I know this Lake, I thought to myself. I know these waters. I know all the roads that lead me to it. I know these towns. I know this place. This is where I became a swimmer. This is where I will go farther than I’ve ever gone before. This is home.
This is home.
Newport, VT to Magog, QC. 25 miles. A dozen or more friends and family to see me off into the night. Midnight. And a darkness I faced with no fear or hesitation. I have David and Natalie, after all. I have them. I won’t be alone. I’ve never been alone.
No moon in sight. The stars were silent in the distance. I felt myself their reflection with my lights on my goggles as they were. I made them a deal – you be the stars in the sky, I will be the star in the water.
The three of us swimmers, we slipped into the night; not to see each other again until the other side. The other side. We’ll get there. We’ll be there. For each other. All so different, all so separate; it was not a race. It was a challenge of each unto himself.
To me, it was a dance. A long awaited dance. Something I was born for. A moment destined. I just knew. I just knew, this time, after all the lessons I’ve learned and the conditions I’ve faced and all the times I didn’t make it for whatever reason… I knew I would make it here. Because I was home.
How could I not laugh and sing and feel comfortable? Watch me go! Nathan and Jenah’s nail polish name stuck in my head. Watch me go!
Even as the night wore on and my eyes fell heavy. I was all joy. This sleepy will pass, I know. My happiness will not. I love this. I just love this. Clothed in such a perfect moment, hidden in the night and sheltered by her, the people I most want by my side when I swim watching after me; I felt positively iridescent and confessed to it.
I love this. I just love swimming.
My back began to hurt and call my attention from the songs I was singing and the happy thoughts I was thinking and the people I carried with me in my heart. I didn’t want the distraction and asked for some Advil to remedy it. It never came back again and I laughed to myself as it disappeared with the night.
I was so grateful. My body fairly quivered with gratitude to be here, doing this. The road that led me here. The people that lined the path. Natalie and David, sitting in little more than a beer can on the water beside me. I felt bad for them and that I demanded so much from them and wondered what possesses a person to be so passionate for somebody else’s success and dreams…
But I would do it, too. I told myself. I hope I get to do it for someone. Someone else from Rutland, VT. Someone who knows this as home.
And the dawn, she was waking gray in the sky. Farewell to the night. Natalie and David’s silhouettes framed perfect by such a lovely light. That picture, their postures turned toward me, the mountains and the morning and hope of sunshine and light and the dark; I will always carry it in my heart. Not a camera in the world can capture it.
I thought to myself the hardest part was past when the dawn came. I thought it come and gone. All I had left was to keep going until the other shore. It wasn’t so far away now. Not really.
Both my shoulders began to hurt, a dull, aching, sore kind of feeling. It’s not so bad, I told myself. It’s not as bad as Tampa Bay. Some Advil and I could keep going.
Songs were still singing in my head:
“… I ain’t lookin’ for a free ride home, back to the middle. I need a new locale. [...] I need somewhere I can drive all night…” (Drive all Night, Needtobreathe)
“…In the sea that’s painted black, creatures lurk below the deck, but you’re a King and I’m a Lionheart. A Lionheart.” (Lionheart, Of Monsters and Men)
“…I move slow and steady, but I feel like a waterfall. Yeah, I move slow and steady, but I feel like a waterfall…” (Slow and Steady, Of Monsters and Men)
“…End over end, end over end, end over end, we will begin…” (End over End, Foo Fighters)
“… for worthiness is worth worthiness…” (Worthiness, Stephanie Bosch)
I watched the morning light growing and thought to myself what a privilege it was: to spend a day from its infancy so close to nature. To get to know a body of water so intimately. To traverse its length and to court it. To spend a day more swimming than not. What an honor. I get to live this life! I just get to live this life.
This is my life.
My shoulder pain came and went and came back. I felt well enough, besides. It wasn’t like Tampa Bay. I could keep swimming. I could keep swimming. … Did I ever know a time when I couldn’t? I made jokes to myself and Natalie and David and smiled and laughed. I felt so good.
Natalie kept holding up a sign to ward off boats that said, “Caution: Race in Progress”.
“You didn’t tell me there was a race today!” I laughed at Natalie at our next feeding.
“There is!” Natalie said. ”And I know this girl and she’s in first.”
I was surprised by that. It was just not something I expected to hear… Um… ever.
“…Is anybody still swimming?”
“Sarah is,” Natalie said.
I was so glad to hear that! I got to see Sarah start her double crossing yesterday afternoon. Natalie, David and I had been the only three to see her off. Gosh, and to watch her start! To be a part of that moment! To know she was still out there. Of course, I could keep going. Of course, I could.
