Thursday, January 05, 2023

Drawn to water

 “We must believe that we are worthy of our own approval, and then we must give it to ourselves consciously and concretely. . . . .

“A great deal of the difficulty of making art springs from this conviction that what we are at any given moment is not enough. We want to be better, more ready to write before we write. We want to be more in the mood, more inspired, more alive before we try to paint. And yet, over long years of work, it is clear that some of the best writing comes through when we are not feeling struck with light. Some of the finest painting gets done when we just show up at the easel because that is our job. In other words when we practice self-acceptance of where we are and who we are instead of striving, always, to be better.

“We are enough, exactly as we are.”

Julia Cameron, The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch

The swimmer in me both loves and to some extent resists this. Practice means improving, which means I'm not enough as is. The pressure to exceed limits makes us at times so aware of our "not-enough-ness" that how can we possibly assert in the face of that the fact that we are enough, that our value isn't just in progressing in speed or form or endurance but in finding in ourselves and in the water that which gives life.

I have measured my worth as a swimmer by my inability to keep pace with others, master skills as easily as others do. Other swimmers tell me such-and-such drill or skill is important to acquire if you are to be a good swimmer. Or they might say "that's all right. You should be glad you're able to swim.

Neither is productive. Both ignore the longing for the best that's in us.

Aging makes the process more fraught with pain, yet maybe it's aging that will bring us to the water in a better way, letting ourselves flow with it, in it, letting it be our medium of expression in ways the younger, more adept athletes haven't had time to absorb, always hearing the voices of coaches, teammates, the start signals, the hours of practice enclosed in chlorine. 

I look at these swimmers with envy, wonder what it would have been like to be brought along, honored with praise and critiques that sculpt the swimmer, turning her into a coach's work of art --and her own, if she knows it. (Too many swimmers have struggled with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, not knowing their boundaries.)

I worry though as much as any college kid if the coach at a practice ignores me--offering neither challenges that s/he believes I can meet or compliments when I meet them. What if I'm truly alone out there and no one cares how I perform but instead sees me as irrelevant.

In the last couple of days, I've become aware of how much I miss open water, the river currents, the wind rippling the water into waves, the herons, the raptors high overhead whom I gaze at during a backstroke. I do love testing myself in a pool, but notice I'm not doing that for me these days but for someone's approval--and I'm hungry, so hungry--for that approval, yet also need to find my own voice, my own presence, my own (as my USMS forum username would have it) "inner fish." That fish is there, the fish that doesn't care what benchmarks others say she should reach. She's a fish and the water is her nutrient, the water, other fish, plant life, life itself.

Today, feeling discouraged and ignored, I took a much-needed walk to water--the stream near where I live. It's a humble body of water, yet the setting sun draws out its sparkle, its iridescence, its power to transform.

A tennis court turned mirror

Are you the trees or the water or both?

I wish for depth to explore and find where it travels and where salt mixes in.

Still, there is the pool awaiting, greeting us with clouds, sunrises, sky alive with unexpected birds. The pool offers an entrance to the underwater rainbows, the movement of swimmers, their bodies fishlike under the surface, a parade of skin and swimsuits. The pool opens the door to the way the sun and mist mix in water.

My imagination can travel miles, finding where salt mixes in and turns me to ocean.


Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas 2022

In winter

We crossed into a planet made of clouds.

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy

We crossed rivers full of trees, birds

shimmering, splash of pale orange

We crossed fields full of river, surprising

with ripples, language of secret

water, filling with sky. Space. We looked in town.

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy

Found space in the journey.

Filled our jars with water.

Sipped the wine growing there.

Slipped into peace, into river.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

My imperfect take on the Jesus, Mary, and Martha story

Martha and Mary

So I’ve been thinking about these two. An article I came across has an eye-opening perspective. The author re-examines the translation and suggests that Jesus is not necessarily castigating Martha and saying that Mary has the better part, only that she, like Martha, also has “the good part.”

