Sunday, March 12, 2017

Training to Swim in Darkness

Erin O'Leary of Jacksonville, Florida traveled 4 hours south and across the state to Clearwater Beach for a 6 hour training swim on Saturday morning, March 10, 2017.  She's a seasoned open water swimmer, and she has signed up for an attempt to swim the 20 miles from Catalina Island to the mainland of California.  The Catalina Swim is one of the jewels of the "Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming," and the most challenging part is that the swim is done almost completely at night.  Swimmers board their support craft in Long Beach around 8pm, motor over to Catalina, and then jump off a perfectly good boat and into Pacific waters sometime around midnight.

When Erin arrived at the starting point at Clearwater Beach, it was 3:45am.  I let her know beforehand that we may have one or two other swimmers show up and we were surprised that all of our other local Catalina aspirants were there to train alongside.  Ian Tarrant, Maureen Montgomery, and Serbo Simeoni also have plans to swim Catalina this September, and their presence was invaluable.  For a swimmer training in darkness for the first time, swimming alone allows the mind to wonder and fear can become a major factor.  But the pod of 4 swimmers set off together at 4:22am, without hesitation, into the dark 70F waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  

The full moon was setting and the wind was kicking up a 1-2 foot chop as we all headed north for the first 2 hour segment. Erin's stroke count held steady at 58 spm, and she showed no fear at any point, even when one of the other swimmers would occasionally bump her.

Serbo was the first to break away and swim by himself, just before sunrise.  Then Maureen and Ian paired off and swam together at daylight.  So Erin completed the rest of the 6 hour training on her own, never complaining, and steadily advancing with the same stroke count the whole time.