Sometime later, I could see an island ahead of me. I knew that island. I knew it. And I knew where I was, I thought. My shoulders ached. But not as bad as Tampa Bay. It was not that sharp, stabbing pain. Maybe I don’t know what pain is…
“You don’t want to know how far you are, do you?” Natalie asked.
“Am I ten miles away?” I asked.
“Close,” David said.
“Further than ten miles?” I asked.
“By about a hundred yards,” David replied.
It’s only a Kingdom Swim, I thought. It’s only a Kingdom Swim to the finish now. And it won’t take you 7 hours and 43 minutes and 27 seconds like it did that first year. Only 10 miles to go.
I put my face back in the water and kept swimming. I watched the world from the water’s edge. I watched David bailing out the bottom of the boat. My first thought was that he was bored. There was nothing wrong, nothing to be worried about – nothing at all. He was just bailing out the boat, because he was bored. I watched as the police escort I acquired hunted down speeding boats with flashing lights and took it upon themselves to assure our safety. I watched the pontoon boat come in to David and Natalie and make sure that David wasn’t trying to murder her. He’d only been telling one of his jokes and become very animated. I could see the smiles, but the pontoon boat couldn’t.
And somewhere in the midst of my happy-becoming-fatigued-and-slightly-silly-shoulder-pained swim, I suddenly felt ill. My mouth filled with bile and I spit it out. It happened so suddenly that my brain had to catch up. Is my stomach upset? I guess it is. I guess, it doesn’t feel so great at all. Did I just throw up? Well, it wasn’t chunky. But you haven’t eaten anything, of course it wouldn’t be chunky! I know I don’t prefer my drink mix, I know I’ve had trouble getting myself to swallow it, but I didn’t think it was as bad as all this…
I could hardly bear the thought of drinking it again. I stumbled through my explanation of what happened at the next feeding. Everything else was fine. I was fine. I just didn’t feel so great. We tried, as best we could, for the next few hours, to remedy my stomach problems. Every other feed, it would go down and then make its way back up. I determinedly swallowed it back down. I didn’t want to become dehydrated. I knew I still needed to drink the stuff or I wouldn’t finish.
I watched David mixing my feed with dread as I swam. He would tumble it from one bottle to the next, add antacid or advil or whatever. I like my feed shaken, not stirred, I managed to laugh to myself. That reminded me of Seth, who had painted his toenails Golden-I. That warmed my heart some. And Phil had painted his gold too – Heart of Gold. Deb had painted her toenails red – You Can Do It red. Cliff had painted his toes red, too! And Catherine with Armed and Over the Edge. Goodness, we were there, now… so far over the edge.
…Who knew those names would mean so much to me?
As the day wore on and the sick feeling got worse, the songs faded. The joking stopped. I was so deep. So deep inside myself. I was thinking, “I can do this.” I was thinking, “It’s not so bad.” I was wondering how much farther. I was wondering how much longer. I was wrestling to keep myself from throwing up and the shoulder pain that came and went and mostly stayed now, a constant pressure.
I choked down my feed each time and had to clamber back up out of my deep place to answer David and Natalie’s questions.
“Hey Bethany,” David began after what I knew was a slow, plodding mile. “Where were you born?”
“Medford, Oregon,” I answered.
I don’t know if he was surprised or not but he asked, “Why?”
“Because my parents wanted to have a baby and a road trip at the same time.” I answered.
We all laughed at that. But I was concerned that he was concerned enough that he had asked me one of those questions. I can’t remember if I waited until the next feed or if I asked him just then.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Your stroke rate is dropping,” he said. ”We want to be sure you’re not losing function.”
“I am sleepy,” I confessed. I thought that was a safe enough word; sleepy. I only felt that I had been awake for a very, very long time. I mean, in addition to nauseous and my shoulders hurting.
“Are you cold?” He asked.
“No,” I insisted, somewhat testily. ”I just was awake all night!”
I felt bad for being snappy the second I said it and looked away. But there’s nothing wrong with me, this time. I’m just uncomfortable, that’s all. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. You can’t take me off this lake. I’m not done, yet.
I’m not done, yet.
“It’s our job to ask you questions,” Natalie said.
“I know,” I said as my eyes filled with tears. ”I just should have trained better for this.”
I felt that all of my troubles could have been answered with more training. I would have known the feed didn’t work. I would have avoided the shoulder pain. If I was just stronger. If I had just made more of an effort to swim more. I could have been better prepared. I just could have.
