I never see the dawn that I don’t say to myself perhaps.
John Dos Passos, author Manhattan Transfer (1925)
In the summer of 1972, I pulled on a green bathing suit, jumped into Lake Crumhorn and breaststroked behind a wooden rowboat for forty-five minutes to earn my Mile Swim Badge from the Boy Scouts of America. I would not participate in an open water swim again until September 19, 2010, when I swam three miles as part of Baltimore’s inaugural Swim Across America. Since then I have swum past the Hudson River’s Little Red Lighthouse three times, across the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River at its widest point, up and down the Chester, Nanticoke and Patapsco Rivers and along the Chicago skyline in Lake Michigan and the Atlantic shoreline in Ocean City. At each of these swims I paid the modest entry fee and sometimes a small donation, but never really focused on using the swims to raise money to help others.
During this year’s Lighthouse swim I came to really appreciate the amazing friendships that I have formed through open water swimming. It occurred to me that without the support of my friends who have trained, travelled and competed with me I would never have accomplished any of this. As I finished the swim and climbed the stairs out of the Hudson I decided to form a team for next year’s relay race around Manhattan and to use the event to raise money for Swim Free, a charity that funds learn-to-swim programs at community pools in underserved areas.
My relay-mates are amazing people. Tim, our captain, was born on April 1st in the bathroom of the house where his parents still live. That one sentence explains a lot about Tim. He is the type of guy who can’t wait to get started, whether on the deck before a routine practice or on the shore at the start of a long open water swim. “Let’s do this,” he’ll proclaim and then we are off and swimming. Tim out in front and the rest of us trailing behind. At the end of the swim, his is the first face you will see, smiling and offering encouragement as the rest of us finish. Tim trains with passion and the example he sets has inspired me to work hard and follow him, first up the Hudson River and then on a seven and one-half mile swim across the Potomac and at many more swims since then. Tim taught me to believe in myself as a swimmer and that confidence has made all the difference.
I met Claudia for the first time early on the Sunday morning following my first Lighthouse swim. I had stayed in New York too long and had a long drive to get back to Baltimore in time for its third Swim Across America event. I showed up at the swim club parking lot after only two hours of sleep, threw her the keys to my car and asked her to drive. She not only drove me to the swim and back that day, she also swam next to me for three miles, stroke for stroke to make sure I was okay. Since then she has completed the Ocean City, Purple and Potomac River swims and a 70.3 mile triathlon. She is my favorite training partner and a wonderful and caring person with an infectious smile.
Sandra and I became friends on a subway ride from Dykman Street to SoHo when she tagged along with our group first to a nice bar at the southern tip of Manhattan, then back towards the Empire State Building and on to the 24-hour McDonald’s on 33rd and Seventh Avenue. There is nothing quite so delicious as chicken McNuggets and french fries to cap off a night out after a hard swim. Sandra spends her summers training in the Atlantic near Sandy Hook with the “Sunrise Crew” who can be found in the ocean or nearby river at 5:30 AM on every Tuesday and Thursday between June and October. When she is not busy raising her two young children, Sandra regularly swims in ocean mile races while still finding time to enjoy a 5k swim on most summer weekends.
Tim is well-known to NYC Swim, having consistently finished near the top during the last three Lighthouse swims. I, on the other hand, am a middle of the pack guy at best. Sandra has also completed three Lighthouse swims and although Claudia has not yet participated in a NYC Swim event she too is a very accomplished open water swimmer. Tim and Sandra aspire to solo swims around Manhattan, which I know they will one day accomplish. My dream is to spend a month one summer swimming as much of the Hudson as possible and I hope to convince Claudia, Tim and Sandra to swim parts of it with me.
Tim often mentions to me that he has met his best friends through swimming. I could not agree more. I am amazed at how swimming has brought Tim, Claudia and Sandra into my life. We are from different parts of the country and come from different backgrounds. If you drew a straight line connecting the places where we were born it would stretch 3,333 miles. But somehow through a maze of circumstances, opportunities and life choices we have intersected and become friends. That is what swimming has done for me and what it can do for others.
If fortunate enough to be selected for this year’s race our team will train hard and give the swim our maximum effort. And when the four of us cross the finish line together we will each be the better for our efforts, having given back a little to the sport that has given us so much.