Monday, July 19, 2010

Thank you!

I know you have all been waiting for my thoughts on my swim, the last few days have been overwhelming, honestly. My hits on this blog were at 600 or so on friday and have doubled since then. I had over 100 facebook notifications, at least 50 text messages and a full voicemail box. Thank you for all the kind words. To hear that I have inspired others, that I have touched lives and that I have left my tiny mark on Montana history has been a wonderful feeling. This is going to be a long post (not 18 hours long, but pretty long : ) ).

I went to bed Friday night at 10:00 pm...most of my family had come into town on Friday. The last of the arrangements were being taken care of, my mom made me spaghetti and I settled into bed with my kitty Delia and my nerves. My first alarm went off at midnight, I awoke for my standard pre-race/event breakfast of a bagel and peanut butter 4 hours before start time. Then I went back to sleep until my second alarm went off at 3:00 am. This was the first time, since I set this goal to swim the Lake in January, that I thought to myself "this is completely crazy!" But, I had the attention of too many people to sleep in now, and I had a little girl to be a hero for. So I put on my swim suit, then my sweats and a t-shirt and my brother drove me to Somers.

Once at Somers my crew was already working to get the boat ready to go, and I prepared myself. I taped a small heart shape rock my sister had found at Somers two days earlier to the outside of my swimsuit with pink duct tape, then I carefully put my wetsuit on, patted the heart, knowing that at the end of my swim I would give this rock to Karmyn, and tell her it had gone the whole way with me. Then my crew assisted me in applying Aquaphor, sunscreen and bug spray. I put a neoprene shirt over my wetsuit, then two glow in the dark bracelets and a glow in the dark necklace. Then after a small "where is the key to the boat" problem, we were off, 24 minutes after 4 in the dark, with only the stars and a GPS as our guide. Those first 4 miles felt great; smooth and relaxed. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, I was taking in liquids every 30 minutes (alternating Cytomax, gatorade-diluted 50/50, and water) and food every hour (my solid food consisted of goldfish crackers, pretzels, gummi bears, sweedish fish and half peanut butter sandwiches).

My first struggle with my swim came in the form of a course dispute with my crew. I wanted to get to the center of the lake as soon as possible, but my crew (with a GPS) thought a new route would be less mileage--more on that later. I ended up just going with what the crew said. The trouble was I wasn't getting firm information on how many miles I had traveled, my sister and Jessica Kato developed a good way to estimate the mileage, that kept me focused, but even at this point, I have yet to learn the exact mileage I actually traveled (waiting on the GPS information to be uploaded).

Visitors during the swim were integral in keeping my spirits high. Carrie Mo and her boat were the first of many friendly faces along the way. Nearly my entire office showed up with a pontoon boat around 10:30 and stayed at my side, paralleling my crew's boat the entire way. Laurie Gregory made several trips out, once to bring my dad out, which I greatly appreciated.

I was taking advil every 4 hours for the early portions of the swim, but had to increase to nearly every 2 hours towards the end. My shoulders were aching so badly at certain points. I knew I had to keep going. It was just like life honestly, there were some dark spots, but with the support of family and friends I was able to get through those dark spots. At the halfway point I had to take my watch off, I was discouraged. At half way, nine hours had passed, I knew I would not be to shore anywhere near the targeted time I had anticipated (mostly because I ended up swimming WAY more miles than I had planned). The thoughts running through my head were worries about no one still being at the finish, and more importantly, it being way past Karmyn's bed time and my concern that she may not be there.

When I my focus got off, various people hopped in and swam with me for sections of the swim. This allowed me to take a break from spotting and have other swimmers help keep me in a straight line. Some of my swimming buddies included Simone, Jim, Roger, Kyle, Laurie, Jennifer and Carrie. This was so helpful at times. Another swimmer alongside me gave me a change in scenery from the dark blue I had been focused on for hours on end.

Once into Polson Bay, I was exhausted, the shore deceivingly looked way closer than it actually was. The beginning of that last stretch was marked by a pep talk from the always encouraging Carrie Mo. Carrie jumped into the lake, with no wetsuit, swam up to me and drew parallels between the marathon running that she is so skilled at and the last portion of my goal that I still had to finish. Carrie talked to me about that last mile, she said the crowd would pull me in, but I had a little more to go before I got there. I told Carrie I was worried no one would still be there because it had taken me SO much longer than I had anticipated. I told her I was concerned about the park closing and every one's cars being locked in the park. Carrie told me not to worry about those things. She said there were at least a dozen people there right then waiting for me. Carrie said the news was there and that the park wouldn't close (I didn't know this at the time, but Carrie jumped out of the boat and called George on shore and told him to get a hold of whoever needed to be contacted to keep the park open--Carrie gets things done!).

So I kept on trucking, through the shoulder pain and tightness, through the thoughts that no one would be waiting for me and through the creeping self doubt that sometimes arises when exhaustion hits. I hit another wall with about 3.5 miles to go. Simone was in the water with me and he said "what's wrong, talk to me," and I told him my shoulders hurt SO bad. Simone told me to cry scream or do whatever I needed to. It was like once I had permission to cry, the flood gates were open. I wasn't even crying for more than one minute, when Simone said, "okay, deep breath, now, you are done. You are stronger than that. Lets keep going, stretch out your strokes and try and kick a little."

