In the dark, the phosphorescence that spiralled off my every movement on the water was captivating. I had experienced it a little before, but with it being largely my only visual stimulus for hours on end it became hypnotic. As my fingers entered the water, this firework display of cascading sparks that flickered and danced under me was thrilling. And yet, I knew that very light show was a lure to sharks. A glaring beacon in the dark, seen from afar. And yet, I could not allow fear to creep in. Set apart from other emotions, fear ignites your nervous system that is electrical as much as chemical and sharks read electricity. So, I enjoyed the show and let my support team watch the surface for fins.
About 1 1/2 hours into the swim, all of a sudden, seemingly dangerously close to my face, both outboard engines of the pilot boat sent a flurry of bubbles across my way. I jerked up, wondering what was happening. I immediately jumped on any thoughts and interjected- what a boy racerin the space of a potentially swim-threatening freak out. Steve immediately calmly told me to get my head down and keep swimming as if nothing was wrong- and nothing was. I kept going. I had a little shark visitation- mentally, as nothing else is going on it your world, you get stuff coming up that feels so real. I had this image of a shark in front of me, kind of challenging me. It was the beast way for my head to get around my present situation so I just chatted to this shark image, asking it permission to pass through it’s domain unharmed. It was a pretty intense little segment but it passed.
I felt good about my swimming. Smooth and even. Dawn was much swifter than in the English channel; so much closer to the equator. It was a welcome relief. but Oahu was still nowhere in sight. Vog from the big Island was so thick that it obscured the island until I was 7miles away. This was mentally pretty tough as I felt I was getting nowhere.Then, pretty much exactly 6hrs in, my left elbow blew. There was no real reason I could say as far as injury. It was just the culmination of the previous 6weeks taking its toll and lack of conditioning in the run up to the swim- my left arm had been injured 6weeks ago and with the emotional trauma that lodged pretty hard in my left chest, it was waiting to happen I guess.
I compensated for the pain and weakness by using my shoulder to aid in the pull part of my stroke and although ibuprofen didn;t touch the sides, I found a stroke that worked- for the next 6 hours. Then my shoulder froze. It was like nerve damage. If I could lift my left arm out of the water at all, it moved slowly- beyond useless- and that took so much mental effort to get it to lift at all- that I was reduced to one armed front crawl. 12hrs in to my swim, I was virtually at a stand still. To make matters worse (actually, I think it was a major factor) I had hit an emotional wall. I needed to dig deep to keep moving my arm and in the English chsnnel, I had a heart so open and full of the joys of spring that it felt fathomless, endless and a bottomless pit of energy that I could draw on no matter what.
But I hit a blank.
I fell in to a pit- there just was nothing there. I tried coaxing myself, cajoling myself, no one knows just how hard on myself I can be, but I was – and yet there just wasn;t the heart. I suddenly thought/realised I should not be in the water right now. If I had a coach, they would have postponed this swim til I was in better mind. And yet, here I was, 2/3 of the way across the Kaiwi and felt I had nothing to give the world.
I told Steve everything at that point- how my arm wouldn’t lift, how my heart was not there, how I shouldn;t be in the water and why. I needed someone to knwo what was in my head. Talking it out took up time, but meant that it was out and immediately gained perspective. Steve was my saviour- I never said I wanted to quit, but he made a deal with me- he promised to be there for me all the way if I promised to keep swimming. This meant doggy paddle as that was all my arm could do. So, pride, dignity, all got left. He said I could use his heart and feed off that- and to swim all the demons out. It suddenly felt like a shared experience. Not one that any of us had bargained for, but that’s channel swimming.
I thought for a moment about whether Kenji would be getting good TV out of this arduous task- and the truth is, win, lose or draw; whether I made it across or not, it would be the truth of it. Every Channel crossing is a successful attempt with a huge amount of luck. Woulda-shoulda-coulda doesn;t cut it. I was in the water that day, so that was the day I swam it or choked. I chose swim.
I was held 7miles off shore for EVER it seemed- I was barely making 1km/h at this stage. The current was all over the shop. It was changealbe- as the forecast had predicted and I just kept ticking over. Lao was in my head so often- ‘inch by inch life’s a cinch!’ How true. And that’s how I was getting there- inch by festering inch.
I had a tough time accepting that I would not be able to get back to Dyl that night- leaving him on the Big Island was reallt the only option and the right one, but letthing that flight go was HARD. Almost hard enough to push me over the edge, but once I was told I wouldn’t make the plane even if I quit, it was like a bubble bursting. I wailed in the water for a second then felt lighter than I had for hours. I knew Steve was there for me, I knew Andy would be OK and found that was enough. I started joking again and taking the mickey- a sure sign that I am fine. There was a hilarious mis-communication that nearly landed me in hospital on my completion- so long in the water meant I had to releive myself of solids. I requested the kayaker to go ahead so I could feed the fish in private- a task that is NOT easy in the water whilst keeping your head up!!! It took a fair few attempts over the next hour or so to fully vacate my bowels- by which time the support crew were convinced I was seriously dehydrated and in danger of collapse as they thought I wasn;t keeping anything down and vomiting- feeding the fish!!! Oh, how we laughed when we realised our mistake! But by then they had relayed this to the land crew who were in readiness for medical intervention.
As night fell again, I was fully resigned to this taking as ling as it took. Ticking over, kicking on my back, then doggy paddling, I got to within 100m of the ocast. I could see the truck waiting for me. And we hit a major current. One of the distinguishing features of the Kaiwi is the off shore curent at the end. It took me 45mins to break through it- by which time I had forced my left arm out of retirement and was throwing everything at this landing. Steve was right there, vocally egging me on to shore. We made it- 24hrs 10mins after starting. I was in good spirits, my knees were very stiff from having to kick as my primary source of momentum for 12 hrs and I could not lift my left arm at all, but I landed it!
I am proud of my tenacity at landing it, I am not proud of my pigheadedness getting me in that water- although it was my pigheadedness that got me through to the other side. I doubt I’ll have learned my lesson by next time- I’ll go ahead and do it all over again. But NEVER again on a broken heart. It’s gone, by the way, I no longer feel fragile. The Kaiwi claimed a lot of demons that day, but I never want to feel that pit open up and feel so detached from my sense of self. That is a lesson I will take away.
I am the first British woman to successfully swim the Kaiwi, only the 28th person ever. And I joined the 24hr club. I swam til I ran out of water. It’ll be interesting to see what the TV bit comes out like. I feel removed from that already. Curious but distant.
On to the next adventure- once my arm works properly……