“Hey,” David said. ”It’s 25 miles. The first time, I got out way back at the island back there.”
I nodded. It’s a big lake. It’s a long swim. I put my head back in the water and kept swimming. I was fine. Just uncomfortable. I could keep going. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I could have been better prepared. But how could I have done anything different? We don’t have a pool in Rutland. If we only had a pool in Rutland. I HAVE to build one. I just have to build one! We could have year-round training and kids can grow up learning how to swim and not have to drive an hour and fifteen minutes to the nearest pool. We could have one. So that nobody has to have the problems I have; nobody needs to go through what I’ve gone through to become a marathon swimmer. It has to happen. It just does.
Somewhere just about this time… I felt particularly sick. My body began heaving as if it was going to throw up. But based on our previous conversation and the concerned look on David’s face – I just thought that if I threw up, they would pull me out.
But if you throw up, I thought. They will pull you out and you can be done with this.
The thought was almost trying to be happy. Like, I could have an out. If I was just ACTUALLY sick, I could call it quits and nobody would fault me for that.
I’m not done, yet.
But if you just throw up, Bethany. You could be done.
I’m not done, yet.
But you’re so sick.
I’m not that sick.
I guess you’re not! You’re just a whiner. You just think you are sick and you’re not!
But… I am sick.
It was a tiring back and forth and back and forth in my mind. I kept telling myself I could do it. I kept saying I was okay. It wasn’t that bad. It didn’t hurt that much. I could keep swimming.
The fight slowly wore me down until I couldn’t argue anymore, all I could do was listen.
What if I do throw up? What if they pull me out?
And in that very dark place, I remembered 14-year old Rachel from church talking about her camp experience and how she was so afraid to go on that zipline.
“This is a defining moment for you,” were the words she had heard. ”But if you don’t do it, it won’t define you.”
This is a defining moment, but it does not define you. Whether you make it or not, Bethany Bosch, you’re still Bethany. And everybody loves you just the same, you know that. And you’ll still get across the Channel and you’ll still build a pool in Rutland, Vermont. This is a defining moment, but it does not define you.
Sick or not. Hurt or not. Arguments or not. Whether I make it or not.
I will keep swimming.
I kept looking up to see Natalie just smiling at me. Smiling. From her heart. Like she was actually happy to be sitting there watching me. Like she was so proud of me.
We’re going to finish this, Natalie. We’re going to finish this, David. We’re going to finish this.
I thought back to all the times I swam sick or hurt or miles on end… and I kept swimming. I said I could do it. I said I would get there. I didn’t sing. I joked a little to myself. I answered Natalie and David. I gagged down that feed and I made it stay down. I kept going.
It’s a defining moment, but it does not define you.
And then we were almost there. I could see the buoys through swollen eyes and goggles that were filled with brown sludge from my tears and the lake leaking in and what might have been a budding eye infection. They told me it was my last mile. Better still, they told me it was my last feeding! I was so close.
Then, I realized, I hadn’t said much to either Natalie or David for a long time, and nothing very happy-go-lucky at all.
I popped my head up, “Hey guys! We’re going to finish this thing!”
They both smiled, exclaiming that we were!
There was the shore. There were the buoys. One arm after another. My right shoulder was killing me.
You are almost there. Almost there. Don’t look.
But I couldn’t help it and kept sighting, watching those buoys. I could see the shore beneath me, slowly rising to greet me.
Not yet. Wait for it. Wait for it. How long have you been swimming? What if you can’t stand up? …What if you throw up on everyone?
And then Natalie and David went ahead and beached the boat, jumping out to greet me.
I found the ground and stood up. I took my goggles off, feeling the burning of the pressure being released. I looked around at the crowd cheering. Apostle was there. And Michael and Daniel. And David. And Natalie, waiting to wrap the towel around me.
I smiled and laughed and clapped and lifted my arms over my head despite the pain. I did it! I got here! I did it! I did it. I did.
This is my life.
This is my life.
And to feel the arms around me and the warmth of human hearts and the expressions and exclamations and applause. I’m home. I’m home here. I’m home again.
And I knew my eyes were swollen, and I looked like a mess, and I was in pain and sick to my stomach like I couldn’t believe and so unsteady on my feet… but I believed myself the most beautiful creature in the world just then.
What a moment. What a defining moment. To get across. All the way to the other side. To finish.
To live this life.
To spend a day from its infancy. To court a lake. To keep going. All the way. To find a place of determination deeper than songs or jokes.
17 hours and 11 minutes.
To know that even when conditions change, I am constant.
What a life… what a life it is that I get to live.