The sun went down a short while later and I was still probably two miles from shore, I had trouble spotting until vehicles at the park began to turn on their headlights. I spotted off those headlights, with nothing else to guide me in. I wanted to cry again so badly, I was in pain and the lights didn't seem to be getting any closer. I was counting my strokes, I would get to 100 and then start over, it helped me focus on something other than the pain. Then I continued to focus on the car lights, and I started to sing "this little light of mine" over and over. It was all I could do to keep going. At one point my crew tried to coax me over to the boat to eat more and one of them said "only about an hour left"--they didn't know that I had been telling myself "only an hour left for the past two hours"--so I angrily snapped I DO NOT HAVE AN HOUR LEFT, I refused any more food from that point on, I put my head down and swam. I fought back tears and pain and my focus was on Karmyn, I imagined what she has had to go through in her life so far, I thought about what a tough cookie she must be, and for those last two miles, Karmyn was my hero.

As I got closer to the shore and the welcoming headlights, I heard the crowd, and it was way more than a dozen people, I could tell by the cheering. I almost hit the docks but the friendly voice of Carrie Mo told me exactly where to go. Those last strokes into the shore I was reaching towards the bottom to try and feel the ground, anxiously awaiting the point where I could stand up. When I got there, I tried to stand and I immediately fell, into a puddle of tears, on the shore where at least 50 people had been waiting for me. It was nearly 11pm and so many people wanted to see me finish. Several strong arms helped me to my feet, stripped my wetsuit off and led me over to the grass. Once on the grass, a crowd formed around me, but the first people to come and greet me were Karmyn and her mother Tiffany. I untaped the heart shaped rock from my swim suit and handed it to little Karmyn, and told her it had traveled the whole way with me. Karmyn was shy, but I would be too with the crowd surrounding us taking pictures and video. Karmyn gave me a collage she made of her and her family that said "thank you Emily" and was signed by members of her family. She gave me a bouquet of flowers and then some licorice. She gave me a hug and I had pictures taken with her family and then with other people in the crowd.

My mom later told me that she spoke with Tiffany earlier in the day and she had said that not only would her family be waiting for me to finish, but they would stay until I left the park. And they did, they helped me get to the car and waved goodbye.

This was such an incredible journey for me. I pushed my limits farther than I ever had before. I felt the support of friends and family as well as complete strangers. The advice I have for you reading is this: Dream big...follow those dreams, with all your heart. Doing so may leave you vulnerable and open up the possibility for failure, but I promise you, the dividends that come from big dreams are great. And if you don't have anyone who you think will believe in you, I will believe in you, just like all of you believed in me.

I do not know my fundraising totals yet--many people have asked me that, since I directed most of them to the PO box in Missoula, I won't know the totals there til I make a trip to Missoula (which I think will be this Saturday). Another question that keeps being posed to me is "what is the next big goal"--I don't know yet. I think it is important to rest and recover before setting a new goal. This goal has been my focus for so long, and to be dedicated to something for that long, there has to be a period of rest after. Another question I keep being asked is how many miles I actually swam. My estimates are between 32 and 34 miles, but I am still waiting to hear from the members of the crew that had the GPS for a final mile count after the information was uploaded. Multiple people have encouraged me to write a book, or start a foundation to continue raising money for kids, but again, right now, I want to ride this wave of satisfaction and really enjoy what I have accomplished.

I would like to thank my boat crew and onland supporters: My sister Amanda, who tracked my nutrition, answered my cell phone, and posted updates on Facebook until my phone died. My former YMCA swimmers Simone Musco, Roger Gerhart and Jessica Kato who were so supportive and encouraging along the way. My current athletes Jim Kuffel (training for an English Channel swim) and Cassie Cranston (training for her first triathlon). I would like to thank my parents, Fred and Sue, for always believing in me and supporting me. My brother Paul, for his excellent photography skills and for always being at my sport events. I would also like to thank Wild Wave Boat Rental in Lakeside for donating the use of the pontoon boat for the day.

Thank you so much for your support! I couldn't have done this without the support of you all! : )


  1. Emily - it's Laurie... I am so glad you finally got time to post about your race. Dennis and Amy and I have been anxious to read what you had to say about the day. I hope your recovery is going well. I assume you are back at work. I don't know if you are planning on doing the Polson Bay Water Swim mile (that will seem like a walk in the park!:) Amy and I are planning on doing it if all goes according to plan so maybe we'll see you there. We are so proud of you Emily and so happy that we got to be a part of your day.

  2. Hi, Emily,
    Your story is SO inspiring. I'm in publications at CWU, and we are putting an article about your swim in the University Bulletin (and it may go in other publications as well). Can you tell me how much money you raised for Karmyn? Is there an e-mail address I can use to contact you directly?
    Thanks, Valerie Chapman-Stockwell,

  3. Sorry, sent my home email, should be