Saturday, September 20, 2008

Porter Heddi checks in

My husband, Jonathan, & I are training for the St. Croix Coral Reef Open Water Swim in October (2 miles for me, the 5-mile swim for him). The 2-mile swim should be a pretty good challenge for me since I swim one-handed. My brachial plexus was injured in a car accident 11 years ago, leaving my left arm paralyzed ever since. So 2 miles is a pretty long swim for me:)

When we planned to visit his grandmother in England recently, we decided to stay in Folkestone so we could keep training, and swim in the English Channel. While doing some online research to find out about the local swim spots, I ended up reading all about the Channel Swimmers, people who swim the 22 mile stretch from England to France. This got me really excited to swim in the same place as some of these amazing people.

Our first day we scouted out a place to swim, and found 2 guys about to go in on a nice pebble beach that was a short walk from our hotel. They looked a bit nervous about the rough water (I would be), so we went over and talked to them. Turns out the one not wearing a wetsuit was attempting to make the crossing the next day, if the weather allowed. I’m not sure if he was more nervous about swimming in the heavy chop, or the possibility of his crossing getting cancelled. We went for our first swim the next day when the wind died down, and I thought of all the swimmers out there attempting to make it across that day.

I have to admit that every time I get into a new body of water it’s humbling. Water is different everywhere, and that day it was cold and milky white. It was really unsettling to not be able to see my hand after it entered the water. I didn’t like seeing white flashes in the water without being able to tell what they were, and felt a little freaked out at first, but once I realized that my breathing was staying calm and even, I relaxed and started to enjoy myself. Between the wetsuit and saltiness of the water, I was super-bouyant and could really move through the water!

The next day was even more fun, with the sun out and the Channel calmer. There were a lot of people on the beach, even though there was a nip in the air. We were the only ones going in, so it was a bit embarrassing struggling with my wetsuit with an audience. But once I got in the water it felt great to move again. There is something about that water that made me feel like a seal slipping between the waves. I must have looked like one too, because when I was getting out of the water, a poor dog started cowering and backing away from me. I felt so bad for him—he must have thought I was the Creature from the Black Lagoon :)

A lot of swimmers do their training in the Dover Harbor, since it is sheltered and swimable on most days when the Channel gets rough. We checked it out, but didn’t really get the appeal of swimming next to huge cruise liners. I suppose the camaraderie could be worth it if you were a regular, but we decided to stick with our quiet Folkestone beach.

I was hooked on channel swimming after that, and we hit the water almost every day. The weather got a little rougher each time, but since I was able to get used to swimming in the chop gradually, it wasn’t too bad. The only scary part was when a big wave smacked my left arm into my back. Since I can’t feel that arm, I thought it was a big piece of wood or something worse :) Finally, I got pretty far out from shore, and Jonathan was worried and waved me down. I flashed him such a happy smile that he knew I was doing fine and let me finish my swim in peace.

After this experience I feel pretty good about the St Croix swim. I’m doing my first 2-mile swim this weekend (back home at Lake Washington), but after swimming in the English Channel, that should be totally do-able.

BTW, I just checked the Channel Swimmers websites and saw that a bunch of people completed the crossing while we were in England, including one fellow from Finland on Sept 12th, the day our swimmer was supposed to head out. I hope that was him that made it :)


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