Manhattan Island Marathon June 8, 2013
I am pumped, the rain has let up overnight, as I arrive to the Pier, there is a ray of sunshine breaking through the reminant clouds of Tropical Storm Andrea, crew is ready, gear is ready, I am ready, as my eyes scan the pier I catch glimpses of my fellow swimmers greasing up, all sorts of individual techniques are in use to apply the messy grease which helps reduce chaffing during a swim, I use straight lanolin, all around my suit straps, around my neck and upper back, now I am ready to go too.
Cynthia and Jen load our boat ” Charlie Tuna” , Jeff, my husband waits with me for the call to load the swimmer zodiac boat which will motor me and the rest of my wave to the start location, nearly time to jump. We wait and we wait, I am aware that we have missed our scheduled start time, I notice some swimmers getting fidgety, I cuddle under Jeff’s arm, he is the calmest of individuals, he helps me stay relaxed, ” remember have fun out there, enjoy it”, he says with a warm smile, I smile back. There is much activity on the dock, and then….. we get the call, ” Swimmers time to laod the boat”, I kiss Jeff goodbye and me and the rest of the swimmers walk single file down the ramp towards the boat, ” I feel like I am walking the plank on Captain Hook’s ship”, it feels exciting and magical, I am about to find out just how much!
Jumping Ship ~ The Race Begins…
On the boat I go, we all sit down, there are a bunch of the Aussie swimmers, an Irish contingent, a few from the USA and me…..
We begin to motor towards the start, I gaze at the skysrapers, ” OK that shiny one right there will be a good landmark at the finish”, I think, as we get closer to the start location I see a crowd gathering, directly across from the crowd is Lady Liberty, holding her torch high in the sky, ” WOW, Impressive”, I take a long mental snapshot in my mind. My wandering thoughts are quiclky pulled back to the boat, ” Gezz Mate “, the Aussies’ are hooting and holloring, I start to giggle, ” I forgot what troublemakers you Aussies are”, I say with a grin, ” Awww gezz, wait til you see us with some beers in us after the swim MATE”, one shouts out, they all explode into laughter like a pack of miscievious monkeys, I laugh too,” those Aussies are great at keeping ones spirits soaring”, I think.
Wave 1 jumps, I start to strip of my jacket, Wave 2 jumps, the crowd cheers as the swimmers hit the water, I look up from the boat and see Jeff smiling down on me, I take of my hat, the countdown begins for wave 3, my wave, this is it, after nearly 1000 miles of training, a brutally harsh spring of 45-55F swims in Vermont and a power of eating to fuel my swim it is time, 10, 9, 8 , 7, 6, the crowd starts to join in the countdown, 5,4,3, the Aussie are perched up on the side of the boat ready to plunge, 2, I am poised on the side of the boat, 1….JUMP, the boys leap with an Aussie warhoop, I slide slowly in to the brown, turbulant water below and take a moment, I turn and look up at Jeff, wave and swim away after the boys, I feel relaxed and even better the 60 degree water feels great, ” This is the best”, I think and it is, with that I swim towards the Staten Island Ferry with a vengance.
Are You my Kayaker?
I am off pounding towards the East River and the historical Brooklyn Bridge, the first on my to do list, apart from swimming of course is to connect with my NYC Swim assigned kayaker, Daryl, I have looked at photos from past years and am on the look out for a yellow sit on top kayak, the brown foamy water swirls around me as I roll to breathe, I search for my paddler, # 28, I stroke and stroke, still no # 28, then I spy a purple kayak, a women with a big brimmed hat sporting the number 28, I swim with all my might towards her, then she disappears, again no #28 in sight, then I notice a yellow sit on top by my side, # 28, there is Daryl, #28 my kayaker….my new best friend, I hug close to his boat, bam, I feel a smack on my left side, I roll to breathe to the left to check out what I hit, there is the purple kayak, #28, can you beleive it there are two kayaks escorting me towards the legendary Brooklyn Bridge, head down, onwards I go sporting a smile.
We make our way under the Brooklyn Bridge, going through my head is all that I have learnt about what it took to build this amazing bridge and what it means to both to those who have crossed it over the last few hundred years, now here I am right underneath, I roll momentarily onto my back and live the moment…..then back to the task at hand, head down and swim hard. At one hour my feed cup appears in Daryl’s hand, I take it without a word, he says nothing and I swim on, feeds come and go, the scenery changes from grim looking walls to brick buildings, I don’t know where I am, I have not seen my crew, nor ” Charlie Tuna”, the boat they are on, there is just one stroke after the other, I feel good, all is as it should be, I am swimming strong and being fed!
Rescue at sea by ” The Aussie Boat!”