Here’s that article, well worth a read:

However, while I like the reexamination of the passage, I still want to look at the ramifications of seeing it the way I’ve been seeing it—Martha being the busy host, Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet (in the article, this is described as simply a figure of speech to describe disciples in general, so Mary may well not have been literally “sitting at Jesus’ feet, but let me move on to the customary way we look at the passage).

As I keep seeing it, we have one person who’s a doer, gets things accomplished, makes lists, organizes, manages, etc. Then we have her sister, who, in the passage, comes across as something of a daydreamer.

And I can’t help (maybe it’s my perspective) thinking of Mary as “neuro-divergent,” ADHD, whatever. I wonder if she dropped too many pieces of pottery, burned the soup, forgot to buy the rolls, tripped over her gown, was “in the way.” Mary would then feel uncomfortable helping Martha because she had made many such attempts and felt rebuffed. And I won’t say I blame Martha—in my reading of the passage, she might well have felt impatient with her sister’s awkwardness and struggle with practical tasks. She might well have decided it was easier to do it herself than ask for help, yet at the same time resenting having to take on so much herself.

Perhaps when they were growing up, she was (similar to the story of the Prodigal Son) the good child who did things right, didn’t get into trouble, always finished her homework on time, helped her parents—while Mary was the scatterbrained kid, chosen last in gym class, forgetting to get her parents to sign permission slips for this or that activity, staring out the window when the teacher was talking. So the good girl grew up to become the good woman. Her sister grew to become still the dreamer. She didn’t as the son in the other story did ask her parents for her inheritance. She had developed too much of an inferiority complex for that. But she was definitely an outsider. Then along came Jesus who was kind to her, recognized her wisdom, didn’t criticize her for the clumsy mistakes. Of course, when Jesus was around, Mary felt safe emotionally, and was more likely to sit in the living room talking with Jesus and his friends. Martha, ever the organizer, was also feeling like an outsider.

She too needed the recognition that Jesus regularly gave Mary. When she and Jesus talked, it often was on the practical details, the “what time are you arriving tomorrow?” “How many are coming?” Mary, indeed, might secretly envy those discussions, the feeling that her sister was the more necessary of the two, the one Jesus relied on while Mary was the emotionally needy one. I wonder if in this reading, we have her feeling left out, klutzy, useless, in the way when she did try to help.

So where does that leave Jesus? He wants to recognize both women, and perhaps asks Martha to be more understanding of what her sister has to offer. The “good son” who didn’t want to come into the house when his brother returned had the counterpart in the “good daughter” who felt she was doing all the work while her sister was given all the love. In the Prodigal Son story, the father wants them both to join the celebration. He reassures the “good son” that he’s not been forgotten. Perhaps what Jesus says next to Martha (not shown in our story) is “You are both of value.”

We sometimes question our worth when we see others recognized and we’re left out, whether it’s the practical person doing the organizing and feeling s/he gets no credit for it or the neuro-divergent dreamer who feels passed over and scolded when s/he wants to help—and finally retreats to safe places. The brother, with the freedom men have had historically, runs away. He might have felt like a fifth wheel, not really needed.

Both siblings in both stories need to be invited back to the inner circle, learn to recognize each other’s value.

Maybe the take-away is for us each to recognize what we bring to the table, neither dismissing nor envying others their gifts, just claiming our own. Martha had trouble in our usual reading of the passage claiming the gifts she brought, maybe wondering if she was being taken for granted. Mary may have had trouble seeing what she could offer since her gifts didn't fit the neat boxes in which others could place their contributions. What if the sisters could come together and share what they had, learn from each other, stay focused on both their own and their siblings' abilities? What if the brothers in the Prodigal Son story had found each other before the second son left to pursue a dream he probably couldn't define?

We as a society need to be mindful that we can grow so much more by recognizing the diverse gifts each of us has. Howard Gardner's Frames of MInd, which delves into the multiple "intelligences" that people offer, calls attention to the need to recognize that intelligence isn't a single entity that can be easily measured by the usual IQ tests. Maybe in discovering the unique intelligence each human being offers, we can ask of one another and ourselves to share that which makes us valuable to the global community.

