Germany at Rothenberg ob der Tauber

Germany, Frankfurt to Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. They come by hundreds and thousands. Airlifts successful, the troops touchdown at the Frankfurt airfield and travel by rail through the Frankish countryside heading East. Frankfurt airfield to Frankfurt to Wurzburg to Steinach eventually on to Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. Disembarking from the train, all you hear is rolling thunder. The foreigners have taken the city and life will never be the same again.

No, it is not 1945 and we are not referring to Undersecretary of State McCloy’s attempt to prevent the medieval city from destruction via artillery. It’s 2009 and this rolling thunder refers to hordes of tourists (American, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, and German) dragging their wheeled luggage boisterously across cobblestone streets. These modern day foregin invaders are here this time to take photos of the walled city, not to raize it. One wonders if this is not the more insidious kind of destruction.

Welcome to tourist Germany.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Rothenberg on the river Tauber (or ROT), is a well preserved medieval village and that is what saved it hundreds of years ago and that is what makes it popular today. ROT hit its stride as one of the 10 largest cities in Europe a milenia ago. Sitting on a hill protected on three sides by steep river embankments, an Imperial decree from the Holy Roman Empire, and stout outer defensive wall encircling the city, ROT was well protected. Blessed by 400 square kilometers of land situated at the nexus of two important trade routes (Rhine to Bohemia and North Sea to Rome), fertile soil, and 180 small towns to tax, Rothenbergers had it good and it shows today.

Though the city was only ever captured once and that was after a 3 day battle towards the end of the 30 years war, that final surrender left it torn asunder. Pillaging was the order of the day and after the 1600’s, the town never, ever recovered. Protected by poverty, the city was forgotten. Rothenbergers barely had enough resources to subside with let alone modernize buildings so the cute antique walls, homes, and squares kept preserved until the late 1800s when tourists re-discovered the town in a time capsule. Since then, tourism has been a source of fortune, and perhaps misfortune.

While it was Rothenberg’s status as a mediveal city that kept the Allies from finishing with artillery what air bombing started, tourism has been the town’s lifeblood for over a century. The city is awash in tourist dollars leaving a visitor feeling processed in a commercial sort of way. That’s not to say that the people are not friendly – they are, nor that the buildings are fake – they are not. The fact remains that an authentic German medieval experience this is not. Think more Epcot center than Disney, but with much higher-end shops.

Perhaps the best lessons one can draw from ROT is how absolutely difficult life has been on this planet for most of human existance. For the vast majority of time people have been concerned with having enough food and water to survive a winter or a seige. The largest concern has been death by privation, fire, war, or pestilence. If by some manor of success people can now afford to travel and view the world as it once was, so much the better. Moeny is far better spent purchasing coo coo clocks, steins, and currywurst than making cannons.

Swimmers, to Your Marks

Once the kayakers were in position on the sandbar at Farmer’s Shoals the swimmers got in the water. A line of co-ed lifeguards formed a human starting line. The water was chili, but not too cold. The wetsuit did its job and my body soon warmed the water trapped in the neoprene. Between the wetsuit, the goggles, my MP3 player, and tons of rash guard lube, I felt kind of like Iron Man in his suit. I remember being surprised at how strong the pull of the current was as I eased out to the starting line. The poor lifeguards looked to be freezing as they stood there waiting on direction, the current knocking them around. The waves sure looked a lot bigger in the water than they did from the shore!

Some people calmed their nerves by chatting with family. I adjusted my headphones and started my music. Waiting for the starting gun, I focused on my opening swim strategy.

Opening Strategy – Part One

Since my plan wasn’t to win the race, just to complete it, I would let the sprinters get ahead and busy myself with regulating my breathing and calming my adrenaline. Even though I wasn’t competing for the race, my personality isn’t built in a way that lets me sit back and relax. When there is a starting gun I want to race out in front and dominate. Once, in
high school, I managed to make all county for track on the 1600m (~1 mile). I had made it around the track for one lap at the near front of the pack only to realize that I had just reached a personal best time – not for the mile, but for the quarter mile. My time then dropped sharply as my body ran out of adrenaline to propel me over the remaining 3/4s of a mile.

