“Swimming 15 miles? I wouldn’t even walk 15 miles,” a familiar refrain I hear, often followed by, “you are nuts.” Yes I am nuts, thank you very much. And no, I wouldn’t care to walk 15 miles either. Its boring. Have to wear clothes, shoes, maybe mismatched socks, walk with other people, dull talk, go somewhere, maybe rush, wait on line, etc. Not that interesting. Swimming in open water – not boring. Water, solitude, rhythm, consistency, unpredictability, danger, fear, doubt, confidence, elation, breathing, bubbles, waves, peace, war, pain, pleasure, warm, freezing, fish, and other marine creatures . . . ad infintum. And besides people can walk 15 miles; but only nuts would commit themselves, through physical and mental conditioning, to be able to engage in this endeavor. Its fun to spend a few days on the river with other nuts. Some are like kindred sprits. In and out of the water. I think everyone is aware on some level of the other invisible nuts all headed to the next bridge. I certainly felt that on Wednesday for Stage 4. Thanks for a great day on a calm river.
By Louise Hyder-Darlington
Beyond swimming, I love to write. I was happy Rondi took up my offer to write up a few words for Stage 6. While training leaves little time for writing, it provides endless hours for swimmers immersed in watery contemplation. Time to contemplate breathing, stroke, technique, fatigue, aging, motivation, fear, friendships, futures, pasts. All jumbled together. This will be my second year swimming stage 6. I swam stages 3 and 6 in 2015. I was dead last for both stages and would not have changed it for the world. I overcame challenges and pushed myself farther than I had thought possible. I guess that is why we love 8 Bridges. The memories I have from last year bring smiles, not fear, to my face, even now. The joy of hearing David coaxing me to the shadow of the second span of the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge, surprised that passing under the first shadow was not sufficient. “Just a little further Louise.” The hearty handshakes from everyone on the boat after finally clearing the Agent Orange ladder … worst part of the swim. Hearing Rondi cheering me on as I finally approached the towering George Washington Bridge. Hearing her call from far off “….you can do it Louise.” Indeed, I did it.
I return to Stage 6 this year because my husband of 32 years wanted to give it a try. As did one of my best and dearest friends as well. They have worked hard. Nailing training swim after training swim. Endless hours immersed in their own contemplation about 15.7 miles down the Hudson River. Why we do it is different for each and every swimmer. I believe this is especially true of those wonderful heroes in the arena who know they won’t be in the front of the pack. Those in the rear swimming their hearts out, terrified of that tide that will turn before they finish. I had those very same shared fears last year and I will have them again on Saturday. It is guaranteed that the river will always give us what we need, not necessarily what we want.
So I guess that is what I wanted to say about Stage 6. It is a long, long swim in one of the most beautiful rivers in one of the most gorgeous places on earth organized and populated with some of the greatest souls in the world. It is never the same swim. Each year the river presents the precious lesson that man is not in control. It is fun and it is frightening and yet we do it every year. And here is a sweet little gem of a quote by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. If you are reading this and have run out reasons; run out of dreams … cut this out and tape it to your mirror. Find that sea you have been wanting to cross, grab a friend and jump in. I promise it will be the most terrifyingly wonderful feeling in the world!
“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941
I never wanted to get to Poughkeepsie as bad as I did Monday, June 27th. There she was in the hazy distance. With her hills, docks, old homes with porches; a town that has seen better days. Oh, and her bridges. Just 1,000 yards/meters apart. The longest such distance for a swimmer anywhere in the world, according to Mr. Barra. But 1.3 miles away (and with the river against me – 2 hours away – and 10 hours already in the drink), Rondi and Dave correctly decided that I would have to wait till next year to complete Stage 2. I am so grateful to them for giving me and everyone the time to try to accomplish what only 4 of us were able to accomplish. Seeing that Michael Smalley, my brother kayaker, was determined to make it, kept me going, pushing, fighting. Honestly, I never really felt good in the water yesterday. I did get my rhythm. But my right shoulder was giving me a lot of trouble as were some lousy songs stuck in my head, no matter how hard I tried to change the channel. And I was cranky from all those chops. But it was simply gorgeous out there. And I wanted badly to finish it. And Im very grateful for the chance to swim in simply one of the world’s great events and for everyone involved. Total pros. Oh, and my savior Jim who waited for me and drove me home to my door, 30 minutes out of his way!