This is just my own (maybe neuro-divergent) reading of the passage. I make no claim to be a scripture scholar, although I appreciate the close readings of the scholars. This is simply my experience, my take on the compliant/non-compliant sibling. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

I’m 71 and a virgin. This has nothing to do with my experience in love/lovemaking. That’s none of your business. 😊

However, as a newcomer to the Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival, I was dubbed a "virgin," as were all my fellow newcomers. We entered a world in which the rules of normal society were suspended, however. This event featured escorts, strippers, and hookers. “In quiet Newport, Vermont?” you ask. You might think we’d be the target of a police raid.

Not at all! This was a swim meet. Yes, in February. In Northern Vermont, where one degree Fahrenheit is considered mild if the sun is out and the wind isn’t blowing. What was I saying about normal society?

You might think “What’s a 71-year-old Philly woman doing running around with this wild crowd?” What should I do, stay home, sit in a rocking chair and talk about the good old days? If I were to do that, the good old days would get further and further away until I couldn’t see them anymore. In her poem, “Warning,” Jenny Joseph promises to “make up for the sobriety of my youth” ( While I wouldn’t use “sobriety” to label my youth, it seems silly to set silliness aside now, since I’ve managed to indulge in it this long.

If you’re like me (poor soul!) 😊 and you find yourself musing about a particular event, thinking “I wonder if I could do that,” the answer is that you’re in trouble, because you’re probably going to do just that.

It’s how I went from swimming a mile in a quiet protected bay to swimming an ocean mile (are you kidding? No way! Of course I’ll do it!). This necessarily led to swimming 5 miles (“no way! too long! sure I’ll do it!”) in a choppy bay while suffering from seasickness and saying, “never again” and swimming that same 5 miles seven more times—and along the way deciding that if I could swim five miles, why not eight? or ten? or eleven? The lure of “I wonder if I could do that” is always in the back of my mind!

So when I read posts on Facebook from friends who had participated in the Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival, my first thought was “too cold!” followed by …. “but maybe I could do that.” Swirling through my mind were reports of all the fun people had and how could I not join this wild, raucous adventure? Of course I’ll sign up! A few clicks and I was in the 2021 festival—which had to be virtual due to the pandemic. So fine, I’ll do the virtual event. Even with the limitations of Zoom, it was a riot, as people shared their photos and hats and cold-water adventures. Yes, keep luring me in!

Not to worry, though. Those of us who had entered for 2021 were transferred to the 2022 festival. My appetite was further whetted by participating in the Kingdom 10k Swim—also a Phil White production. I hadn’t planned on the Kingdom Swim. I had planned on going to England to join a Channel relay. However, with the pandemic (yes, again), I would have needed to arrive ten days early and add about $2500 to my stay. It seemed risky too, given the covid cases rising there, so England had to be ruled out. That being the case, fine, I’ll go to NEW England and swim 10k. It was another impulse decision that I’m glad I made and that gave me a preview of that beautiful part of the country.

Of course, I want to swim in the middle of winter when the lake is frozen, and lanes must be cut in the ice! Why do you ask?

 I swim with a Philly-based group, French Creek Racing, and with the pandemic, we took to swimming outdoors year-round. Granted the pool was heated, but getting out wet at 16 degrees at least gave me some prep. I made sure to take my time going from the deck to the locker room, pretending it was a lovely summer day. 

Oddly, my fellow swimmers were skeptical. 

To this, I added some cold showers and nightly guided Wim Hof breathing videos. Still, I admit I was nervous. Other swimmers posted footage of their training ice swims. Would my preparation be enough? Still, let the adventure begin!

From Philly to Boston via Amtrak. From Boston to Hanover via Dartmouth Coach. Meet my friend Maggie Lonergan and on to Newport. The original plan was to leave Philly Thursday, stay overnight with my brother Richard, and make the rest of the trip Friday, but with a snowstorm coming, all involved agreed that getting there Thursday before the snow started was a better choice. Further, it allowed me to sleep late, relax, eventually get ready to join Maggie for the pool ribbon cutting, watch the Sharkbait Sheilas take the inaugural dip, and then off to dinner.