I wasn’t going to let that happen this time. If I did sprint swim the first half mile, there would be no chance of me completing mile 5. Easy strokes with regular breathing was my plan for the entire race. If you have never tried
to swim long distance before allow me to assure you that calm, regular breathing is the key. Let everyone else be a rabbit that sprinted to the kayaks. I was going to be the tortoise that finished this race.

Opening Strategy – Part Two

The second part of our two-part opening race strategy concerned meeting up together at the sandbar. Finding a kayak (or them finding me) was not going to be easy with over one hundred competitors. We mitigated this by planning
for the kayak to be on the western most part of the sandbar. This would help my aim as they would be considered a fixed point. Even if I couldn’t see them per se I would know where they were. Also helping was the expected current coming in from the Atlantic through the Fire Island Inlet would be pressing all swimmers eastward. I was going to have to bear West for the eastern tip of Sexton Island in order to stay on course even past this first sandbar. If I fell out of range, I would end up having to swim against the current to the first mile marker. Swimming against the current is a losing battle. By leaving the sandbar as far west as possible, the incoming tide would have less of a chance to push me out of range and I
would have a greater chance of actually finishing this thing.

The Reality of the Start

So much is made about starting a new venture. Everyone from your mom admonishing you to have a healthy breakfast to Kawasaki’s Art of the Start will tell you that a good, quality start to anything is important. I wanted my start to be perfect. It wasn’t to be.

Once the gun went off, I dove into the water. Cold, salt water whipped into a frenzy from the storms that had ended just a few hours ago pushed me around. Fighting both current and my own adrenaline, I leveled off and started my stroke. The water was pitch black and the morning sun sat low in the east. Each time I tried to breath on my right side I was blinded by those rays. Breathing on either side ended up being a losing proposition due to the chop. I must have swallowed gallons of water that first half mile.

The First Half Mile – Solo

Slowly, I gained ground. Swimmers from all directions crashed into each other. This is where my opening strategy failed. On the starting line I was positioned on the East (right hand side) of the swimmers. My targeting point was the West most boat (left hand side) on the kayak line. Most of the other swimmers were headed straight for the center of the kayak line. That meant that while I was swimming straight north, 70% of the other swimmers were  headed North East cutting into me at acute angles.

Swimmers, current, and waves from all angles pounded me until I eventually reached the starting line. Other kayaks seaching for their swimmers crossed over me. I reached my kayakers almost by accident. There was so much chop that I never accurately saw them until I heard Kevin yell out at me. I was very relieved at finding them.

There was no time to stand on the sandbar and rest. It felt like I was the last to arrive at this beginning checkpoint. It took me significantly longer than the 15 minute 1/2 mile time I had been running. Topping it all off, my tinted goggles also failed in the mix. The right eye was seeping through. Now that the adrenaline of starting a race was wearing off, my body was exhausted from the effort of the first 11th of the race.

The Second Half Mile – Paired

Now that I had found my kayakers, it was time to start the race. I was already more tired now that I was when I completed a solo 2 mile race at Mountain Island Lake in North Carolina several weeks earlier. It was disheartening to realize that I still had 4.75 miles left to go on an angry ocean!

Kevin and my Dad aimed the kayak toward the first mile marker check in. We were to pass through gates set up by manned powerboats and yell out our numbers as we passed through. Since I was fighting for breath with each stroke, I hoped that my kayakers planned on doing the talking for me.

If anything, the chop got rougher after the sandbar. I could feel the full force of the angry Atlantic ocean pushing through Fire Island Inlet. Waves from all directions hammered me. I could not swim straight on plane and drive with my torso for an efficient stroke. When I would breath on my glide, I would get a face and mouth full of water. Sometimes the force of the waves would toss me over on to my back or stand me straight upright like I was trying to swim to the sky.

You are trained to not try and force a breath when you are swimming. If a wave hits you and you get a mouthful of water when you try to breathe, you just continue your stroke, spit the water out, and try to breathe next stroke. That’s the good thing about swimming long distance; you get many, many opportunities to make the next stroke better than your last and to keep making progress. Unfortunately, in really rough seas, you are forced to stop your momentum and lift your head straight out of the water to catch your breath. Not really the most efficient way of doing things.

