Perseverance

I would like to dedicate this post to Wallingford Elementary School.  They invited me to speak this past Friday, October 3rd and it was one of the best experiences of my life. The school theme for this year is Perseverance and I was asked to come and speak about my English Channel Swim as a part of that.  I pondered the topic for a while.  I mean… how can I help a school full of children to learn to persevere?  I was delighted to come up with the following four elements of perseverance and it seemed like a revelation well worth sharing.  This is basically the presentation I gave to WES, modified slightly, and without some of the swim details and facts or video presentation I made for them.

On September 1st, 2014 at about 4:40 in the morning, my hand turned around in its normal swimming stroke and struck something.  Sand.  It was the sand of a French beach!  I was so excited, I jumped to my feet.  I had been swimming non-stop since 11 am the morning before when I left Shakespeare Beach in England.  I hadn’t ever left the water since starting.  I hadn’t had much to eat.  I hadn’t spoken to very many people.  It had been dark in the sky and black in the water for hours upon hours after the sunset. I had been fighting the cold, cold sea and navigating her very strong tides with my boat and crew beside me… just swimming… turning my arms around and around and around…   I had been very, very sick for most of the night.

But when my hand touched the sand, I knew I made it.  I knew that all my hard work was worth it.  I had persevered and it got me to the other side.

I’m sure you all know what Perseverance is by now. The dictionary defines it as:

  • steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

It’s kind of easy to define perseverance, but how do you get it?  Where does it come from?  I was thinking about it and I came up with four ways that I found perseverance within myself.  It came gradually.  It took years of making myself strong.  Not just physically strong – I developed strength of heart, strength of mind, strength of body, and strength of spirit.

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The English Channel: Grit

This is the third part of my English Channel swim.  You can read the first one here.  And the second one here.

“It’s always too early to quit.”

- Norman Vincent Peale -

 

On I went.  I was focusing on what I could do to keep myself going.  What can I take in?  Can I keep it down?

I was losing the battle against my body.  It became harder and harder to keep things down.  It seemed that everything that hit my stomach came back up almost immediately.

I can’t be that far from France…

And then.  Somewhere. In the midst of the vomit and the stars. I looked up toward the boat and saw a light way far to the right of us.  I couldn’t tell you how long it had been or how many feeds I’d had or how many times I threw up since David told me to pick up the pace…  but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the light I now saw far, far to my right was the one I had been swimming toward, before.

I knew it was the Cap.

I knew I missed it.

Whatever.

And I didn’t give it a second thought.  I just kept swimming.

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The English Channel: Patience

Part Two of my English Channel swim.  You can read the first part here.

 

“If your determination is fixed, I do not counsel you to despair.  Few things are impossible to diligence and skill.  Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.”

- Samuel Johnson -

 

As night began to fall on my English Channel swim, I steeled my mind for it.  I thought about my brothers, especially Nathan and Seth.  I pictured them by my sides, the way they have always been there throughout my life.  I thought about their families.  I felt them carrying me into the night.  I began to sing Stephanie’s songs.  I sang Oceans.  I could hear Tara’s voice in my ears…

For I am yours and you are mine.

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The English Channel: Courage

“If you have the courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed.”

- David Viscott -

 

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I’m doing this, I thought as I sat on the back of the Seafarer II ready to jump into the English Channel to begin my swim.  It was just before 11 am on August 31st, 2014.

I am actually doing this!

And when Mike Oram gave me the okay to swim to shore, I jumped into the water with a final, “Here we go!”

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“Here we go!”

I swam to shore and clambered up on Shakespeare Beach to see Judy’s beaming face awaiting me.  I wanted to throw my arms around her and ask if she could believe it!  This is happening!  But I was gross and greasy in my layers of bag balm and focused on the boat and starting the swim.  I know I looked around, but I don’t remember absorbing the details of much of anything.

I was just so excited.  So nervous.  Hoping… just hoping…

I raised my hand over my head, quivering with readiness and anticipation.  There was no quiet reflection, no pause.  I was all forward motion, all readiness and its accompanying passion.  This is what I came here to do.  And I know that I can do it.  And I will.  My crew and the boat crew counted down from 5.  The boat horn blew.  I waved goodbye to Judy, and I jumped into the waters of the English Channel to begin my swim to France.

When I put my face in the water to start the swim, I entered an onslaught of nervous dark thoughts, fears, and concerns.  I was so surprised to not be my normal happy go lucky self.

Why are you doing this?  You’re never going to make it all the way, you know that.  Why are you even trying?  You totally set yourself up for failure…

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Dover Harbour in the background

I was second guessing my decision to go as soon as possible.  I had absolutely jumped at the first opportunity to swim.  That’s what you do in marathon swimming – if the weather is good to go, you go.  Mike Oram had tried to fill his Sunday late morning slot on the Sea Farer II with a swimmer and I was the only one willing.  The weather was gorgeous and what wind there was currently would die down at night, leaving me with a calm, smooth sea.  However, it meant I would swim most of the day and finish in the night.  It looked like the weather would be good for days and in my mind I would have preferred to start the swim at night and swim into the day.  I was nervous about the night portion of the swim because I’m a little bit afraid of the dark sometimes.  No matter what, though, I was going to be swimming in the English Channel at night.  And I would much rather wrestle with my mind than unknown weather a few days away.  This is what all my training told me to do – swim at the first opportunity.

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Oceans

“You call me out upon the waters.

The great unknown, where feet may fail.

And there I find you in the mystery.

In oceans deep, my faith will stand.

And I will call upon your name.

And keep my eyes above the waves.

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace.

For I am yours, and you are mine.”

Oceans, Hillsong United -

 

I can swim the English Channel.  I know that.

I didn’t know it the first time I jumped into the pool 4 years ago.  I don’t have to do anything.  I can just be me.  I wasn’t trying to be a swimmer or an athlete or to get anywhere or across anything.  I was just being me.  Alone.  In my own head and heart and spirit.  And liking it.

I didn’t know it during that first event I ever swam in my entire adult life – 8 miles in Lake Champlain.  But I knew with certainty: I can do this. I can swim. I am strong. I can be me. Here. Now. In this. I can.

I didn’t know it at the end of that first 10 mile Kingdom Swim. When I stood up to an unexpected hillside of cheering people as I came in last. Last. And that’s okay. Because I’m me. That’s worth celebrating.

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