View from my room                            The Pool

One of the "Sharkbait Sheilas" "warming" up the pool for us! ;) 

The video didn't load, but I'll be glad to supply on request.
Video of "Sharkbait Sheilas" enjoying a pre-event dip!

Dinner the night before

It was time to get some sleep and be ready to roll in the morning! I was signed up for four events, three of which would take place Saturday.


The first was the hat swim, an untimed swim/costume hat contest. I chose a white rabbit hat complete with bunny ears, worn over a swim cap. 

Swimmers ready?

                                                GO! Frozen Hare--Newport Edition!


Just keep swimming!

This choice because

1. My swim coach, John Kenny, put on an event on 2/25 called the Frozen Hare. Since I was going to attend this Vermont swim shindig and so wouldn’t be present for the Frozen Hare, it seemed only right to channel my team and be literally a frozen hare (well, not entirely literally—I am, after all, human).

2. Warmth. There were some immensely creative costume hats and I salute the winners of the hat contest. But a (fake) furry hat seemed a more practical choice for a newbie. According to the science, a warm hat retains heat and I needed whatever retained heat I could get.

3. Listen to the Jefferson Airplane's song "White Rabbit" to get the idea of the state of mind needed to sign up. 😀

                                                            Almost go time!

When I stepped down the small wooden ladder and into the water, my first thought was “well, it’s not as cold as I expected. I can deal with this.” Four or five strokes later: Yeah. It actually is.” Still, by then, I was committed (or some say, should be committed, which I won’t debate). That temperature, about 30ish degrees, didn’t take my breath away, really—but I felt as if I was in a slow-motion video. The water clawed its chilly way into my muscles and bones. As hard as I worked, I could feel the water’s vise grip tightening around me. “Just keep moving,” I told myself. “You WILL get there. It’s only 25 meters, even if it feels like 2500 meters.”

Oh and here’s where the escorts, the strippers, and the hookers come in—admit it, you scrolled down the page to find out! 

The escorts walked with us from the restaurant to the “pool” (i.e. swim lanes cut in ice) and, after we finished swimming, accompanied us back to the marina where we could change into dry suits/clothes. The strippers helped us remove and later put on our parkas and shoes (we were minimalist—coat over swimsuit, because the idea was to take as little time with the undressing/dressing part as possible, the sooner to finish and warm up. Hookers? This was not about exchanging cash in seedy hotel rooms. Instead, a person carrying a long stick with a hook walked alongside the lane, keeping an eye on the swimmer to ensure that s/he was safe. In case of difficulty, the hook could be used to pull the swimmer out. (It should be noted that no one needed to be pulled out, but we were all grateful that they were there watching over us.)

During the walk back, the escorts asked me questions to determine whether I was with it or about to pass out. (Fortunately, these were easy questions, such as where I was from, why I was swimming—my reason: I’m crazy, of course! These contrast with John Kenny’s approach to asking compos menti questions, such as “what caused the fall of the Ottoman Empire?”).

Apparently, they thought I was with it, conscious, etc. Once I reached the shelter of the marina, a lovely woman was there with a small tub of warm water for my feet and microwaved socks filled with rice and tied so as to place on our necks or hands. Once we warmed up enough, we could shower/change, and return to the restaurant.

My second swim, the 25m freestyle felt easier because I’d already gotten the feel of the water (cold… did I mention that it was cold?), and with freestyle, I could swim a little faster than the breaststroke I swam to keep the rabbit hat in place. But getting my face in the water? I was about halfway before I could get the nerve to do that, and only because I thought I could get to the end faster by doing so. Still, I won’t make Katie Ledecky envious—that’s all I’ll say about my form. While the first swim felt harder and the warming process easier, it was the opposite in the second race. I needed more time to warm up and was much more uncomfortable. Still, I knew that would pass, and I’d warm up and be fine—and so I was.