” You gotta get in the boat, NOW they’re pulling everyone”, I turn to see two other swimmers beside me, ” Get in the boat”, in front of me are steps, I climb into the boat looking for Cynthia and Jen my crew and some clothes, now that I’m not swimming my core temperarure is rapidly plummeting, two emergency blankets are tossed around me and a white hotel towel, ” do you have anything warm”, I ask, ” No, sorry wev’e got other swimmers coming on board”, I pull the thin blankets around me tight,” time to take an inventory”,I think, ” OK, this is not your support boat, your dry bag with your most cozy of clothes, hat and down sleeping bag are not on this boat, your crew is not here, time to make the best of what you have at your disposal”, I coach myself, I remember Ned Denison’s advice, get yourself into the cabin of a nice boat, out of the wind, I scan past the Captain, it is definately a nice boat and there is a cabin, I am in luck, I shuffle down the steps into the cabin and huddle into the corner of the bench, Ipull my knees up towards my chest and drop my head low in a tight little ball, my teeth catter, my body begins it’s post swim hypothermic shake, not unusual for me after exiting 60 degree water post swim, not ideal mid swim,I sit and wait it out. ” I wonder what’s going out there?”, I think, ” roll only with the here and now I command myself”, with that I relax and do my best at warming up.
As luck would have it, Barbara, fellow Cork Distance Camp Swimmer is on board this very boat as an observer, she fills me in with information at hand,” some swimmers are in distress, the tide has turned, Race Director called over the radio to pull swmmers”.
Two Aussie swimmers join me in the cabin, it is their support boat I am crashing, I feel gratefull to be sharing their ride, ” we are going to be dropped back in the water past Hellbrook to continue swimming”, they say, ” Charlotte, you OK”, my fellow Aussie swimmer says, I have seen photos of me when I come out of the water, sheet white face and red sunken eyes, ” I’m good”, I reply. with that Aussie Andrew sits beside me, scoops me up and folds me into a big Aussie Bear hug, I feel the heat from him instantly and start to warm up, and many say Kiwis and Aussies don’t get along WRONG!
Next comes the ” Are you getting back in conversation” , the Aussies and I chat, ” What are YOU doing Charlotte, are you swimming?”, asks my Aussie swim pals, ” Too bloody right…. I’m swimming this thing to the end”, I reply, with my never give up intensity.
” Back in the water”, calls the Boat Captain, my folded up body climbs the cabin steps, “ I have no support boat or kayak, want me to wait”, I ask the Captain,” your boat broke down, you get in with the boys”, he replys. I start to unfold my stiff body, my saving grace I have two feeds to guzzle down…… how you may ask? That sharp crew of mine had the forsight to send 2 feeds to me via the NYPD, boy I feel the love from my crew, down the hatch goes my feed, I toss off the paper thin emergency blankets, throw back my shoulders, stand tall and stride to the edge of the boat, ” Game on”, I think, before sliding back into the river with the Aussie swimmers, I look back at the boat full of strangers who took this vagabond on board, ” Hey, thanks for having me over”, I shout with a smile, and with that swim away, what an adventure I am having, I wonder what on earth could happen next!
Back in the water, how great to be swimming again, I have no idea where I am, what I do know is that my two #28 kayakers are no where in sight and my crew is currently MIA, my only job right now is to stay relaxed and swim hard to warm myself back up, the good news is the water is feeling good. I start to swim under small bridges here and there, nothing looks familiar, after a while I notice something pulling up alongside me, YES a feed cup and on the other end of it is Daryl, # 28 WAHOO, boy am I happy to see him and to my left Carmen in the purple kayak, still where are my crew? And then I see some HUGE smiles from Cynthia and Jenn, they are giving me the hand signal for ” you’re doing great”, what a rush, I smile my biggest “grin while you swim” smile in the hopes they can see me, ” Who’s boat are they on?”, I find out later that they brokedown in the East River, and had to remain anchored off Roosevelt Island until help and a new boat arrived, it arrived alright, check out the COOL BOAT….with our observer, driver dude and Dean who became a welcome cheer leader!
What a trip, I am having a blast, my crew has perservered and returned with a killer boat and boat captain, they resourcefully recruited the NYPD to deliver me feeds until Daryl and Carmen my paddlers made it back to my side, I am one lucky cat, the skies are clearing, there is some sun on my shoulders, I am one happy camper, is that the Harlem Boat house? YES, now I know where I am to boot! Here is me and Daryl at the Boot House…
Head down I swim on, the sun peaks through giving me just a bit more vision under the surface of the murky Harlem waters, hey hold on a minute, there are lots of white objects down there, they start bouncing off my body as I swim, how strange to have Jellies all the way up here in the Harlem I think, Jen and Cynthia are enthusiastically jumping up and down on the boat, ohhh I must be swimming well I think and smile. Next up comes my feed, some slippery little peaches appears coutesty of Carmen in my feed cup, clumisly I tip my cup slightly sideways and some Harlem water spills in with the peaches, I look in dispair, they would feel so nice on my throat, ” Oh well, down the hatch”, I tip back the peaches and the brown Harlem water. the peaches are a lift, 30 minutes later the next feed arrives including, wait for it the biggest treat EVER….mint fresh mouth wash, ah pure bliss rinsing out my mouth which right now tastes like a toilet, um an unflushed one.