That swim you signed up for in December is here. It seemed like such a wonderful idea as snow fell gently outside, while Bing Crosby crooned on the radio, and visions of sugar plums danced in your head. But now, those sugar plums turn to mush, as the Hudson warmed to a nice 70F. 8 Bridges is here, and you can’t help but be a little (or a lot) scared.
Pre-swim nerves are common, understandable, and can help, but the days leading up to a swim can be a game of mental gymnastics I like to call Swim Brain (trademark pending). Swim Brain makes it tough to focus on anything else (school, work, loved ones, not missing your stop on the train) because there is a portion of your brain solely devoted to your swim. It can be awful! As a habitual planner and over thinker, I have a few techniques that help me deal with Swim Brain that I hope can help you too!
- DO NOT check Weather.com every five minutes
The weather is out of your control. Worrying about the wind speed and direction will not help at all. It is so tempting to look, but try to avoid it! Rondi and Dave are the most competent race directors on the planet, and will be doing plenty of weather watching for you!
- Pack and unpack and repack your gear
When you feel the urge to check the weather, go to that swim bag and pack/repack it. It will help you make sure you have everything you need. Spare goggles? Sunscreen? Lucky stuffed pig you’ve had since you were 7… wait, somehow I think that one is just me.
- Make it a Blockbuster night
Sit your butt down and watch a movie! It will help your muscles rest and help your mind focus on something other than the swim ahead. Some personal favorites…
- Paint with all the colors of the wind
Commune with nature! Sit under your favorite tree. Walk your favorite trail. Take a relaxing, non training dip in the ocean. Get outside and reflect on how beautiful the Earth is, and how lucky we are to get to swim in the most beautiful river in the world!
Why do you think I am writing this right now!? My Swim Brian is off the charts! All I want to do is jump in the water, but I still have days to wait! It will help to get those feelings on paper, and be really fun to read after the swim. It is also a good time to reflect on all the little steps that got you here. All the people you met along the way, the fun and challenging training swims, delicious post-swim meals, the good swims and the bad.
Hopefully some of this helps you as we being the final countdown to 8 Bridges 2016! Wishing you all swift currents, delicious feeds, and a happy swim.
In preparation of swimming Stages 3&4 my coach suggested that I ‘visualize swimming the Hudson, putting in as much detail as you can’ So here’s my dreamy Stage 3 – Think Positive, Be Positive, and Positive things will happen! Come back in a week I’ll let y’all know how it goes.
Jump in. The water’s cool and a little salty, flat as glass. It’s slack tide, and I start to swim. My paddler’s right next to me, smiling. I can see in his dimples that he’s as happy to be on the river today as I am. I begin to stroke, smooth as silk. In my head, I chant, ‘bubble, bubble, breathe’. I’m in my happiest of places, swimming to a bridge, with a great team to support me. No matter how this day ends, its beginning is perfect.
The sky is light blue due to a little cloud cover. The water temp is 69, air 82. As I look into the water, its color – bottle green with a little gray and a slight drop of yellow – imprinted in my mind from other days, I’m home. I’ve always thought of the Hudson River as my home water. Even though I have not swum in it often as compared to many other waters it’s where I jumped in for my 1st official open water race 7 years ago. And for more than 20 years I lived alongside it in various apartments in NYC. Someday’s I would ride my bike along its shores on the way to the pool before work and it would inspired me to be a better swimmer. Some apartments had sliver river views that I took in along with my morning coffee. But rarely was there a day that I did not see the river even long before I took up swimming as a passion.
In the middle somewhere, I’ve been swimming for some time. I think how it’s funny that I always wear a watch and have never looked at it during a swim. I feel great; rotating and breathing – ‘reach and roll’ I silently chant. The current is swift, and I’m flowing like the kids in the fast lane of a pool. Stroking, breathing 4,2,2 – My rhythm. Like most of my swimming, it’s not textbook, but it’s me and it’s effective for what I do and where I’m at.
I know I’m close to the bridge now as I see Launch 5, the former NYPD patrol boat who supports us every year. She’s strong and sturdy, I can’t imagine anything that would phase her or her captain. Part of me wants to frolic a bit, but I know better – the tide turns hard and fast in this river. ‘bubble, bubble, breath,’ I chant, and stroke until I feel the shadow of the Newburgh Beacon Bridge over me and I roll over and back stroke to enjoy the view. Before I get out I take a moment to say thank you for my fellow swimmers, family, and friends who helped me on my journey to get here. I’m so grateful that this river supports me and returns the love I feel for it.
I always find the end of long swims bittersweet – so happy I finished and so sad it’s over. But this time’s a little different because I get to do this again tomorrow. How lucky am I?