By Sean Jezewski
The morning of the swim, I had to make the call if I was going to make the
Leading up to the swim, I was pretty anxious. My body had been sick and I was trying my hardest to give it what it needed. I did a swim outside the cove on Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday I was feeling woozy again.
I called a friend the morning of the swim. He asked how I felt about it. I was actually pretty happy, but stuck in my head.
I was genuinely happy with either outcome, but I was still hung up on which one was better, or which one was ‘right’. Which is funny. There was no right choice. There was only choice.
On the one hand, hitting the brakes was alluring.
I’d never failed so publicly before. That felt harder. For these reasons this option held a great amount of appeal to me.
To just stop.
And watch people show up in my life, and see me, despite failing at this big
thing. And it was interesting to feel my delight in this idea.
Because turns out this is a fairly great description of my worst fears.
Failing super publicly at something I care so much about in a way that was because of my disease?
Said in that way … yea … that gets my stomach in knots. That feels edgy.
That would’ve been fun. To be seen in that way.
On the other hand, I really wanted to do the swim.
Really really really wanted to do the swim.
For a lot of the training I had a hard time finding a middle gear. Going slow
I’d make very small progress. There was no fire.
I’m used to pushing as hard as I can. That would’ve been unhealthy or unsafe in the bay. Finding the right balance was hard.
Towards the end of my training, I mostly felt like a cowardly lion. It was becoming a lot clearer that I was physically and mentally capable of the swims.
I missed the challenges. I was being very conservative in the water, which was ok, but wasn’t as much fun. The challenge holds some of the fun for me. I need to feed my inner fire.
photo credit / Jeff Crawford
So morning of …
I knew my body could do it. I was physically capable. I was mentally capable. And though I was stressed … I was emotionally capable.
So fuck it. Let’s go!
I meditated for 10m to center myself … then got going. It was in the car on the drive over that I got excited. When I get excited I get the little kid energy with a big grin on my face. That’s when I knew I’d be fine.
The whole morning went by so fast.
I’d done my homework weeks ago.
I knew the currents.
I knew what the temp would be.
I knew the lay of the ‘land’ (I’d volunteered to copilot a boat for an Alcatraz swim two weeks ago)
I’d gone outside the cove.
I’d covered the distance.
There was nothing more for my head to do. So I let it go.
Zen As Fuck
I wasn’t real chatty. I was just enjoying being. It was nice to see all my friends come out. But it was nice to have a few minutes of quiet before getting in the boat.
The ride over in the motorboat I put my earplugs in. And then it was just quiet.
Bobby T was chatting to keep the mood up in the boat. That was nice. That helped. I was mostly trying to soak in the views.
That’s me in the yellow jacket // photo credit Jeff Crawford
One thing I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do … but did … was stay in my body
and stay present.
I didn’t have a pit in my stomach. I wasn’t anxious about jumping in. This is
what we do. We’re on a boat, then we jump out and swim. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.
When it came time to jump I was excited. One of my tricks lately is to get in
the water like a goofball. It’s important to find the joy. The countdown went
off on the radios, we quickly lost our excess layers … and jumped in!
I was impressed at how meditative the swim was.
The water temperature was beautiful. (NOAA reported 59, but it might have been warmer than that). That’s about as warm as you could hope for.
It was pretty rough though. The wind was strong and created a fair amount of chop. In a way that was nice. There was no time to let my mind get too active. I just had to focus on this wave, then the next, then the next.
I was able to drop into my trance state. And just swim … and enjoy … and be present.
Normally on swims that are new I’m a bit extra anxious about my safety and I’m in my head (you can read more about that here and here). But this time, there was no fear.
There were a few moments where I thought I’m not sure if I’ll make it, but those passed quickly. Yea maybe that could happen, but I wasn’t worried about it. I was content regardless of outcome.
I was however very happy to see the opening to the aquatics park. All of
a sudden I was there and then I upped the throttle to book it home.
photo credit // Kim Peinado Howard
I was cold, but not too cold. My right foot was starting to get kind of numb.
(by the time I was at the opening it almost felt like I had some fishing line stuck between my toes … who knows maybe I did). But I was fine. My very first time in the water I was scary cold. This wasn’t that.
But I was chilly. This is what it looks like when you try and smile when your
face is numb:
photo credit // Jeff Crawford
I was happy to take a nice warm shower. No sauna though. It felt good to do the swim but not need the sauna. That’s important for my health.
After the shower I was a bit warm so I went back outside in a t-shirt even though I was a bit shivery. I feel good about the balance I struck.
Looking back, it was a tough swim! I earned my Alcatraz!
Early on because of the chop, I lost my sighting, and went west, with the ebb
tide. Which is bad, because the rest of the swim I had to fight the current
just to stay even with the opening to make it back to shore.
Purple arrow is the direction of the current // Green arrow is the direction I had to aim and swim towards to make the opening
Thank goodness I had great kayakers — Susan, David, Peter, and Kim who kept me pointing the right direction so that I’d make it back home safe.
I’m still unpacking the emotional content of the swim. My world has changed. And not changed at all.
I’m very proud of me.
I’ve done my best to describe what the swim means to me.
This was about agency.
I can do anything I want to do. I don’t know where my limits are. I can thrive. I can grow.
I’ve grown so much training for this.
Writing about it has healed me in many ways I didn’t realize I needed.
Training and getting in the cold water has been amazing. I got into this idea from Wim Hof, and I think cold therapy is great for your health, especially for people with MS.
And my world is a lot bigger and brighter having met my new family. I tried listing all the people who’ve helped me on this journey and it’s literally dozens of folks. I love my new family at SERC. Every single person there is amazing. The Men’s Circle has been a source of emotional honesty. My friends and family have been amazing. I even got to meet Wim Hof! Love that guy.
Only you decide what you cannot do. But that doesn’t need you need to do it
After the swim I spent some time on the dock looking at the island.
photo credit // Brenda Gardner
There is no right choice.
There is only choice.
It’s in the choosing we define who we are.
The choices don’t matter. They’re all right choices. They’re all wrong choices. The key is being happy with your choices.
There’s this concept of ‘Mu’ in Zen Buddhism. Where there is no answer. It’s a ‘non-answer’.
When debating whether or not I’d get in the water, I was happy with each choice, but I was still trying to find the right one. There is no right choice.
Being happy independent of the outcome is a great start. But you still need to choose. And be all of yourself behind your choice
Can be defined many ways. My favorite is the one that defines it as the act of being one with your actions.
Samurai were in satori when their sword stopped being an extension of them, and they started being an extension of the sword.
I experienced satori on Saturday. The swim stopped being my self expression. It was the swim, and I was just part of it. I was part of the water.
Zen As Fuck
Today I have my first MRI in two years. I should’ve had one last year, but
didn’t. I was anxious about it, and put it off.
I don’t care what the outcome is.
(It’ll be a few weeks before I get the results)
I think it’s likely I have a few new friends in my brain. And by friends I mean
lesions. I spent the last 2 years doing everything damn thing I could to heal. But I learn what worked by crossing lines. It would make sense that there would be more lesion activity. (Later I’ll unpack the reasons why MRIs are a crude prognosis tool. But a big part of that is the infrequency you do them). But those friends in my brain are hard learned lessons. Those are pebbles on my path towards healing. They are not my enemy. They are my building blocks.
I’m fine. I can thrive. I’m going to be ok. I know that in my bones.
Now my body knows that. I have nothing to fear anymore.
photo credit // Brenda Gardner
The whole swim I just kept moving. I also made sure to grin while blowing
bubbles. A hard trick when your face is numb. Somehow I managed.