Thursday, October 23, 2008

Heddi's St Croix Coral Reef Swim

Heddi Porter, who can only use one arm after a car accident 11 years ago, tells us about her latest long distance swim in St Croix.
We arrived in St Croix a week before the Oct 19th race, and were immediately surrounded by warm 89˚ weather and strong winds. The winds had me worried about the race, especially since the water was looking pretty rough at the time.

By morning though, things had calmed down a lot, and Jonathan and I decided to take our first dip. The water was like bath water, and such a nice change from Seattle's Lake Washington, where we did all our long swims.

I was feeling really nervous about the 2 mile swim I would be doing the following Sunday, so I had to build up to going out deep, and got a little more comfortable each day. We swam three times a day, so I had to watch that I didn't strain my good arm, and did a lot of icing at night.

On Wednesday, I woke up to horrible nerve pain in my bad (brachial plexus injury) arm, and later found out it was the first sign that category 3 Hurricane Omar was headed our way. I suddenly had visions of trying to swim
2 miles with overwhelming stabbing pain in my arm, and I also worried that the race would be cancelled altogether.

The Buccaneer, where we were staying, puts on the race and did a great job taking care of us during the Hurricane. Amazingly, when the eye of the hurricane passed, my nerve pain magically vanished!

There were a lot of trees down the next morning, and debris in the water, but there was a chance we'd still be able to swim. I went in the water that day, but didn't like swimming with all the gunk. Later I found out that
you're not supposed to go in the water for 72 hours after a hurricane, because of run-off, oil spills & debris.

By Sunday the water was less cloudy and was much cleaner, so the race was on. Unfortunately, the race directors had to reroute the 5 mile swim because the boats that usually take the swimmers to Buck Island had been damaged in the storm.

That meant skipping the beautiful underwater coral reef park that Jonathan had looked forward to, and both the 5 & 2-mile course went along the coastline, finishing at The Buccaneer's Mermaid Beach.

On race day, the wind had picked up a bit in the morning, but I wasn't too nervous about it, since the water didn't look bad where we were. We got taxied out to the starting point, which for us 2-milers was an enclosed bay that looked very calm. The sun was shining and all looked good.

The water was still a bit cloudy, so there wasn't much to see, but I did hear that some people saw manta rays along the way. About halfway, I saw an amazing rainbow arching over the closest kayak. That seemed like a good omen and reminded me to enjoy the experience.

My pointzero3 swimskin felt great, and helped me slip through the water more smoothly. I was really glad that it wasn't chafing anywhere, and that my back wasn't getting sunburned.

The calm waters started getting rougher after we left the sheltered bay, and seemed to get worse as we went along. The swells that looked like they were pushing us in the right direction had a habit of pulling me back at the end, so it felt like I was taking two steps forward and one step back.

Soon there were waves hitting from the side as well, so the chop got bigger, and I had to laugh at the fact that I was swimming in this. If I had known it would be this rough, I might have dropped out, but here I was doing it --and it wasn't that bad!

The surging water did make it harder and more tiring, but I just remembered the marathons I've run, and how you have to break it down into parts and keep going. I kept focused on the next buoy, and making it to that, and
didn't worry about what came next.

Finally, I spotted the yellow buoy that signified the last turn into Mermaid Beach. It seemed like getting around that buoy took forever, but eventually I was in the bay, and swimming my hardest to get to the finish.

Suddenly, a kayaker pulled up to me and asked if I was doing OK. It surprised me since I thought I was swimming pretty strong at the moment. Then I realized that it was the first time this kayaker had seen me, so he didn't realize that I always swim with one arm. He must have thought I had injured the other during the swim :)

It felt great to cross that finish line once my legs remembered how to stand, and I was elated to have made it. This was much harder than any of my 2-mile training swims and I surprised myself that I could do it under such
tough conditions.

I think the organizers were surprised to see me make it too, because they gave me an award for most perseverance :)

What an amazing experience!


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