When we finally did reach the first mile marker, Kevin yelled out my number and told me my time. It had been an hour since I had left shore. It felt like a millennium. That was twice my expected time. At this pace I would never possibly finish. one mile per hour would put me in at five and a half hours and I didn’t think that I could last that long. I was beaten and sore from the waves. I was nauseous from being spun around, bobbing up and down, and swallowing so much salt water. I was not sure that I was going to be able to keep going.

Luckily, I didn’t have to decide whether to keep going. All I had to do was keep going for as long as I could. I remember thinking that I had already trained 18 months for this day and that while my training must not have been good, hard, or strict enough, I was going to have to finish anyway. 1 mile was not enough to make me quit. Maybe 2 miles would. I didn’t know. I set my sites on the 2nd mile marker and kept swimming.

Heidelberg Video

OK, just turn off the volume for this one and enjoy the slideshow. Better videos coming, I promise.

Ok, just watch this one if you’re really, really bored.

My Cross Bay Swim

My iPhone alarm sounded at 4:30 am, waking me bright and early from a restless sleep. The day had finally come. The Cross Bay Swim for which I had been preparing over the last 20 months was here.

Bleary-eyed, I crept down the stairs to the first floor of my parent’s Long Island home and busied myself making coffee. It was strangely quiet outside. Such a dramatic counter to the stormy day before.

Just yesterday I watched wind stirring up 4′ seas on the Great South Bay over an egg bagel breakfast. The rough seas were enough to give the Tuna Club’s annual tournament pause setting up. After all, who could set up fairway tents with 20+ mph wind whipping in their faces? Heck, I had enough fun getting soaked picking up the rental kayak my support team was going to lead me with. My kayaker was delayed, stuck in a Charlotte airport for hours waiting for the East Coast storms to die down enough for a plane to take off.

I checked my email messages on my phone. No cancellations had come through. I checked the website. No warnings were listed. A year earlier a storm had kept me from even reaching New York. I had learned from the Cross Bay swim website the at the 2008 event had been canceled as I waited for 8 hours on a Charlotte plane that would never depart. It looked like I would really have to do this thing.

Everyone was quiet we ate breakfast. A knock on the door signaled Kevin, my kayaker, had made it. It was time to go.

Time to Go

We drove over the Great South Bay, tracing the route I would take. Crossing the Robert Moses bridges I tried to visualize myself swimming the entire distance. I couldn’t. Heck, it takes nearly a half hour to drive over the distance. The swim didn’t seem real. Somehow I remembered a friend of mine telling me that he had spent the first 30 some-odd years of his life not taking a real airplane flight. He had taken off in 5 planes as an adult and sky-dived out of all of them. When he finally flew down to see me, he had thought the idea of touchdown novel.

We had a caravan of 2 cars. We dropped the kayak off at the end of the road and deposited my 2 kayakers in it, along with such provisions we would need for the crossing – water, sun block, extra goggles, etc. The rest of us drove to Robert Moses Field 5, parked and walked to the Fire Island lighthouse. After about 15 minutes of searching along boardwalks and the bay coast, we found sign up. This was exactly opposite of what most competitors did; brought their kayaks and selves over on the early AM ferry.

There were over 100 people carrying kayaks, stepping over each other, trying to get sorted after getting off the ferry. It was chaos. Our 2 man kayak was one of the larger ones and since we got there earlier than most, we secured a spot directly in the way of everyone debarking. We busied ourselves removing excess items from the kayak. Did we really need a CASE of water bottles? No. Did I really need 2 boxes of granola bars? I had no idea. I hadn’t eaten much that morning so they stayed. Bailout buckets were made ready, life jackets adjusted, and sun block applied. I donned my wetsuit – it’s called a farmer John because it looks exactly like what you’d think a pair of neoprene overalls would look like. I applied a ton of anti-chafing lube to the places the wetsuit would likely wear one me, fitted my cap, selected my trusty pair of goggles, queued up my MP3 player music and was set.

With nothing to do but enjoy the sunrise, I looked around at the other competitors. The field was some 70% male. Ages widely varied. It looked like some families of 18 years to 50 years old, some couples, but mostly individuals.

