Hi, I’m Sarah. I am a long distance open water swimmer. In June of 2018 I became the 2nd woman to swim around the island of Bermuda (36.5 miles, 31 hours and 28 minutes). Only one guy has done that swim and yes because I know we’re all wondering both women were faster than him.
But that is not the story I am here to tell you tonight.
All the most important life lessons I have ever learned I learned from endurance swimming. And 3 of those lessons I learned in the last 3 weeks.
After my Bermuda swim last year I decided this year to tackle the length of Lake Tahoe (22 miles, 15 hours).
In the process of setting up the logistics for that swim I also found myself signing on to swim the Maui Channel Relay and the Waikiki Rough Water. Cuz you know, 3 swims in 10 days, why not?
Saturday August 24th 2019 9pm, I started my solo length of Lake Tahoe swim. I lasted 80 minutes, about 2 and a half miles. The water temperature was just 2 degrees too cold. I was shivering. I was done.
That was the hardest 80 minutes of swimming I have ever done in my life. I fought for every second of that swim, and I regret absolutely nothing.
The next day I went for an easy swim along the beach, and thanked Lady Lake Tahoe (yes, all formidable, powerful, large bodies of water are female) I thanked Lady Lake Tahoe for the time she let me swim with her, for keeping me safe for that time, and for knocking my ego down a few pegs. Because it really needed it. Before this I had never not finished a swim, and I realize I really needed to know what that was like.
5 days later I was on a plane to Maui. Swimming can be a very lonely sport. Especially if you only do solo swims. So I was honored when I was asked to be a part of this relay team. 8:00am Saturday August 31st our first swimmer jumps in the water and we’re off!
Within 20 minutes the current had pushed the entire group of us (all 40 teams) north of where we needed to go. They said it was the worst current they had ever seen in the 48 years of the doing the race. If nautical speed means anything to you, it was a 6 knot current pushing everyone out to open ocean. The race director comes over the walkie-talkie and says “So we’ve got some really unsafe conditions out there. Everyone pull your swimmers, motor to safe waters, put your swimmers back in, and finish the race.” We had to motor over 3 miles to get to safe water.
Oh and did I mention the pod of 12 baby tiger sharks?
But, every swimmer out there was a warrior that day. We fought for every tenth of a mile, together.
The next morning I went for a swim along the beach. I thanked Moana (in case you haven’t seen the movie, first you should, and Moana is Hawaiian for Ocean and yes, she is female). I thanked Moana for letting us swim with her, for keeping us safe, and for showing me the power of teamwork.
So, for those of you following along at home that’s:
2 swims attempted in 7 days, Zero finished
Are we having fun yet?
The next morning I was on a plane for Honolulu.
The Waikiki Rough Water swim is one of the most famous open water swims in the world. It is a 2.4 mile swim parallel to the shore of Waikiki Beach. And this is important: the swim goes AWAY from Diamond Head.
8:15am Monday September 2nd, 1000 of us are standing on the beach getting ready to swim. The Safety Director comes over the loud speaker. “This is the strongest current we have ever seen in the 50 years of doing this swim: going TOWARDS Diamond Head… So if this is a life choice you don’t think you should be making today please do not start this swim.”
So I did what any sensible long distance open water swimmer would do. I started the swim.
After the first buoy, no joke, I swam in place for the next 20 minutes. I had a very severe moment of panic. I thought, “I will never get back to shore.” It was the scariest feeling I have ever had in my life.
But as soon as I relaxed, as soon as I started swimming “with” the ocean instead of fighting against her I had a really amazing swim.
I actually did finish this swim, sprinting with a sea turtle the last 100 meters to the beach (not really, but can you hear the “Chariots of Fire”?)
That day 1,000 swimmers registered, over 350 had to be rescued by the Coast Guard, 571 finished, the rest didn’t start.
Later that day I sat on the beach, looked out over the surf and waves and thanked Moana again for the opportunity to swim with her, for keeping me safe, and for teaching me once again that there is a time and a place for everything.
I went into this two week swim adventure thinking things were going to be a certain way. Nothing ended up the way I thought it would. And I am so glad. My life changed in 10 days.
So I will leave you with these 3 life lessons that were given to me by Lady Lake Tahoe and Mistress Moana:
No swim is a failure; sometimes you just succeed at something different.