Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Great Ohio River Swim - Finding Stregth in the Middle of the Ohio River

The calm before the storm. 

You can feel the anticipation. I feel my heart beating on the inside of my chest as if it is trying to claw its way out. The sun begins to peak over the tops of the trees in a brilliant splash of reds and oranges. It's as if the very tops of the trees are on fire. The hanging fog begins to recede from its home on the top of the river. The air smells of water. There is calm, there is quiet as I pull my goggles over my eyes and get ready to jump in.

That was the scene on September 28, 2014, as 150 people jumped into the Ohio River to begin the Great Ohio River Swim. It is a 3/4 mile swim starting on the Ohio side of the river in Cincinnati, Ohio, then swimming across to the Kentucky side and back. I can honestly say this is one of the most memorable experiences I have had in my journey so far and one I will definitely never forget.  
There are many different reasons for doing the swim, each one as diverse as the swimmers themselves, But they all have the same goal... TO FINISH! To say that they have done something that few would dare, and even fewer have.
Alright, so I know most of you are going "EWWWWWW!!! Good luck with the extra fingers and toes or say hi to the mutant catfish!" The truth is, that day, the water quality was perfect. I am pretty sure I did slap a catfish on the swim to the Kentucky side of the river. I cannot however say for sure that it was not a mutant, carried a weapon, knew karate, or loved pizza. 
My heart was pounding as I jumped into the water and found it surprisingly warmer than expected. The worst part of the day was waiting to start, clinging to the side of the Serpentine Wall like a crazed mountain climber. Before too long, the gun sounded and in a fury limbs and river water we were all off. I was trying desperately to keep from getting kicked with a foot while other swimmers were trying to swim over top of me. The first 100 yds. were absolute pandemonium.
Then the group separated and things began to calm as every got into their stride. This was nothing like swimming laps in the pool like I had done in training. There was no turn around rest every 25 yds. like there was in the pool. So I would need to elongate my strokes and be sure to rest for just a second each time my arm moved forward. I made it a point to reduce the speed of my flutter kick to conserve energy for the swim ahead. I got into my rhythm and kept at it: "Stroke, kick, stroke, kick, stroke, breath, kick." And so on I went.
I kept looking to my side to see where I was in relation to one of the two bridges that spanned the Ohio River where the swim was taking place. I was using it as a guide to determine where I was and how far downstream the current had so far carried me. I was right on track, but only half way to the turnaround and I was starting to feel tired. This is that point in every race where the mind starts playing tricks on you and asking why in the world you thought jumping into the freezing Ohio River on a Sunday morning, getting some diseased, and growing and extra toe was remotely a good idea. I could see the headlines now, BLOATED CARCASS FOUND WASHED ASHORE DOWN RIVER.
It was at this time I pause for a second. "I AM NOT GOING DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT. THEY SAID I WAS CRAZY. THEY SAID I COULDN'T DO IT. I AM DOING THIS. I WILL DO THIS!" With that I put my head down and kept on the whole time humming that fun disco hit Stayin Alive. Kind of ironic really because doing this swim made me feel more alive than I had felt in some time. Before I knew it, I was turning around the buoy and with a swift kick to the guy trying to swim over me, I was off to the finish.
The slippery exit ramp. I'm the one in the yellow cap!
I can honestly say that the longest 100 yds. of my life were the ones right before the finish. It seemed as though no matter how hard I saw I was just putting along. Finally with a last burst of energy I hit the ramp. I was trying so very hard not to fall once I reached the ramp. It was covered with algae and every all morning had been slipping on it I had been told. I lucked out and only stumbled before I was caught and steadied by a volunteer helping on the ramp. With a quick 50 ft. run I crossed the finish line relieved and completely beside myself over what I had just done.
Looking back it still seems like an amazing dream. An adventure shared with no one other than my innermost desires. Thank God for pictures. I have the proof it actually happened, or I may not even believe it. I finished the swim in 16:52. I got 6th place in my age group out of thirteen swimmers. I placed 48th overall out of the 150 swimmers who participated. All in all it was an amazing race considering those that beat me were all members of swim teams. The kicker here is that I know I can do better. I WILL DO BETTER. Look out because next year I will be back.
Grateful to be done. I can't believe I just did that.
The Great Ohio River Swim was an amazing experience. I did far better than I could have ever imagined. The people organizing the race and all of the participants were very friendly and accommodating. My goody bag included an awesome hat (Pictured Below), a swim cap, and various bits of marketing swag. I would highly recommend this race to any swimmer wanting to push themselves a little and reach beyond what they never thought possible. It is the experience of a lifetime and If you need a partner. I will happily train to swim with you.