I noticed one guy who looked older than God and got worried. Seriously, he had a Dumbledore/Gandalf-esque beard. Most 30 year olds in a race would be happy to try their endurance vs father time. Not me. I figure if you learned to swim alongside Jonah, and are still doing it today on a 5.25 mile open water course you’re either there to meet your maker or your very confident in your ability. Either way, I was steering away from that guy.

Another couple of people had decided to do the swim without a wetsuit. They looked serious. And in shape. Nearly everyone here was in tremendous shape. Including Dumbledore. I had a sinking feeling I was about to get my butt kicked. A lot of people had swim club shirts and college team shirts. Personally, I was wearing my favorite old Hokie sweatshirt. The big difference was that the only time I had spent in a pool in college was evenly divided between a 1 credit life guarding class freshman year and playing the world’s greatest game – Coed Inner Tube Water Polo. These people looked strikingly similar to real collegiate swimmers.

Kayaks in the Water

With 15 minutes left it was time for the kayakers to head off to Farmer Shoals – a shallow point just over a half a mile away. We, the swimmers, were to meet our kayakers at the shoal. It seemed like an easy enough task. The event organizers had stationed a boat on either side of the shoal and asked that the kayakers take up position in between. As my kayakers paddled off I was surprised at how much they had bounced. The water LOOKED calm from my vantage point. I was wrong.

I watched my kayakers paddle until I couldn’t see them anymore. I wasn’t worried. I had swum half mile courses for almost 2 years now. Heck, the first leg of my practice was a half mile stretch from my community park to a multimillion dollar house on the other side. I had run that course so many times that I could do it with ease. This should be no different, right?

Big Rocks

We’ve been talking lately about making the right choices, focus, and accountability. (If you haven’t yet read these, please do.) In a Cubicle Warrior first, I am going to write an article my friend Painless suggested. And it’s all about Big Rocks.But first, let me give you some history.

My shoulders are aching writing this. I just got cleaned up from an after-work kayak trip but I’m still battered and bruised from rafting this past weekend at the US National Whitewater Park. Fingers are pretty torn up with scabs, blisters, and friction burn from being dragged down an Olympic whitewater sluice but that’s OK. I had a great time with some excellent people and made some awesome memories.

The day started with us all wandering around the park and checking out the activities. While we initially thought we would be able to spend the entire day doing all of the activities they had we quickly realized that by virtue of the park set up, you could not. Some (rafting, rock climbing) had to be scheduled for a time slot early in the day. Others like the gigantic zip line could be done after you paid your dues and waited in line. (Speaking of zip lines and painless, here’s a brief article he wrote a while back. He described the experience appropriately.) We were going to have to marshal our resources, decided what experiences we wanted most, and prioritize accordingly.

Rafting

Our first event was the easy family rafting adventure. You get placed in a larger boat with 5 of your closest friends and a guide takes you over the river. We cajoled the guide into making the journey a little more exciting and sure enough before long several of us found ourselves bouncing down simulated class IV rapids. Good times!

Zip Line

We had lunch and then waited in line for the mega zip. It was just as Painless had described in his article, no further commentary necessary.

Rodeo Rafting

Rodeo Rafting was the chief challenge of the day. This takes place on a smaller, much less stable raft than the regular rafting adventure only fitting 4 people instead of 6 from earlier in the morning. In Physics-speak, the center of gravity to base width ratio is far greater in the rodeo model creating a shorter, more powerful moment arm. Physics or no physics, the results are the same; your butt is flung out of the boat, often violently upon hitting the slightest ripple. In the case of running this toy boat in class IV simulated rapids you quickly find yourself under an avalanche of bodies and paddles if you have the misfortune of not being on the ‘high side’ of the raft. Our helmets and PFDs certainly earned their keep that day! The phrase at the end of the day was ‘if you’re not bleeding, you were not rafting!’ A little gory but fun.

Big Rocks

At one point of the day someone asked about the Cross Bay Swim and this is what Painless had asked me to write about. I said that by some age most people have encountered a number of challenges that were very hard and showed them who their true selves were. Whether those challenges were emotional, mental, or physical, sooner or later you have endured enough of these things that when presented with any other challenge you can say to yourself ‘after dealing with that last one, nothing can be as difficult as that was ever again.’ And I meant it.

