Thursday, February 7, 2013

Freedom to Succeed.. .1,800m at ave 3.9 deg 38 mins Jan 20th 2013

"What is at the summit of courage, I think is freedom. The freedom that comes with the knowledge that no earthly power can break you:that an unbroken spirit is the only thing.. you cannot live without; that in the end it is the courage of conviction that moves things... "
Dec 2010... Ram in Donegal in search of Ice Water.. 

There are a lot of thoughts on taking on my Ice Swim now in hindsight, my mind has been a rotating belt of thoughts, for now I will concentrate on my swim.
The morning of my Ice Swim was less that Ideal, this day was a year in the making. 13 months ago we tried a mile with Ram in Donegal but it was too warm at 6 deg. The only option for cold water on the coastline is high in the mountains. Our sea water rarely goes under 8 deg. However this morning I would have been that voice saying to listen to your body.. not to do it there would be another day...  but then I know me and I knew no matter how much talking was going to be done I had to try. I have a super tolerance of pain and I have huge muscle memory for "having been there" If there was a moment where I was in trouble I would have pulled the plug, I know that and my team knew that. I don't need medals, they hold such little value and today I was doing this for me and my team. I've very measured in what I have and very proud of what I've achieved in my life. I got a call from Padraig Mallon, Camlough lake who was also taking on his mile.
"What time you in the lake? "
"1pm why?" I answered..
"I'll go at 1.30pm, there is no way I should finish before you. You should be the second Irish person to Anne Marie to get your Ice Mile, you've waited for this" Padraig finished as we wish each other luck..
He's fast is all I could think, I hope that half hour was enough!!!!!
Peddlers Lake, Conor Pass- Dingle
Smiling, genuinely it wasn't that important to me, but the gesture and the thought that went into the gesture was something that defines the people we surround ourselves with. The understanding of the challenge.

Today the Ice Swim would help me get through the day.There was more to gain than to lose.There was however ONE variable I hadn't factored in...

My main reason to get in the water was my head was numb and no amount of pain the freezing water could inflict would have eclipsed the night before.
Hally passed the night before
My beautiful beautiful labrador Hally lost her fight with life, she had given so so much and the day was coming it was so unfortunate that it was this night.
There was no sleep, there was no food, well a little and there copious amounts of tears. I needed not to sit at home and stare at her and wish that she hadn't died the night before I needed to do this. We had sacrificed so much for this babe and those around us know what went into the last 4 years as an insulin dependent diabetic.. I needed not to say "Why Hally?" for some that may be foreign but when there is disappointment there is blame.. she was the best best girl.. her time just ran out.
In moments of emotional challenge, I have always stuck my face in the water and listened to my thoughts through the crystal clear liquid and sounds. Reality changes in water. Today would be cold but it would cleanse the pain.

I was genuine in the commitment that I would go as far as I could. I met with Maryann at 12pm, Maryann and I were chatting all night, she was as integral a part of Hally's life as I was. All my team knew Hally too, in fact the final comment in every chat with Gary over the years was "How's Hally?" They knew me and they knew her so who better to mind me.Though I take risks, I am not a risk taker, I am calculated and addicted to detail, so at 12.30pm we met.

My initial words to Gary " Can you carry me down? " without doubt that was our biggest challenge. I had walked down this lake every day this week. I knew I could close my eyes and walk the route.. hmmm
The crew line up... 

There was an acidic bite to the wind to a force 4 when we climbed to the lake 1,200 ASL, 140 feet up through rocks with an air temp of -1.It was freezing but typically we were here to do a job and unlike the sea the lake is confined and we discussed the extraction. I explained the roles that we would have and what we would do. Gary and Paul had their plan, flares and GPS co-ordinates. I had marked my veins as the cold drops them, tips we picked up from Ram when he visited. I plan to the medical, it's very easy to wash off the marks but they may save a life..  I had my thermometers.
Frances and Ciara with Maryann went through the bags, I listed all my clothes in reverse order on the outside taped to the bag so there would no questions about what is which bag. Once I came out it should be easy to dress me. I went through the rescue procedures with Gary and Paul and asked them to stand at opposite ends for my emotional needs.
I agreed to stay within the shallow area of the lake and do 14 lengths and the 70m in one direction and the 50m back, it added to 1,800m but if I got to 1,650 and I was done I was successful. Calculate above the limits when emotions are volatile..
Donegal was firmly in my mind, calling it above the 5 deg.. I wanted to go well below the temps so was happy when we were reading well into 3's. Once it's here how tough it's going to be is irrelevant.

