“It’s always too early to quit.”
– Norman Vincent Peale –
On I went. I was focusing on what I could do to keep myself going. What can I take in? Can I keep it down?
I was losing the battle against my body. It became harder and harder to keep things down. It seemed that everything that hit my stomach came back up almost immediately.
I can’t be that far from France…
And then. Somewhere. In the midst of the vomit and the stars. I looked up toward the boat and saw a light way far to the right of us. I couldn’t tell you how long it had been or how many feeds I’d had or how many times I threw up since David told me to pick up the pace… but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the light I now saw far, far to my right was the one I had been swimming toward, before.
I knew it was the Cap.
I knew I missed it.
And I didn’t give it a second thought. I just kept swimming.
I knew I missed the Cap. I knew it. My ‘whatever’ was all attitude. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself or to wonder what happened or to beat myself up for not being faster or not working harder. Honestly, it didn’t even enter my mind. I was only determined and purposed and set.
My choice was made on shore. Every miracle you have is worth fighting for. I am yours…
I am NOT getting out of this Channel without leaving everything I have to give.
I thought about Apostle Ball. I remembered the story of the day he challenged himself to make his word like Yahweh’s word. I wanted to do the same. I had said I would swim this. I was going to swim until I had to stop: when my stroke rate drops. When my fingers can’t bend. I will be in real danger then. But I am not there, yet. So I will keep going. I want my word to be as honest and true and creatively powerful as God’s. I want my words to leave my mouth and become real. In everything. As much as I am able to hold to that standard, that’s the way I want to live my life.
I am making my word like Yahweh’s. I said I was going to swim the English Channel. That’s what I am going to do.
My crew told me later that when we missed the Cap, there was a tangible atmosphere of sadness on the boat. We had been within a mile of shore for a while. France was so close. So close. It was so frustrating and disheartening to watch it disappear as the tide swept us away. What could have been a 14 -15 hour swim fast became an 18 hour swim. And with the way I was suffering, they just couldn’t hardly stand the thought of me being in the water, the way that I was, for another 4 hours. There were tears. Sad, frustrated, disheartened tears. But my crew, as awesome as they are, never shared any of that with me during the swim. They were all encouragement. All strength. All life. I was so impressed by their endurance for me. They never shared their emotions, they simply let me continue. And every time I stopped to feed, they had just the right words to help me on.
And continue I did. Through the night and the sickness and the chill and on and on. I simply went on.
My stomach began to reject everything. It was hard to try to put anything in it, knowing it would just come up. I fought for solutions. Just take in a little bit, Bethany. Just a little. It’s better to keep it down.
I explained to Natalie that I was only going to take a little bit of the hot chocolate she had made me, because I was having a tough time keeping things down.
“I might not pee next time,” I advised her.
“But you haven’t peed for a while,” she answered with concern.
“I haven’t?” I asked, worried. But I knew my stroke rate was good. My hands could still bend. I wasn’t too cold or too sick… “But I really feel okay!”
She nodded. I swam on. I really did feel okay. Strong. My shoulders kept rolling forward steadily. Dehydration, hypothermia – they weren’t bad yet. Not yet. I was fine. I could keep swimming. Pat swims all of her swims with dry heaves. Jennifer, too, always gets sick…
I can do this. It can’t be that far away. France can’t be that far away.
I had told myself it was only 8 more feeds to France. Only 8 more. But every time I stopped for a feed, I never counted down. It was always 8 more feeds to France.
I kept the hot chocolate down and felt better. When I did pee, I was ever so grateful to know that my body was still functioning properly despite the unpleasantness. I really, really was okay! And how grateful I was that my body was so strong.
The next feed didn’t stay down. I tossed the bottles away from me and didn’t worry about it. It felt just a bit colder, now, but I wasn’t any worse for wear. I kept trying to think of things I could do to keep me going.
The next feed, David and Apostle were standing there.
“Hey there, kiddo,” David said. “This is a diluted feed. There’s not much of it. Just settle down and drink it slowly, try to keep it down. Don’t rush. It’s just better if you take your time and keep it down.”
His words thoroughly calmed me. I felt relieved. I didn’t have to rush. I didn’t have to hurry. We weren’t in a pinch point anymore. I could relax. All I had to do was keep going and I could always do that. I never felt like my crew ever wanted to pull me out, but in that moment, I just felt reassured that we were all trying to solve my problem together. We were all trying to get me to shore. I took a little bit longer with this one. I coaxed the small dose down and let it warm my insides. I was so glad when it stayed.
“Now swim to France,” Apostle said. “Go get that husband.”
“You’ve got two men feeding you,” Catherine’s voice from somewhere behind said. “It’s a sign.”
“Yes, go get him,” David said.
“We checked him out for you,” Apostle said. “I didn’t know somebody named Herman could be so handsome.”
I laughed. I don’t remember what, if anything, that I said. I swam on toward France, happy that there was something in my body that was staying.
The next feed, Natalie was back. Same deal – diluted feed, less of it. Take your time. I told her I was feeling good and I kept the last feed down. I took my time. The Perpetuem felt so good as it made it’s way into my stomach.
I was so encouraged as I tossed the bottle again and swam on.
The next feed, Natalie threw me another bottle of diluted feed.
As I raised the bottle to my lips, I heard Natalie say:
“This is your last feed.”
I swallowed slowly, daring to believe that I might understand, and pulled the bottle away, feeling the light of my broadest smile beaming out of every cell of my being.
“I’m going to make it!?!” I asked. Really?!”
“Yes, you are!” She declared and we both smiled and laughed. “It’s just about ¾ of a mile away. David is going to jump in and make sure you make it to shore all right.”