Between events, there was a lunch break, and I made a couple mistakes with that: 1. If you’re swimming right after lunch, maybe the shrimp basket and fries won’t be the best choice. It takes too long to get something like that, and the time to eat it was too short as a result. (But the shrimp and fries were tasty, so I won’t regret this too much!); 2. Having everything ready to go before lunch prevents unnecessary rushing and forgetting stuff after lunch.

True there was a ceremony and group picture before my afternoon event, the 50 freestyle, so I thought that would give me a little more time. The ceremony was poignant: people bought biodegradable ribbons and put the name of someone they wanted to memorialize. The ribbons were then dropped in the water. We had a moment of silence for Ukraine. The spiritual energy of this was profound.  

That said, I started the 50 free having rushed and was a little stressed as a result. Still, I thought, I’ll feel better once I swim. That lasted 25 meters. At both ends of the lanes, there are platforms that we stand on before starting to swim (those doing more than one lap started at the end closer to shore, while those doing one lap started at the end further from shore. The object was to have at least a little bit less distance to walk back to shelter). 

I felt colder than I had in the other two swims, but thought I could eke out a second lap—except bumping into the platform, along with being colder than before, startled me and suddenly, it felt too much. I needed to stop. At which point, very kind volunteers helped me out and guided me into my parka. While disappointed in myself, wishing I’d been able to finish, I was very much moved by the gentleness they showed, especially Charlotte Brynn, an exceptionally strong marathon and ice swimmer and coach. Charlotte reminded me to focus on the positive: not I didn’t finish two laps, but I did finish one lap. She also complimented me on my stroke, "so smooth!" 

When I got to the marina and realized I’d forgotten my bag with a change of clothes, she went off to retrieve it. This was above and beyond because there were several rooms in the restaurant, and although I did my best to describe the bag and its location, I wasn’t sure how articulate I was given I was still chilly. But she returned with the bag. Officially she’s an angel on earth!

That evening, over a delicious dinner, we were treated to award presentations. To my surprise, along with a few other women seventy and over, I received a generous award—thermal mugs—and we all were presented with sashes that said “Sassy 70s.” I was the “kid” in the group, having turned seventy the most recently and was in awe of these amazing role models. The other women had much more experience in winter swimming than I did, and some pretty serious marathon swims.

We newcomers or “virgins” received patches to welcome us to the winter swimming tribe.

                                                                My sash--and my beer! :) Enjoying Phil's wit!

Awards of maple syrup, “woodles” (medals made of wood), and other prizes were given to the winners of races and of the hat competition. What a variety of creative hats! I admired them all—and would have found it hard to be a judge in that contest because there were so many to whom I’d have awarded first place!

When we stepped out of the restaurant, we were treated to a fireworks display, as all of Newport was celebrating a winter festival.

Sunday promised to be busy. I had to check out, as I was going to Hingham that day. Thank you, Ted Hirsch, for offering the ride and  Phil White for putting out the email blast that secured me a ride. I was signed up for the 25 butterfly, which I seriously considered scratching, as it seemed things could get rushed. However—and another thank you to Ted for talking me into not scratching—I decided to swim after all. As Ted suggested, I wouldn’t want to leave wondering if I could have done it, and I needed a finish to make up for the DNF in the 50. After all, it was only 25 meters (ha, only! I knew by then what 25 meters in 30 degrees felt like!). I was also told if you find you need to switch to breaststroke don’t worry.

My thought: I wanted to finish alive. So after a few initial butterfly strokes with the cold stiffening me up, I shifted to breaststroke, with a couple of weak attempts at butterfly.

Once back in the marina, I noticed that my legs were brilliant hot pink—a look I wanted to preserve since the color set off my black and white suit so nicely. But no--at this writing, my legs are now their normal color. Pretty color while it lasted!

How in the world had I managed to swim 200 fly in a meet in January and 400 IM a week later when I couldn’t do fly for even a lap? I say that not from self-judgment, but from a sense of wonder at what that level of cold can do to the body. Nature is tough—marvelously tough! The 200 fly and the 400 IM were swum indoors. Say no more!