Not a happy head... 
Walking into the water, the cold was biting, the wind whipped up the lake. I stretched my arms and started. My breathing was difficult but it was more tantrum than tight, it was a gulp of tears rather than stress of cold water. I closed my eyes and eased my way over and back. It took a few lengths to regulate, breathing to the left meant that I counted my crew over, Frances, Gary, Ciara, Maryann and finally Paul after Paul there was about 20 strokes and then turn. There was about 10 strokes of complete darkness where the silt bottom, once turned I was swimming into the brown copper rocks. Not seeing anyone allowed my mind the space to recover with the stunning cliff face, turning again to face my crew.
The watcher... 

My hands were frozen, my fingers tightening but not cramping. I flexed a little under the water, the wind was lifting and I could see my crew coming closer to the lake edge. Did I look ok? I best communicate with them.
I lifted my face at one turn and spoke to Paul, "I'm not happy, I'm not happy" I said. "Could I get my other goggles?" I asked. I put my face in the water, not really knowing why I wanted to change, I just wanted to engage. Passing Maryann I noticed she had my goggles.
As she threw them to me Maryann said "you didn't go to the rock to turn?"
"I'll put it in at the end" I replied. She was right but I stopped to talk to Paul, I was 20 strokes short.
I changed my goggles and put my face back in, I couldn't believe that Maryann wanted me to go back to the rock. My breathing elevated, the cold was not longer an issue.
My hands were numb and my feet were solid but I knew not to stop kicking. I remember Donegal when I tried to pee and I couldn't, I knew not to try but I had learned not to stop that flutter, even though my ankles were numb. The wind was now huge and gusting. I had to pass Maryann 7 times over and back. I actually got excited counting up to 4 knowing then I would be counting down to 1 then I was finishing. The game was on.

I noticed that they were chatting, Frances talking to Maryann and Gary was in the mix. Frances was counting the strokes, face to the watch. She was moving with me. I remembered the moment in Siberia when Andrei was pushing into a place, his eyes were gone, his hat frozen. The onlookers were showing concern. I was one of those onlookers. I remember my fears and then how his partner started to cry, she came to me and fell into my arms. I remember telling her to relax and show signs of support and not fear. I looked out and saw a team who were happy, but there was concern that I was seeing.

I pushed my arms deeper and decided to stretch my back. In the lake I am lower in the water, it is a bigger fight for me, my weight comes against me where as in the sea I float. My legs have to work harder and they are not used to that. I pushed my stroke out and glided for one length. With 2 doubles to go I turned, my face lifted and I suddenly became aware that I was nearly done. I could drive deep here. I had to adjust my route. I normally swim a straight line. My stroke is very balanced, I don't weave, I was weaving. Did I avoid a rock? maybe..but I do remember weaving.

On the last passing, my breathing elevated and I had to focus and take it down, slowing my stroke again. The bags were being pulled together but the wind was gusting strong now. I turned to face the team for the final stretch.I saw Gary and Maryann coming towards me, both with the sheet marking my distance so I aimed for the rocks.
Maryann shouted "you have to come down the extra 20m that you missed, swim onto me... " as she backed away from me,
I put my face under deep and wouldn't have it any other way, however I know I ranted for a moment.
As I drove towards the rocks Maryann kept walking backwards.. "Stop" I screamed inside.. then she did.
I pushed into the rocks and put my feet under me. It is not easy to exit these rocks as they are complete grease on any day. I slipped a little but as I did Maryann put out her hand and she slipped in.. a little smile as two hands helped me out.
The wind was roaring at this stage and the snow was falling. It was the coldest I had ever experienced. Siberia was a vague memory as the gales of wind ripped through us. We were in a complete wind tunnel and a lake which was normally protected had become a cauldron of wind with a chill of -6. Frances and Ciara got to work. The boys sent to the naughty corners to preserve my dignity as togs were ripped from me. I looked down suddenly the greatest challenge I faced was that I had forgotten to shave my legs as Maryann pulled socks and thermals over my lower body. I remember saying "Maryann will you put on my shoes and socks.. "
"They're on", I looked down and they were. My feet were solid as blocks, I couldn't feel them. I spiraled inside. Walking would be a tough challenge if I couldn't feel my feet. I knew we were in difficulty. I closed my eyes and decided I had better formulate a plan as Frances tried to pull my immersion suit over my arms. They were very busy and I needed to think. I was exhausted. My Immersion suit is a huge survival suit with thermal properties, it is surreal and we lived in these for 2 months at sea. With thermals on top and bottom, Maryann stuffed foil blankets down my front and back to protect my core, my big hat on. I couldn't reach back to put my arms into my suit so It was decided that I would start to walk.....
I am an Ice Miler but my swim is not finished yet.. I'm not recovered and I'm not home...

To Be Continued..

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