week, full of incredible lessons, breathtaking swims and just nonstop energy and fun. It’s the best training ground for aspiring Channel swimmers ever, Ned Denison’s Distance Week. The people you meet, the strength you gain and the confidence you take away are incredible. I’ve been challenged in two different ways both times that I’ve gone, and I am so glad for the opportunities I’ve had.
Unless something changes, though, I’m pretty sure that I will not be back next year. I won’t say I never will return to Sandycove, but it seems that, for now, that chapter is at a close. It is a sad thought, but I could not be more grateful for the friends I’ve gained, for the experiences I’ve lived, and for the truth about myself that I’ve found:
I am an elite athlete, a world class open water marathon swimmer.
And I am going to swim the English Channel.