I’m no speedster, but this winter meet for me was not about speed. It was about learning, about survival, about friendships, about the generosity of so many—the volunteers, who spent hours in the cold, whereas we could go out, swim, and retreat indoors to warm up, or those who took the time to warm us up indoors, caring for us like their own children—about being vulnerable yet powerful and learning the power of nature; about our race director, Phil White, who rejoices in this celebration of swimmers and volunteers, acts as combination Master of Ceremonies, guardian of swimmer safety, stand-up comedian, and all-around good soul.


Next post: bonus trip to see my brother Rich in Hingham!

Bonus trip—

Spent the night in Hingham at my brother Rich’s. We feasted on pizza, beer, and ice cream, had family Zoom/game night (first time I participated from his place), where for the first time, I won 6 Nimitz, then dozed off. The next day, we relaxed over breakfast, then Rich drove me around on a sightseeing tour around Hingham and Hull. We shared memories of Saltaire and so much more, had some lunch, and then Rich dropped me off at the ferry to Boston and Amtrak, then headed off to work. 

Thanks, Rich for taking such good care of your thawing sister! Here are some photos from Hingham... have more, but Google wouldn't let me add them. Will try putting them in the comments.


Walk along the waterfront

Ancient military installation in Hull

Boston Light--the start of my relay in 2015, looking across from Hull

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas 2021 Daring to hope in an uncertain time


It was time to find where 

the light left off.

There were hide and seek games.

Clouds parting like tabernacle curtains. Music

from an unknown source. We followed

strangers who told stories. A refugee

family greeted us. We remember,

the gaze that held us softly.


May your journey, wherever it leads, lead to light and goodness.


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Passover 2021--a poem I wrote a while back that just resurfaced

Elijah’s Cup


A cup of waiting

wine celebrates surprises

Elijah might

disturb the still

air, slipping through

the slightly open door.


He might come, they say, as if

speaking of an old friend, long ago moved

to another town and come back, like an old

college roommate or lover.


Save a glass of wine for him. Save

a plate of dinner to microwave

for him. Save memories like pictures

in an old album to show him, laughing

at the hairstyles and funny clothes.

Did we really dress like that?


He is here

in our waiting eyes,

in our wishes for lost time, in dreams

of a future we magically,

despite missed appointments and scraped knees,

embrace with hope—in a present made

perfect with found pennies,

crocuses, friends.

Diane McManus

I wrote this poem in response to a seder I attended at my old friend Bonnie Baillis's house. The idea that a glass of wine was set out for someone expected who might come intrigued and delighted me. Each of us poured a little of our wine into the cup. We were instructed not to pour ALL our wine in because everyone should have a chance to give, and no one should be depleted. Finding the poem recently was a special treat, although I want to revise it more--and suggestions for revision are welcome.

Monday, September 14, 2020

 River Day and weekend—Sept. 12 and 13

Two lovely swimming days, one long, one short!

Saturday, Sept. 12: River Day, a French Creek Racing event, encompassing a 5k, mile, and 800m swim plus a swim/run/swim, consisting of an 800 swim/5k run/800 swim. People could choose any or all of the above.

First, BIG thanks to John Kenny and an amazing crew of volunteers, as always. Without their dedication and support, these races couldn’t be held. And they’ve been highlights of my summer!

I originally signed up for the three swims (not the swim/run/swim—I’m too out of practice running for that one).

The 5k? My SLOWEST ever. I seem to recall by watch saying 3:11, but I saw 3:15 on the official result. No matter. Let’s just say it could be timed with a sundial. My mistake? Hadn’t practiced using the swim buoy/tow float to hold water/gels—at one point I opened it to take water and a gel.

For those unfamiliar with this device, used by swimmers to increase visibility—also, if desired, to rest on when needed, as it inflates—and to store refreshments and other items, here’s a video:

Note that the gent in the video mentions that he puts his phone in a waterproof container before putting it into the “dry” compartment. “Dry.” Yes, he actually said that.

 In my case, …. Not dry. When I opened it to get to my water and a gel, it must not have closed it tightly enough. Swimmers, I’m sure you’ve seen devices like this:

So … it turns out that the New Wave Swim buoy can also work the say way. (Perhaps a good tool to take to the pool as well as open water. Fill up storage compartment with water.)