Some people have devastating personal relationships that, for whatever reason end tragically. For the rest of their life they are steeled emotionally against anything else that will come their way, tempered in that ordeal. Others endure trials of a spiritual or intellectual nature. While I can certainly say I’ve had my share of those experiences, the cross bay swim is now my own personal challenge that I will measure all other challenges by. It wasn’t the most difficult thing I have ever endured but it did take a measured act of self destruction to complete.

You see, I was exhausted after the first 3 miles of swimming from the rough seas. My technique disappeared even in the relatively gentle seas of the last 2.25 miles and I could feel my shoulder muscles and rotator cuff tearing with each stroke. Also, after being in the water for that long my wetsuit began to use the salt and sand collected in a sawing motion across my chest and back. Each stroke drew more blood. Not so much fun in salt water. Still, I had a tangible, identifiable, objective goal – the finish line on the horizon. I had accountability to my kayakers, friends, and family. I had focused like a laser on training for the event and there was no way I wasn’t going to complete the swim.

The obvious question to ask is why to subject yourself to these kinds of challenges. Wouldn’t it be smarter and safer spending your energy girding yourself for the unexpected challenges that life is going to throw at you anyway?

I can see that point, and I don’t want to go all Neitche here and say ‘that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’ but I see these Challenges, these Big Rocks if you will, as milestones and monuments that you can point to when your mettle is tested and say ‘hey, that last challenge I did was awfully hard, but I came through that. I bet I can come through this, too.’

That’s a nice message to have burned into your psyche for those unexpected, unavoidable rough seas ahead.

Another counter would be George Carlin’s quip ‘What are you gonna do? Eat at Wendy’s and read People magazine until the end of time?’ I dislike fastfood and hate People magazine (they’ve yet to feature me 🙂 ) so I may as well swim long distances, travel the world, write this blog, and go crazy Rodeo Rafting with my friends.

Returning to the weekend wrap up, we started the day with an easy rafting trip. It was easy for me having experience with whitewater and no fear of being tipped but it was very challenging and gripping for those among us with out that experience. If you’re scared of swimming, whitewater rafting at any level can be incredibly daunting. Still, those same people who were wary of falling in to the drink in the morning were able to take that experience and build on it to survive and even enjoy the afternoon crazy Rodeo experience where the motto is ‘it’s not if your’re going to fall out, it’s when and how many time.’

So why not choose a big rock and go after it? It doesn’t have to be the biggest rock in the world, and you don’t have to be the only one who ever scaled it, but it should be trying for you.

Have you ever chased a Big Rock challenge? How did it prep you for future unknowns? What are you doing today?

My Open Water Swim Team

Open water is a body of water subject to natural elements and all of the randomness this entails. In the ocean or large lakes you have tides, swells, salt, wind and marine life to contend with. The sun can play havoc with you as can boaters. Unless you are very fortunate, open water also generally means opaque water you cannot see in and depths you cannot easily gauge.

There is only one way to combat such an array of forces set against you; you must team up.

My Mentor

Now that I’ve grown a bit, learned a bit, and been around the block, I’ve come to realize, to my great disappointment, I do not indeed know everything. Shocking, right? These days when I seek to conquer something, I pick a mentor. My first stop was contact my Dad’s friend who swam the Cross Bay Swim for his 60th birthday. Let’s call him ‘Bob.’

Bob’s qualifications are much longer, too, than swimming the race at 60. Ignoring his college football career, the guy had already swam the race many times in his youth, winning it at least once. Not a bad resource to have.

Bob and I exchanged emails about practicing and equipment for the first few months I started training. He told me the kind of wetsuit he used (which I ended up buying) and how he trained. By the time we were nearing the 2008 race day, he was all set to spend the next year training to rejoin in 2009! This is the kind of mentor you want to be able to ask questions to. The only way he could have been better suited for me is if we were possessed of anywhere near the same kind of athletic prowess. Writing this post after the fact having swum the Cross Bay in 2009, I can now appreciated the kind of athlete he is. Comparatively, he did absolutely no training for the event! At 60!!! Just goes to show you, winners win. And keep winning.

