As my head handler has researched it, the extreme endurance athletes try to accomplish one monumental climb, run or swim before they tackle The Big One. Obviously, there is no logic to completing the Dream epic distance as training. If you had that in you, you'd just do the Dream Event. But they say that half the time or distance is a great barometer of where you stand.
To that end, my core Team and I embarked yesterday morning on a 24-hour swim here at my training camp in St. Maarten in the Caribbean.
Bonnie was here, along with our new Team handler Allison Milgard. Mark Sollinger, our Ops Chief, put together all the logistics: boats, navigation plans, provisions, His wife, Angie, is also one of my handlers. Mark and Angie have been outrageously generous with their commitment of time, resources and deep caring during these long training swims for two years here on the island.
I strode into the ocean, off La Samanna Hotel (one of my sponsors) beach, yesterday at 9:07 a.m. The water was 79 degrees, a bit on the brisk side for me when it comes to these many hours of continuous swimming. Since this was a full "dress rehearsal" for Cuba, we pulled out all the jellyfish gear (my custom suit made by FINIS, an innovative tech swim company) and made sure to use all the feeding a communications we will use coming across from Cuba.
Unlike the Cuba swim, where we will wait for an ideal weather window for the best chance of success, yesterday we embarked on the 24 hours, no matter the conditions... and the conditions were downright cruel. One hour in, the wind whipped up and, except for a few calm hours in the wee morning, it was a battle all day long. I was very seasick, vomited violently two times, tired hard to rehydrate in the water but felt very sick almost the whole way through.
I feared losing consciousness in the night, losing ability to focus on the lights, confused as to where the boat was, hallucinating as to what my surroundings were.
Bonnie was incredible. She somehow talked me into taking down some cold pasta and as much water with electrolytes as my upset system would allow. She told me we needed to get to morning light and then there would be hope. She was right. As the stars were engulfed with the midnight blue of the dawn, I was still very upset to my stomach but it was then that I knew somehow I could keep swimming to the 24-hour mark.
The extreme nausea drained me of strength. And I felt much worse when I tried to put my usual effort into each stroke. Just to make it to the end, I slowed down and made the exertion as light as possible. Frankly, I was hanging on by a mere thread for a few hours there.
But now it's done. I shed some tears on the beach at the end, as you can see here. Actually, the few people who gathered... and my Teammates... did their own share of crying. It's an emotional thing to go through, as well as to witness, when an individual summons the depth of the human spirit.
I wish it had been an easier 24 hours. I had imagined cruising through, buoying me with confidence that 24 hours at this point in my training is almost nothing. Well, it was a big something, this particular 24. I need to be proud of myself for making it, given the very rough seas. I'm certainly proud of my Team. I may look like the lone swimmer out there but, trust me, this is truly a Team expedition, everyone pulling their weight, everyone as heart-driven as I am. It may be extreme and challenging, the prep for Cuba, but it is a joy to throw our best selves into it.
If you haven't yet sipped the TED Kool-Aid, get yourself a straw. I've been a public speaker for 35 years now but hit the Mt. Everest of conferences when I spoke for the TEDMED group this past October.
I have known Coach Summitt over these many years. I stand in awe of what she has accomplished on the hard courts, and now equally in awe of how she plans to manage her disease in public, with the hopes of showing all of us that there can be grace and maybe even victory once the diagnosis has been issued.