I drank the rest of the feed slowly. Fireworks went off in my brain and I began to sing Stephanie’s song:
Blessed is the day and my heart is set on you. Blessed is the way that you have called me to. And by my will, it’s the path that I choose. In the storm and in the stillness, I have only praise for you.
It was funny, but as I swam on, I didn’t feel chilled anymore. I didn’t feel sick anymore. I just felt so excited! I kept looking ahead, trying to figure out where I was.
I got confused a couple times by what the boat was doing and where I was supposed to swim. The boat turned this way and that… I had to stop for minute, unsure of where to go. I swam on toward shore when the boat finished its adjustments. I stayed tight to its side for a while. I was so glad when David appeared in the water just behind me to follow me in.
“Swim toward the light,” he advised, when the spotlight lit up the shoreline.
The light was like a search light, going up and down the shoreline. It was so dark and surreal. I was nervous and kept checking on the light and David. I was afraid I might inadvertently swim into him or somehow might ruin the swim now, only a few feet from shore.
Then I could feel sand and I excitedly got to my feet.
“I can stand!” I declared triumphantly. “It’s land!”
“Take it easy,” David said, his tone was very concerned. “Why don’t you lie back down? You can crawl out if you have to.”
“Oh,” I replied. “Yeah.”
I splashed back down just as the sand bar I was on gave way to deeper water again. I swam a few more strokes until I found land again. And then… then I just couldn’t help it, I just HAD to stand up.
I wandered up on the soft, sandy beach, surprised that it was so soft on my toes… I was quivering with a joy I couldn’t contain.
“What do you think?” David asked as I cleared the last of the water.
“That looks like dry land.”
I’m not sure which words I said out loud, “I did it! I DID it!” or “I made it! I swam all the way to France!” or maybe even “We’re here!” But I definitely thought all of those things and so much more.
I turned toward the boat and waved madly, hearing Apostle and Catherine and Natalie shouting. I lifted my arms over my head, beaming with ecstasy and accomplishment.
David gave me a private moment and I cannot accurately assign words to the depth of gratitude I felt in my heart. The years I spent attending to this dream, this vision – the way it shaped my life and changed me in so many ways. How hard I worked! I can’t… there just aren’t words. There are both tears and laughter as I write this… but no words.
I did it.
I did it well.
“Nothing but a good report,” I said out loud to the quiet French beach.
Then I turned and looked for rocks with David. We both stuck handfuls down our suits like giddy children and then headed back into a beating surf. I almost made some joke about swimming back to England, but thought better of it. My shoulders felt strong, but I wasn’t going anywhere with that feed. And recalling the pained expressions on everybody’s faces for the last half of the swim… I didn’t think he would find the idea amusing. As we walked and walked and walked into the waves and they punched us back, I just laughed.
“It’s just like walking out at your mom’s beach,” I said to David.
He agreed with a smile. As soon as it was deep enough, we swam back to the boat. I steadied myself against the ladder and pulled myself up into the waiting arms of Apostle, Natalie and Catherine. I was so excited! There was laughter and chatter and joy… endless, boundless, deep, permeating joy in every cranny of every cell of my body.
I was still out to sea, I kept swaying back and forth. Natalie helped me get dressed and I sat there warm and dry and safe… in my dry robe… that I earned.
I didn’t even shiver.
My body wasn’t done being sick, though. I tried to drink some hot chocolate, but it came right back out. I lay down and passed out into a deep exhausted sleep, but awoke to be sick again. I was kind of glad about that because I got to see the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen on that incredible expanse of water. It was breathtaking – a moment I will always hold in my heart. Natalie let me lay my head in her lap and I fell asleep again.
They told me I had been swimming for 17 hours and 39 minutes. I was absolutely astounded. It hadn’t felt that long at all! Over the next few days they told me that if I had made the Cap, it would have been 14-15 hours, but since we missed it, that added another 3 ½ hours to the swim and at one point they thought it might add as much as 8 hours to the swim. All in all, my track shows that the tides carried me 41.7 miles in the English Channel during the course of the 22 mile swim.
17 hours 39 minutes.
I was so proud.
When people ask me about it, I can’t help but say that I loved it. I loved the water. I loved the night. I loved my crew and all of their strength and support. I loved it.
I truly hope that people read this and are inspired to take on whatever challenges they face in their lives. I will not leave my English Channel journey in the waters or on the shores of France, I want to use it to give back to my community and to help grow it. My years of training were made difficult by the lack of a quality training facility with an indoor pool in Rutland, Vermont and I’ve made it my mission to see one built in my city. It’s so deep in my heart to see something that the entire community can share and participate in all year long.
If you would like to donate to this cause, you can do so by contacting Intrepid Athletics through their website at http://www.intrepidathletics.org or by clicking on the donate button here on my blog and writing ‘Aquatic Center’ in the description box.
I want my life to be more than a moment. I want it to leave a lasting impression, a positive change in the world. I don’t think that’s too hard or too much to ask of one’s existence.
A very deep thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way… but more than anybody or anything, I must thank Natalie Boyle. For everything. For the constant sacrifices. For the consistent encouragement. For the tireless pursuit of this vision we have burdened together. For the time and energy and excellence. I would never be who I am today without you. I would have never made it across the English Channel or even dared to dream I could. If ever there was a true friend, it is you.
I am home, now, and so glad to be back! This isn’t the last of Miss Adventure Swim – no, this is the beginning! There is so much water out there to swim, so many good people to be found, so many adventures to be had, and so much good to do in this community. Thanks for sticking with me so far and stay tuned for much more to come!