My Winter Team

After the 2008 race was canceled I found it difficult to keep swimming. Luckily, I started F-Club (see other archives for that explanation), and thus found several friends that wanted to get in better shape and swim. These guys helped me keep focused and having fun while getting my pool miles in over the winter. We must have invented a few dozen oddball training routines to keep the swimming entertaining. This was essential in keeping the training fun and fresh but it also payed great dividends when the time came to swim in open water where new and different muscles are used.

My Spring & Summer Team

When the weather got warmer, and I pulled through my foot surgery, it was time to get into open water. Swimming in open water is a much different sport than pool swimming. The water is darker, vaster, and there are no lanes. Hazards are all over the place and you need to use the buddy system.

Kayak Buddies

With boats, current, tides, and things that go ‘bump’ in open water, you need a kayaker to guide you. Sort of a cross between a lifeguard, a navigator, and a pack mule my kayakers were going to make or break my swim efforts. The kayaker acts serves a purpose of keeping me, the swimmer, out of trouble, provides assistance as needed, and gives the swimmer a point of reference. It takes a lot of energy to lift your head out of the water, sight a point on the coast, and correct your trajectory as needed. I was happy to offload this to the kayaker team!

Once they learned how to lead me, I was able to focus all of my energy on swimming efficiently. This is when I had my biggest breakthroughs in training and endurance ability. Not least because my kayakers kept showing up at my house at all sorts of ungodly hours though out the summer making sure I was in the water training!

Race Event Buddies

Swimming with a clock competing with one hundred people is very different from swimming by yourself or even in team trials. Luckily, several friends helped me out by entering half mile triathlon ‘tune up’ swims as well as other local mid distance (2 mile) swims. Swimming against other people in the madness of an open line start is unlike anything else I have ever tried. I am very happy I had a team to help me learn these critical skills.

My Race Team

My race team could be considered my 2 race day kayakers – Kevin who flew up to NY on his own dime and on his birthday no less – and my father. I am incredibly in their debt as you will read in the upcoming week when I complete my account of the Cross Bay Swim.

My team could also be considered those who came with me at the pre-dawn hours to the starting line to see me and the kayakers off and then meet up, cheering us on at the finish line.

My team could consist of my swim mentor and everyone who helped me train – I certainly believe it does. In reality, it took every training partner I have ever had to complete the swim. Each friend that ever went to the gym with me and told me to do ‘one more rep’ or to add a few more pounds to the bar. The friends that forbid me from quitting or slowing at anytime. And I’m eternally grateful.

Have you ever needed to enlist a team to achieve your goals?

Swimming with Sharks

26 foot shark heard I was coming to swim the week before the 2009 Cross Bay Swim, committed suicide.

Full Article

A map reference of the swim and the location of the shark.

Shark to Swim Map Reference
Shark to Swim Map Reference

“We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

For a video, check below.

Who’s the Guy in the Wetsuit?

There has been an interesting sighting reported on Lake Wylie this year. This is in addition to Tega Cay gators, imported Asian carp, giant catfish and marauding snakefish. Since the beginning of April early weekend risers and weekday post-commute boaters have reported seeing a dark object in the water adjacent to a blue 2 man kayak.

After 3 months of curious looks on shore and quizzical expressions from boaters and fishermen, I think introductions are in order. That dark object is a man in a wetsuit – me, and the kayakers my support team. Collectively we were training for the July 24th 5.25 mile Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay Swim.

The Cross Bay Swim, held more-or-less annually on the south shore of Long Island, New York since the early 1900s, is an open-water race across a 5.25 mile stretch of the Great South Bay benefiting the Hospice Care Network Children’s and Family Bereavement Program. The race is named for a young area lifeguard who passed away shortly before being able to compete in the Cross Bay Swim. The competition is a testament to her compassion and memory.

The starting point of the swim is on Long Island’s famed Fire Island National Seashore barrier beaches, just steps away from the iconic lighthouse. The nearby Fire Island inlet will be at flood tide at the 7am starting gun, giving the mighty Atlantic Ocean a strong voice early in the competition. After tacking through shoals, support boats, and buoys, the swim ends at an indistinguishable spec on the horizon, Gilbert Park in Brightwaters.

Some of the competitors are past swimming champions. Others are family teams. Some competitors are very experienced having competed over decades. Others, like me are brand new to the sport.

