By Devon Clifford
The time has come. It’s that time of year again when a group of proclaimed “crazies” strip down to their swim suits, lather up with sticky white pastes of zinc, and press their goggles tightly into their eye sockets as they prepare to take the infamous jump off the bow of Launch 5 and begin their journey down the mighty Hudson River. As the years have gone by, I have fallen more and more in love with 8 Bridges; the people, the guidance, the connectedness to one of nature’s most beautiful elements, and the bridges.
I remember my nerves the first time I jumped in the river to ride the push in Stage 3. It’s a beautiful stage, and the shortest of the week totaling just about 13 miles, so for me at the time it was a perfect starting point. I remember wearing a flamingo printed swim suit as I swam with my father guiding me in his kayak at my side. The water temperature was perfect, I’m sure (at least that’s how I remember it because that is what Kent – SCAR race director – has instilled in my brain as the temperature always, no matter location, time of year, or weather conditions… it is always “perfect!”). I didn’t know enough about nutrition in distance events at the time so I only fed on water and Gatorade, and I probably didn’t get enough sleep that week because I had friends in town from Ireland. None of that mattered in the end though because as much as it was a learning experience, swimming stage 3, albeit slightly under prepared, was one of my first stepping stones into teaching me gratitude for a sport that has become my world.
In the years since my first stage swim of 8 Bridges, I’ve experienced and accomplished swims all over the world but June in the Hudson is by far one of my favorite times and places. I’ve come back to be a part of this event every year since that first stage and hope to be a part of the event for as many years to come as possible. I’ve participated as a swimmer doing one or two bridges, as well as striving for the whole chalupa (is that what Dave was calling 8B for the 7 stagers last year??) and I’ve come back as a volunteer, too. To be a part of 8 Bridges is not just to swim, but to be a part of a family. It truly is a magical time when you allow yourself to embrace not just your swim but the experience of others’ swims, as well. There is so much excitement, so many nerves, so much spirit, and so much love.
You’ll hear constant chatter though out the week about the water temperature (which, like I mentioned, is always “perfect” according to Kent – you’ll want to remember this and maybe allow it to become your mantra) and about things you feel or felt along the way, about the weather, about who is swimming what day, etc. “What is the temperature this morning?” “Do you think it will warm up?” “How are you getting back in the water day in and day out?” My favorite bits of chatter, though… that would be the positivity and the way we lift one another up for what we are about to or have accomplished. There is a spirit you’ll encounter during the week that may be unlike any you’ve been a part of before – a support system more giving than any I’ve experienced outside of swimming. This is after all, as far as I know, the most team oriented solo sport around!
The positivity doesn’t just come from one swimmer congratulating another, it comes from the non-swimmer perspectives as well. It starts at the top as Rondi and Dave have created this glorious river swim for us and you can tell how much they care without words even being a part of the equation. If you pay close attention, their actions will comfort you more than warm water and a sunny day. The passionate guidance from Greg and his crew as he guides us all on Launch 5 goes just the same. Let’s be honest though, what fun would swimming down a river be if you didn’t have someone with whom to share the experience? This is where the positivity of kayak support comes into play. Personally, I know I am the luckiest swimmer in the water when I have Lizzy by my side guiding my way, supporting my needs, and cheering me on… sorry, everyone else! Lizzy, you’re the best.
The emotions and banter all come together and nothing is better than finishing the end of each day with a smile, so don’t forget to bring that with you. As you approach the bridge (don’t sight too soon or that bridge may feel forever away for a very long time) at the end of your first and maybe only stage, or your second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or final stage just remember to enjoy what you’ve just accomplished. Turn over onto your back and take a minute to look up at the beautiful structure you just swam to, and appreciate where you started. We will all have a different experience despite sharing the same water, and somethings may be harder or easier for you during that stage, but the smiles at the end are the best part. Stay strong, swim smart, and enjoy yourself. Don’t get too upset if things don’t go exactly as planned though because no matter what you do in this river, you’ll only be as good as the Mighty Hudson allows!
See you in the water soon. Swim happy, my friends!