Tuesday, June 28, 2011

… like eating potato chips …

What a photographer my son Liam is: catching me
between jiggles so that the flapping skin resembled
Challenging endeavors I overcame this month:

1. Drew caricatures of sleepy teenagers at a high school grad night. One or two caricatures were passable; the rest were simply atrocious, but the grads were too tired or too kind to tell me.

2. Served as emcee at a weeklong early evening camp for boys 7-11 and their adult leaders. This turned out to be an easy gig, because my job was to ramp up the kids' energy level, and I had almost forgotten they don't need much encouragement.

3. Swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco's Aquatic Park for Sharkfest 2011.

No. 3 was easiest, easier even than leading a bunch of kids in "Boom Chicka Boom." Or more accurately, steady planning and work toward overcoming obstacles made this endeavor manageable enough to seem easy. Most important, I guess: It was a goal I strongly desired to achieve.

Neurotic about arriving early, I had plenty of time before the swim, so Nancy and
I strolled along the breakwater of Aquatic Park to get a better view of the goal.
My sister Tara, daughter Mo, son Liam and wife Nancy, once all was said and done.
I won this paper cup …
I knew the moment I hit the water around Alcatraz Island, so warm compared to the snow runoff of Lake Natoma, that I had prepared well for the Alcatraz crossing. My next goal  is to draw lessons from the moment, and from the moments leading to the moment. You know, all those corny lessons about setting goals for something worthwhile, goals just out of reach, then making the steps to reach them. Cleaning my office, for example; but for that I'd have to decide it's worthwhile.

I take so many memories to heart: Walking barefoot and bare-chested with the stream of swimmers over to Pier 41 and the ferries … riding atop the ferry, getting as cold as I could stand … cutting my toe on the sandpapery texture of the ferry deck, and truly wondering at that moment about the absence/presence of man-eating sharks … hearing a volunteer tell me, "I used to be as crazy as you" before he helped me out of the ferry with a firm hand … seeing San Francisco from the swells of the Bay, watching it flatten and obscure the landmarks I was hoping desperately to distinguish … clonking another swimmer on the head with my forward stroke, and hoping I hadn't ruined his swim … getting Nancy's help with big and little things throughout the morning … wondering at times whether the shore would ever really appear, whether I had sighted on the proper landmark, whether I had turned in toward the breakwater at the right time … watching a throng of people at the finish line cheering all the swimmers, and seeing my family waving for my attention, happy for my feat … seeing a gigantic tanker chug through the channel between Alcatraz and the shore, just as kayakers corralled the last of the swimmers toward Aquatic Park … not shivering, not even using my towel, on the shore.

More corny stuff: I have so many to thank. My wife and family for supporting me, not only from the time I started swimming but coming out to see this happen over the weekend. My sister even drove up from the Southland to be part of the scene. My parents would have loved this, and it's appropriate that my sister and I were together (too rare an occurrence) on our parents' 50th anniversary.

(Shortly before she died, my mom told tales of her life as we recorded them, and described what a strong open-water swimmer my dad was. Amazing what a mom or dad or anyone you know and love might neglect to tell you! I think of the conversations I could have had with my dad; I remember him encouraging me to keep a steady pace on a really long swim — no more than 100 or 200 yards, I'm sure — that I was supposed to complete for swim lessons when I was 8 or 9; maybe he mentioned he was a strong swimmer, but I chose not to hear.) 

More thanks: My somewhat scary experience trying to swim as a Boy Scout leader, which spurred me to become a swimmer. In the spirit of kaizen (Japanese for "continuous improvement," which reminds me: Thanks Terry Laughlin and your Total Immersion swimming technique which helped me swim without wear and tear on my aging bones), maybe I should say, continue to become a swimmer. I have so much to learn about swimming.

Interesting facts: 1. Only 73 male "skin" swimmers (I like that
better than "non-wetsuit" swimmers, because it's vaguely naughty)
with 27 female "skin" swimmers out of some 900 total;
2. I was not last, though a fellow Cal Poly graduate, same age
from the same year (whom I've never met), finished first among
male "skin" swimmers, third overall, 19 minutes ahead of me;
3. I'm intrigued by Paul and Mark Machin, finishing 43rd and 44th,
respectively; they're the same age with the same unusual
last name, and they finished three tenths of a second apart.
Are they twins? Did they resolve to swim together? Were they
tethered, mechanically or biologically? Is it the same person,
registered twice with two different sets of vitals? I really wanna
know! (Looking at the overall results, posted online, I notice
many more incidents of people with the same last name, finishing
just tenths of a second apart from one another; is this a thing,
I wonder? Do siblings/couples/parents and children make pacts
to swim together on this? Some of these pairings came in very
fast. Hmm, gotta talk my family into joining me in the future.)
More thanks: Leslie Thomas and the people at swim-art.com, for advice and opportunities to swim in the Bay. My swimming friends with Sacramento Swim Enthusiasts, which boasts many eponymous enthusiasts who share my growing love for cold water and are willing to go out very early in the morning, sometimes twice a day (even if it's not the same group each time), to swim.

I joined Team Hydro (on the web site team photo, I'm the only one wearing the pink cap, in the center) on the swim, to raise money for a disease called hydrocephalus. Two brothers started Team Hydro in honor of their sister, who suffered from the disease and who died last November. What started as two brothers, their sister, and two friends four years ago, has grown to 126 swimmers this year (including the youngest in the race, a 10-year-old boy who has hydrocephalus), raising $110,000 to fund two research grants into the disease, for which no cure is yet known. I didn't know what I was getting into when I joined Team Hydro, and wasn't sure if I could do the right thing by raising money. But friends came through big, and it was one last good vibe to carry me into the swim.

It turns out Team Hydro, which got to wear pink swim caps while other swimmers wore yellow, comprises mostly Stanford and Cal alumni, and not being part of either or a college rah-rah type in general, I didn't hang around too much in the Team Hydro section at Aquatic Park. I was grateful for their hot tea at race's end, though.

Alcatraz to me is like scarfing potato chips: One isn't enough, and I've got to have more. I want to swim longer distances, and figure out how to swim faster within the framework of the techniques I learned. Like Team Hydro professes, I'll take it one stroke at a time.

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