Let’s just say: DRAG!

So instead of being unhappy that I had a very slow 5k swim and missed the mile start, I’ve decided to put a positive spin on the swim: STRENGTH TRAINING, YES!

Also, I got to experience a river I love for a longer time—my favorite, beautiful river that has sustained me all summer. Yesterday, it was especially lively. We had an oblong course, three one-mile loops, half upstream, half downstream. The upstream part wasn’t too difficult, since the flow rate was fairly light. The section leading to the first turn was shallow and required care so I wasn’t hitting my feet against the rocks only a foot or so under me. The downstream part… unexpected chop, as the wind was blowing upstream and roiling up the water. During the first lap, it was somewhat startling. I’m used to chop along the coast in bays and oceans. To find it in the Schuylkill – whoa, what’s this?? However, given that it was going to be what I’d have, I decided to enjoy it. It was a fun roller coaster ride, gentle compared to last year’s Cedar Island swim, but frisky for the Schuylkill.

I was well behind the others, which I decided had to be okay since I didn’t see myself catching up. Some of those in my wave were the speedsters, so they would be done and showered before I was half finished. Instead, I settled into a pace I wouldn’t regret after half a mile. Or a mile. I probably took it too easy—59 minutes for the first mile. At this point, I stopped for water, and I thought the water and gel had done their work and I’d picked up the pace, but when I reached the second mile, nope… no faster, even though I felt as if I was pushing harder. (Swim buoy as swim parachute, remember?)

Since I hadn’t gained any time, it was time for mistake number 2… “what? No faster? I’d better not stop!”

Well, it didn’t take long to recognize that this wasn’t wise. I get leg cramps while swimming, and usually they seize up my leg for a moment and then release their grip. I rarely have to stop. But before I even reached the first turn buoy, my leg cramped so badly, I thought I’d have to call for help. Fortunately, the cramp calmed down and I was able to keep going. After successfully negotiating the first turn and heading downstream, those cramps would be my steady companion. While I was able to slip through some of them, others would shut me down and reduce me to treading water until they let me go. As I passed the start/finish area, I thought of bagging this swim and returning to shore. But then it occurred to me: what if I didn’t get to do any of the other swims I signed up for? What if this one was the only one I’d get to finish. I wasn’t going to leave without at least one swim finished. If I missed one or even two more, so be it. I was going to finish this 5k.

Furthermore, I still loved being in the river—the chop, the sun shining on the water, rhythm of breathing—this was home.

Finally, 800m turn buoys came into view—it would be only a quarter mile from there to the finish. I swam harder as I got closer…. Closer… Closer. Touched the dock. Finished.

At first, I thought I’d missed the start not only of the mile but the 800. Fortunately, I still had 25 minutes before my 800 heat. After some chugs of Gatorade, 2 protein bars, and a bottle of XRCel (, I was ready to take on a second swim (and it didn’t hurt that the swim would be only a fraction of the previous distance).

For the 800, I pushed my pace harder since I didn’t have to keep too much in reserve. Once I was headed downstream, I got into semi-sprint mode, and it wasn’t too long before I reached the 800 turn and could swim to the finish. My time was 25:48, which while not my fastest 800 wasn’t my slowest either. Considering I’d been swimming over 3 hours with the tow float turned parachute, I was pleased.

After all the kayaks and gear were packed and put away, Jana Nagoski, John Kenny, and I found outdoor seating at the Great American Pub in Conshohocken, where we raised pints of beer and feasted on some tasty goodies). Thanks, John, for the ride home, for your puns, for your support of my swimming!

L: Volunteer John Shoen holding a race swim cap

Below: Setting out to prepare the course


Sunday, Sept. 13: a quiet one hour swim which Garmin tells me was 2173 yards of pure bliss: a sunny morning, a nice mix of slow, easy swimming, some drills, some mixing of strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, mostly freestyle), and sprints.

Every time I see the Schuylkill, you might understand why I think with affection, MY RIVER!


Swimmers wrapped in water (left and below)