On I swim, something is caught on my goggles, it is long and flappy and caught on the top strap of my goggles, every time I roll to breathe it dangles across my face. Whatever it is I am not stopping to disentagle it from my goggles, I swim on.
I can picture it in my mind, the course map at the top of the Harlem River is Spuyten Duyvil, a small waterway that connects the Harlem to the mighty Hudson River, the Hudson will have a strong tidal push, once there it should be smooth fast sailing down to lower Manhattan, Lady Liberty and the finish buoy of the 2013 Manhattan island Marathon. I know from studying the map that there is a train track near the entrance to the Hudson and a big C painted on the cliff, I am dreaming of a train whistle and that C, C for Charlotte, C for conquor, right now C means success. I swim on. Meanwhile Daryl is feeding me every 30 minutes, suddenly I feel that I knowen him for a lifetime, Daryl and Carmen are my new best friends even though we have never spoken a word! Suddenly I hear a train, then the giant C appears to my right, my spirits soar, the best is yet to come a WAHOO from Daryl, his excitment fuels mine, I dig head head even lower and pull hard, Hudson River and George Washington Bridge here we come!
George Washington Bridge
In to the Hudson we go, Carmen, Daryl and me, I am excited for the tide assisted cruise down the river, to my dismay what I meet is wind against tide and a menacing chop, Daryl, Carmen and me bounce around as we make our way down towards the George Washington Bridge…
I can see Carmen getting bounced around, both Kayaks disappear then they return, yellow kayak towing purple, I feel like the three of us are a line of ducklings, I sense we are closing in on Battery Park our finish location, my stroke rate picks up, I feel a fire in my belly to drive home hard and I do, we start passing other swimmers, Daryl is getting animated, what’s that? There is my New Zealnd duck balanced on Daryl’s paddle, how he is balancing that duck I don’t know but I LOVE it and swim even harder, Daryl starts to cheer ” Come on Charlotte, Faster”, I swim as fast as I can, I am having fun. Here is Kiwi duck, which needed quite the bath post swim…
Then something amazing happens, I catch a glimpse of the big shiny skyscrapper I noticed close to the start location before I jumped, I drive my head down, pull hard and kick it up even further, I am on the home stretch…
Then I catch a glimpse of her, Lady Liberty, standing tall and proud amongst the NYC/ New Jersy skyline, the emotion builds in my gut, tears wellup inside my goggles, the iconic Statue of Liberty, so powerful, so meaningful to me, after covering close to 28 miles around Manhattan Island to reach this very point, the intensity of the moment grabs me, ” imagine what Lade Liberty must have meant to those immigrating to the United States all those years ago, leaving their homelands in search of a better life, seeing Lady Liberty welcoming them, a symbol of freedom and hope” I feel quite small and humble in comparison to those who caught glimpse of her before me, ” Whatever happens, whatever my time or my finish standings in this great race, it will be inconsecequential compared to this moment, success is right here, right now”, I think to myself as I pull towards the finish.
Half a mile to go, I can feel the energy of the gathered crowd, I can see my crew cheering, I give it my all to the end and then, the finish buoy is before me, I punch it with all my might, then turn to Aussie Andrew, my fellow swimmer who warmend me on the Aussie boat, he finifshed mere seconds before me, what a rush, we high five, check out the finish here…
Jen and Cynthia are close at hand, I swim the boat and they call me over the side, we motor to the pier and reunite with my husband Jeff and Jen’s husband and son, John and Charlie. I feel great, we walk back to the hotel sharing stories of the day, I hear of their boat breakdown and the condoms in Harlem River, you guessed it that was not a school of Jelly Fish I swam through and the thing hanging off my goggles while I was swimming….say no more, you do the math!
Back at the Hotel I shower, put on fresh clothes and head to the post race prize giving, as I arrive there is my buddy Barbara, ” Your swim is not official, you and a bunch of others”, It takes me a few minutes to process, I think back to those thoughts in the Hudson River, the feeling of having the best day, the greatest of adventures, the feeling of elation seeing the Statue of Liberty and of course punching the finish buoy, a quiet calm flows through me, ” You know I had a great day swimming around one of the greatest cities in the world” And there we have it, 8 Hours, 9 minutes, an unofficial swim around Manhattan Island, what an adventure!
Will I be back in 2014 for an official swim? You bet
Closing Thought: Fall down seven times, get up eight….