Preparing and competing in the Cross Bay swim has been an incredible voyage. I look forward to sharing what went into the preparations, my observations, and lessons learned over the next several posts. Keep reading!

Why I Entered the 5.25 Mile Cross Bay Swim

I didn’t set out to swim 5.25 miles. It just sort of turned out that way. I was coming off 2 injury-plagued years that had interrupted my regular bodybuilding routines. Even without the forced pause, I had been getting bored with the monotony of the gym. I needed something different. I found that ‘something different’ in February of 2008.

From Bodybuilder to Injured Fat Ass to Long Distance Swimmer

Before I started swimming A short list included, but was not limited to the following; a collapsed foot arch, broken accessory navicular bone in one foot courtesy of flag football; a series of micro tears in my rotator cuff from driving fence posts through red Carolinian clay; and medical poisoning coupled with an awful reaction to poison ivy that had left me roughly 35 pounds over my norm. Finally, having my big toe bent 180 degrees the wrong way tearing cartilage and stretching tendons forced me to try to find something else to do.

With my foot problems, running was out. I had spent the last 8 months rehabbing my shoulder regaining range of motion simulating exercises like bench press, pull ups, and curls with a 5 lbs broom handle. Doctors had told me that part of the cause for the injury was that I had not equally developed all three heads of the deltoid and had totally neglected my rotator cuff. Years of bench press, military press, etc will do that to you if you favor chest workouts over back workouts.

I was overweight and had multiple injuries, still, I wanted to get better. My size and my limited mobility had severely impacted my appearance, temperament, and, as a result, my quality of life. I had started to make choices of what I was spending my time doing, whom I was spending my time doing it with as a result of being fat and immobile. Something had to change.

Enter swimming.

I’m not sure exactly what it was that made think of swimming as the perfect solution but whatever it was, I’m glad it got me into the YMCA pool. By swimming I was able to combine resistance exercise with cardiovascular exercise and flexibility training. The motions of swimming require total involvement of the shoulder addressing that part of my rehabilitation. While swimming I was weightless thus alleviating the issues with my feet. The best part about swimming was that it was fun! I had learned to swim at an early age and my best days are generally recounted at some beach or other. Here was a workout that was challenging and I loved to do! Brilliant!

The contest.

Some people say that my proclivity for extremes is my biggest personality flaw. Others see it as my biggest strength. Either way it was responsible for me declaring that I was going to enter the Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay Swim. 5.5 miles from the Fire Island barrier beach to Long Island in open water fed by the mighty Atlantic ocean.

I had returned from an amazing 2 weeks in Israel and felt more like the old me (pre-2 years of injuries) than I had in a while. Travel has an amazing way of opening all sorts of new doors for people and I am no different. Before leaving for Israel I had been swimming for a mere 3 weeks and was still quite awful at it. Talking to my parents before my departure my father had told me about a friend of his that swam the Cross Bay Swim as part of his own 60th birthday challenge. To me this sounded insane. I could barely make 1 lap (50 meters there and back) in the pool without feeling exhausted. I knew I should be able to keep up with someone more than twice my age. And, with my own 30th birthday around the corner, I knew I could not.

In retrospect it should have been entirely predictable that I was going to end up doing the swim. It neatly follows my personal philosophy of Survive Endure Resist Escape. Survive – getting out of the injury rut. Endure – keep with the swim despite all of life’s obstacles. Resist – use the fruits of your labors as a force multiplier (ex compounding interest). Escape – solve a problem for life while doing things most mortals think is either insane or impossible.

Have you ever signed up for a similar challenge? Have you ever challenged yourself for similar reasons?

5.25 Mile Ocean Swim – in Pictures

It is difficult to comprehend how far 5.25 miles over sea is until you’ve been swimming in open water yourself.

Here’s a photo essay that might help:

Starting point:
Passing the Robert Moses State Bridge:
The Robert Moses State Bridge

Size reference: Here’s the Queen Mary 2 doing the same thing:

Past Sexton Island & Captree Island:
Long stretch across the Great South Bay:

Passing the Great South Bay Bridge:

Closing in to the finish line:

Here’s the course. I’m swimming from the bottom of the pic north: