The support teams

By Liz Morrish

Monday 19th June is a rest day. Many of the swimmers will be relocating nearer to New York City for the last three stages. A chance, then to mention the role of the swimmers’ support teams.

The New York Open Water team of 8 Bridges takes care of safety of the swimmers during the race, but before, and after, and during the long months of training, support is the provenance of family and friends. Since there is no cheering section, other than a blast on the horn from Greg Porteous’ Launch 5, it is really important to know that someone will scoop you up and make you the priority when you finish the stage, and hopefully they will  celebrate your achievement too. There’s a great deal of texting, tweeting and Facebooking from swimmers when they land.

So here is a salute to those stoical individuals who remain on dock, who drive to the right place, who greet their swimmer with a warm drink. They hold towels to preserve what modesty the swimmer still cares about after 20 miles. They handle moods, calm anxieties and slather various unguents over the swimmer’s body. They too deserve our admiration.

Here are some supporters I have met during the week.

First of all, the magnificent Estela Toi, wife of Brazilian swimmer Flavio Toi. She provides support for her husband and all the other Brazilians, Harry Finger and Marta Izo. She is an ace driver and navigator, scopes out the right restaurants to stoke up with carbs, and she is also a physical trainer, ready to massage aching limbs and strap up injuries. Her and Flavio’s delightful son Tiago chooses the right music to energize us for each early morning drive.

Katrin Walter looks forward to the sight of Steffen Gruber. They are both here from Switzerland, and as well as supporting Katrin, Steffen is using the time to train for his own challenge – and Ironman triathlon in August.

Jamie Tout is welcomed by the serene presence of his wife Tina. She knows how to read his needs and ensures she is there at the finish.

Graco Morlan is supported by one of Mexico’s top swim couches, Jorge Villegas. Jorge is also volunteering on one of the RHIBs.

Stephen Rouch is accompanied each day by his father, Stephen Senior. The younger Stephen seems unusually self-possessed, needing assistance only with his daily covering with, and removal of, Butt Paste.

Roy Malinak is known as the rockstar of supporters. A rock indeed – his steadying arms, as swimmers climb aboard the boat, groping their way from horizontal to vertical, are the most reassuring sight of all.

The kayakers are a breed apart, supervised by Alex Arevelo. They have a long slog each day navigating from charts, and instructions from David Barra. They need to keep an exacting eye on the swimmers at all times during the swim, issue feeds on time, and encouragement. They often camp at the docking points and nobody knows how they manage to go to the bathroom during the race. It is a closely guarded secret.

The jet skis stand guard over the swimmers and act as outriders. Whenever another vessel, either sailboard or cement-laden river barge comes too close, the jetskis can move fast to put themselves between it and the swimmer. The can also speed over to the main Launch 5 to get hot drinks out to any kayaker, to deliver a warm boost to any swimmer suffering with the cold. They have rescue boards attached to the back, to allow swimmers to cling on and take a swift ride to shore or Launch 5.

The hypothermia support is very impressive. There have been just a couple of very cold swimmers who have been transferred aboard Launch 5. There is a warm wheelhouse to bring them into, and experienced staff to dress them and make sure they are responding to their care.

This is team work – organizers, volunteers and supporters both on land and on the water. All of them have these amazing swimmers as their focus.

Stage 4: Newburgh-Beacon Bridge to Bear Mountain Bridge 15.2 Miles

By Liz Morrish

Swimmers emptied off the Metro-North train to Beacon, exuberant to be back for another day. For most, the previous three days had been successful. There was portentous talk, though, of stage 5, still looming ahead. They all know how tough it is, and how relatively few people finish. Some were telling tales of previous attempts, hoping to conquer ‘the beast’ this time. But today was Stage 4, and they must focus on one day at a time. It was one of the shorter stages, but taking some interesting turns around Bannerman Island and bends in the river. A highlight of the stage would be West Point Military Academy – its imposing granite citadel dominating the river valley.

You almost feel sorry for these phenomenal elite swimmers because there are so few onlookers to offer admiration and applause. Swimmers’ friends and family turn out to cheer the start and finish, but so many of them land back on deck unobserved, uncelebrated. They really deserve their own stadium, but marathon swimming takes place away from crowds and in the isolation of open water. It is not a spectator sport.

There was some nervousness about the rigors of today as well. Swimming huge distances day after day has a way of taking its toll on the body, depleting energies and making it more difficult to warm up each evening. A few swimmers are sporting kinesotape strapping around the shoulders. The physical demands can leave the swimmer vulnerable to what I heard Abby Fairman refer to as ‘residual’. This can make the first few hours of the swim uncomfortable, especially in view of the chop today. There was intermittent sunshine and a water temperature of 69F (20C) which would reduce the risk of succumbing to the cold. The wind was strong, though, and coming from the south. Swimmers were face-on to some whitecaps, favoring those who can raise their bodies out of the water and almost surf forward with each stroke.

The chop eased off as we rounded West Point. The mountains were high enough to offer some shelter from the wind, and this seemed like a haven to the swimmers who had fought their way through the morning’s tough conditions. This was where Rondi got in for a swim alongside Josh Gordon of the UK. The slight lull in the chop did not last long and the rough water picked up as the blurred form of Bear Mountain bridge emerged from the blue haze. The calm proved to be deceptive for the swimmers; the headwind and the waves dogged them for most of the race.

Today, the risk to swimmers came not from the large cement containers, shunted upstream by tugboats – it came from the Sunday speedboaters slashing along, often oblivious to attempts to warn them via marine radio. Captain Greg Porteous was constantly on the alert and would maneuver to flag boats down by a blast on the horn and a polite request to slow down and look out for swimmers and kayakers.

Stephen Rouch was once more the stage winner, crashing down over the chop and launching his way forward. He barely seemed tired. Others did not look quite so fresh as they exited, drained by the relentlessly exhausting conditions. This year, the men are proving dominant, as Stephen was followed by Josh Gordon, Ed Stoner, Flavio Toi, and Graco Morlan, before Marta Izo broke the stream emerging just before Mark Spratt and Abby Fairman.

This is also the year of consistent finishes, and there are several swimmers doing all seven stages who are on course to enter the very exclusive 8 Bridges Hall of Fame. Among them are Stephen Rouch, Flavio Toi, Graco Morlan, Marta Izo, Abby Fairman, Ed Riley, Jamie Tout, Steve Gruenwald and — Harry Finger of Brazil who battled for 40 minutes against the flood tide to make the last 100 meters to the finish today. Those of us who are aware of our own frailties can perhaps borrow some of the strength of extraordinary people like these, and stay inspired by the memory of their determination.

And there, as we witnessed successive triumphs under the suspensions of Bear Mountain Bridge, we heard seagulls for the first time, telling us we are getting close to the end of our odyssey.

Stage 3: The Short Stage

By Liz Morrish

Stage 3: Mid-Hudson Bridge to the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge: 13.2 miles

Perfect conditions

There was more moisture and warmth in the air today, less wind but still a lot of cloud. The river was glassy and calm. Ideal conditions for swimming, if unusually cold. “What’s the temperature?” Rondi shouted down a radio to a kayaker. “67.2” (that’s 19.5 C) came the reply, “and I waited until the swimmers were out of earshot until I told you that!” Nobody wants to send swimmers on their way with negative thoughts or fear of the cold. For David Barra, conditions in the water are always ‘perfect’, and that’s the message you want to convey to keep spirits high. It seemed to work for Katrin Walter, who came out early yesterday because of low temperature, was back today, and feeling optimistic. Also cheery was Harry Finger, not just because it was his 60th birthday, but also because his sore shoulder was feeling a lot better.

Rivalries, new and old

This event has rekindled some old, but friendly, personal competitions. In one case, it is an ancient rivalry – Jamie Tout and Ed Riley have been racing each other over many decades. “What makes two old Dreadnoughts keep turning up”, said Ed, roaring with laughter. He is an easily identifiable figure both on land, with his white beard, and in the water, where he cuts his swim cap down to a bandana. Jamie stands out with a full sleeve of arm tattoos which he makes sure to cover in sunscreen.

Mark Spratt is a stage 3 swimmer and he was pleased to see Spencer Schneider at the Poughkeepsie Marina. They have met each other at many long swims. Spencer is also a team mate of his fellow Indianan Stephen Rouch.

Straight into the lead today was a one-stage 8 Bridges swimmer, but winner of the recent 2 Bridges swim, Diego Lopez of New York. How would he hold out against the Stage 1 and 2 winner, Stephen Rouch? Would this new entrant disrupt the previous days’ 1-2 of Stephen Rouch and Graco Morlan?

Rivalries really don’t endure beyond the landing dock. They are folded instantly into strong friendship based on shared experience and respect. Rondi agreed, reflecting on her own 8 Bridges swim in 2012 when she swam alongside Grace Van Der Byl for 120 miles. “It’s like she became my sister, when you experience all of that together”.

The most significant thing about this group is the sense of community. The Brazilian group of Marta Izo, Flavio Toi and Harry Finger (who has his 60th birthday today!) have traveled together and provided mutual support over many years. Others enact a teasing, joshing contest each day. Abby enjoys passing just about anybody, but especially Ed Riley, when she can. Not today, though. She enjoyed a touching simultaneous finish with Marta Izo.

Ed Riley, Abby Fairman, Marta Izo and Flavio Toi

Towards the end, we saw Stephen Rouch start to move on Diego Lopez’s lead with about 4 miles to go. Two miles from the bridge, they were neck and neck, but Diego had to let his lead go and Stephen surged ahead. The two had not met before, and so today, a new rivalry was born. It was lovely to see them congratulate each other the deck of Launch 5. Third home today was Mark Spratt; 4th was Flavio Toi, delighted to come in ahead of Graco Morlan. 5th was Anael Astic, followed by Ed Riley who was just ahead of Abby and Marta.

This was the shortest stage and there were some superb views along the way. We were joined in the wheelhouse by Charlie who was helping out with navigation and he is also knowledgeable about local history and landmarks. The Tilcon cement works at Clinton Point is hardly a thing of beauty, but the river is wide and still at that point, with the mountains in the far distance – relentlessly beautiful, as Karen Throsby said when she swam in 2015. I have to agree.

Friday, Stage 2: From the Wheelhouse

By Liz Morrish

Captain Greg Porteous, is an ex-New York State Trooper who restored his craft Launch 5 “The Patrolman Walburger” and named it for a police officer who lost his life saving two women in the Harlem riots of 1964. This swim simply couldn’t take place without Greg. He can identify when the tide turns from flood, to slack, to ebb. He knows where to find the fastest flow of the current, and he negotiates with the commercial river traffic so that the swimmers are not mown down. Not all craft are amenable to negotiation, however. One launch came unnecessarily close to our lead swimmer today. By contrast, a thoughtful captain of a river barge offered to slow down, saying “if I was swimming I wouldn’t want waves”. Greg also keeps the wheelhouse warm in case a cold swimmer need rapid rewarming. He is well aware of the signs of hypothermia and will keep the casualty chatting to make sure they are coherent.

Roy Malinak is the father of a former 8 Bridges swimmer, Andrew Malinak, and acts as first mate to Greg. Roy is on hand to strongarm the kayaks onto the boat or into the water. He’s first in line for welfare of the swimmers returning to the boat at the end of the swim. And he brings food on board with him, and is ready to share.

We are joined today by Stephen Rouch Senior, father of the lead swimmer of Stage 1 and 2. Yesterday he was kayaking, but today he has relinquished that to someone else and is helping Roy.

Rondi Davies – race co-director and monitors the state of the overall swim, monitors the stroke count of swimmers and times the feeding intervals.

Me – Liz Morrish, I get to watch the race in comfort from the wheelhouse, the stern or wherever has the best view and is out of the breeze. My job is to document each stage and the stories of the day. And I marvel at these extraordinary swimmers and the crews that support them. This is one magnificent event.

Stage 2 Kingston-Rhinecliff 198 Miles: ‘The Bitch’

By Liz Morrish

This is the one David Barra calls the ‘long-ass‘ stage – the one you really earn. Last year only four swimmers completed the stage due to the rough conditions; this year it is much calmer. A couple of swimmers from last year are giving Stage 2 another go, including Jamie Tout and Devon Clifford.  They seemed relieved at the welcome sight of still water and the sound of stirring chickadees this morning.

There is a process of warming up and greasing up before swimmers embark on Launch 5 to be transported to the stanchions of the bridge to begin the stage. The Brazilian group of swimmers, Flavio Toi, Harry Finger and Marta Izo, all use Vaseline and lanolin for both its insulating properties and to ward off chafe,

while yesterday’s lead finisher, Stephen Rouch covers himself in Butt Paste, the trade name of a popular diaper rash cream. This gives him the rather ghostly appearance of Batman’s The Joker, but it is effective.

So as the tide moved from flood to ebb, the swimmers took to the water. They must follow a narrow channel for this stage to stay in the current and the deeper water.

Both water and air temperatures were about 66 F, (17C) and this makes it difficult for the swimmers to keep warm. Having a hot sun on your back keeps body temperature up. The cold took a toll on a few swimmers yesterday. Katrin Walter of Switzerland huddled in the wheelhouse of Launch 5 soaking up the warmth before splashtime today. Yesterday she had found the conditions difficult, but she had finished, and today she was back for more, but sadly needed to come out after 90 minutes. Several others also exited the water today.

All the time, commercial traffic passes. Huge cement-carrying barges being pushed to Albany by tugboats cruise by, delicately avoiding the vulnerable swimmers. There are some lovely landmark lighthouses along the route today, and a couple of islands the kayakers must lead their swimmers around. And the most experienced of them sense the current flow and track right into it, so that our lead kayaker barely needed to paddle at some points. That’s the literal meaning of going with the flow. Up in the wheelhouse, there was much talk of Margarethe Horlyck-Romanovsky, a legendary kayaker who had an unerring sense of the river’s flow. She can’t be at the event this year, but she is much missed, much remembered.

The bridge came within reach and a fine misty drizzle descended. This didn’t help the swimmers when they exited, but we are hoping for fine weather in the Hudson Valley tomorrow.

There’s a new men’s record set by Stephen Rouch. His proud father, Stephen Senior, was there on Launch 5 to watch – as was Roy, father of the previous men’s record holder, Andrew Malinak. Stephen knocked 3.5 minutes off Andrew’s record, which Roy had also witnessed. This is testimony to the continuity and community of 8 Bridges.

Graco Marlan was next out of the water, followed by Abby Fairman who has really worked on speed this year. She was proud of her victory over John Hughes who was in next, and he was followed by Marta Izo and Flavio Toi. And happily, both Devon Clifford and Jamie Tout can claim to have conquered stage 2. Experience of completing two separate ice miles will have helped Devon deal with the cold.

The birdlife on the river is magical: herons and cormorants sit placidly on the channel marker buoys; bald eagles swoop down and hunt fish. And all the while the scenery runs from mountain to rolling, wooded hillsides. The train to Montreal salutes us hourly with its horn. 8 Bridges is very much underway.

What motivates swimmers to take part in 8 Bridges?

By Liz Morrish

It is 6.45am and swimmers, volunteers, boaters and organisers are assembling at Dutchman’s Landing, Catskill New York. Many of us haven’t met before, but it seems already as if people are gelling into their assigned roles.

This is the meaning of team work and it is the swimmers who are at the centre of this event. Everybody is here to make sure that they swim their swim. This explains why all the volunteers are here, but why did the swimmers themselves choose to participate in this particular event?

The scale of the challenge was an obvious factor, with several swimmers having done Channel swims or other marathon swims, and looking for another testing event. It is also clear that the Mighty Hudson itself is a huge part of the attraction.

“I have raced a lot in the Hudson and I have a deep affinity with the river,” wrote Mark Spratt.

Susan Kirk is in awe of the river, “Swimming in the Mighty Hudson is an amazing privilege, experience, and challenge! Sometimes she does not play nice and denies you a finish.”

“It is a unique event in the beautiful Hudson River with so many amazing swim friends!” says Kimberly Plewa.

Mina Elnaccash is lyrical about the Hudson:

“I grew up in Westchester County, near the Hudson River, and now my brothers reside in the Hudson Valley. Living in the Boston area I miss NY sometimes, so it’s a bit of a homecoming every time I visit. I have fond memories of sitting by a Hudson Line train station watching the lightning in the rainstorms traveling up and down the river between us and the city – you could always see the storm in the distance even when it was nearly 30 miles away. The river seemed so massive and intimidating then. Swimming seems to make all those points on the water a little closer together.”

Ed Riley summarizes, “it’s the gold standard for marathon swimming. it not only measures your endurance but also speed and uniquely your recovery.”

Bob Heiss probably speaks for everyone as he feels challenge, friendship, camaraderie and scenery all play a part.

“For me, swimming is a lifestyle. I love the challenge of a tough swim and the preparation and training necessary to do well. I feel part of the swimming community and have developed many close friendships through the years. Several of my friends are participating in various stages of the 8 Bridges this year, so camaraderie is a strong motivator. Stage 6 is a beautiful part of the Hudson, a scene I see daily, and I want to be a part of it. Finally, in the words of George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, “Because it’s there.”

It is clear that considerable lustre has attached itself, with justification, to the reputations of the organisers, Rondi Davies and David Barra.

“Such an amazing event, so well organized and distinctive, Rondi and David are top quality people,” was a frequent comment.

Rondi and David’s reputations rest not only on their legendary organisational abilities, but also on their own inspirational performances in marathon swimming. Rondi delivered a time of 5:44:47 in a 2011 round-Manhattan swim, and also completed all 7 stages of 8 Bridges in 2012. David Barra has accomplished the triple crown of marathon swimming, (Catalina Channel, English Channel and Round-Manhattan swims). He completed the 20-mile Provincetown to Plymouth swim in Massachusetts and the 25-mile In Search of Memphre, a cross-border swim from Vermont (USA) to Quebec (Canada), In 2015, Barra completed a 38-mile crossing of Cayuga Lake in New York in 23 hours 26 minutes. In 2017, he was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

This is season 7 of 8 Bridges, and under Rondi and David’s guidance, everybody is in good hands with a prospect of a truly memorable swim.

Stage 1: All Action

By Liz Morrish

There’s a lot of preparation that has to happen before an 8 Bridges swimmer hits the water each day. Marathon swimming may be an individual sport, but it requires a whole team of safety boats – the main Launch 5, 2 inflatable RHIBs, an outrider, Agent Orange, two jet skis as well as a kayak escort for each swimmer.

It was reassuring to see the Riverkeeper team on the river. This is a non-profit organization committed to monitoring and campaigning for clean water in the Hudson River. They are fellow travelers with the 8 Bridges team, and they pulled alongside to let everybody know the water quality was excellent, despite recent heavy rains. Together with a 2.1 knot current, this was looking like ideal conditions for our 17 swimmers on Stage 1, the Rip van Winkle Bridge to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge – a distance of 18.3 miles.

A half hourly event is the stroke count – how many strokes per minute the swimmer is taking. This is the surest indicator of the swimmer’s wellbeing. If the stroke count drops, this may be sign the swimmer is tiring or in distress. The count is logged for comparison as Rondi checks in on each swimmer via the kayaker.

The kayak escort ensures the safety of each swimmer and also, organizes the feed bottles so that feeds are given to the swimmer every half hour. Because of this, the kayaker is a central figure to the team. Some pairings of kayaker and swimmer bond to the extent they work together for swims across the USA and beyond. In other cases, swimmers will recommend their kayaker to another swimmer taking on the event the next year.

As we reached the halfway point of the stage, the chop kicked up slightly. It was enough to swamp the kayaker for the lead swimmer. This called for a swift rescue from David Barra’s Agent Orange rescue boat. The kayaker and kayak were retrieved, ferried to the main Launch 5, and the swamped kayak exchanged for a fresh one, not forgetting to transfer the swimmer’s feed bottles. The swimmer was Stephen Rouch of the USA who was way out in front, setting an amazing pace, but perhaps a bit disconcerted at his kayakers’ disappearance. Launch 5 kept pace with him until his escort could be restored.

Shortly after this, the lead passed to Graco Morlan of Mexico but he was overtaken in the last two miles by Rouch who was the first to pass under the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. Morlan was a close second, with Flavio Toi of Brazil coming in third. Abby Fairman  (USA) and Marta Izo (Brazil) came in next, followed by Ed Riley (USA).

Some swimmers do well in turbulent conditions, and apparently Graco Morlan is one of them. “He just loves the chop” yelled his kayaker as Morlan powered past. He and Rouch seemed to be racing head to head. Tomorrow will tell if this has depleted their energies. 8 Bridges, is, after all, a phenomenal test of powers of recovery.

A Love Affair

By Janine Serell

I’m a romantic about swimming, anyone who knows me knows that the Hudson is my favorite water to swim in.   Earlier this week there was a blog about the people who make this event special which we all do in so many different ways, but I think the river is really the star of the show.  The Hudson is the pin-up of rivers; she’s fast and sexy, moody and angry and goes from glass to white caps in the blink of an eye.  I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit in life and so often when i see one of the ‘great’ rivers of the world i’ve been a tad disappointed, they have all lacked the grandeur of the Hudson.  This is a river that inspired an entire school of painters who were so blown away by her beauty that they sought to immortalize it and share it with those not fortunate enough to visit her, and we get to swim, paddle, cruise and frolic in her, lucky us!

On the practical side the river supports commerce as we swim in her.  There’s something so cool about swimming with giant barges gliding by.  When you volunteer you get to hear the astonishment of the boat captains as someone explains that there’s 19 swimmers in the river going down the west side some of who will swim 120 miles over the course of a week, and if you’re lucky  they’ll even toot their horns in celebration when they see you.   Long freight trains and short passenger  trains snake along the river banks passing you as you swim.  I loved when i lived in the city taking the train to the start of a stage….the early morning sun shining on this bucolic setting would always put me in the right frame of mind to enjoy the river.  She’s not something to be conquered, but rather to be respected and enjoyed.  You can swim with her and in her, but not at her, she will not be bullied.  You need to find her rhythm that morning and match your breath to her’s.
This is my home water, the place i feel the most comfortable swimming.  I swam my 1st mile here in 2010 and have been lucky enough to jump in every year since.  I’m swimming the stages of 8 Bridges easiest to hardest as I’m optimistic that i will continue to improve that little bit I need to make the next bridge each year.    But no matter how my day in the river ends whether beyond the bridge or in a rib I will be eternally grateful that I got to jump in and swim happy in the Hudson again this year.   XOXO

The time has come

By Devon Clifford

The time has come. It’s that time of year again when a group of proclaimed “crazies” strip down to their swim suits, lather up with sticky white pastes of zinc, and press their goggles tightly into their eye sockets as they prepare to take the infamous jump off the bow of Launch 5 and begin their journey down the mighty Hudson River. As the years have gone by, I have fallen more and more in love with 8 Bridges; the people, the guidance, the connectedness to one of nature’s most beautiful elements, and the bridges.

I remember my nerves the first time I jumped in the river to ride the push in Stage 3. It’s a beautiful stage, and the shortest of the week totaling just about 13 miles, so for me at the time it was a perfect starting point. I remember wearing a flamingo printed swim suit as I swam with my father guiding me in his kayak at my side. The water temperature was perfect, I’m sure (at least that’s how I remember it because that is what Kent – SCAR race director – has instilled in my brain as the temperature always, no matter location, time of year, or weather conditions… it is always “perfect!”). I didn’t know enough about nutrition in distance events at the time so I only fed on water and Gatorade, and I probably didn’t get enough sleep that week because I had friends in town from Ireland. None of that mattered in the end though because as much as it was a learning experience, swimming stage 3, albeit slightly under prepared, was one of my first stepping stones into teaching me gratitude for a sport that has become my world.

In the years since my first stage swim of 8 Bridges, I’ve experienced and accomplished swims all over the world but June in the Hudson is by far one of my favorite times and places. I’ve come back to be a part of this event every year since that first stage and hope to be a part of the event for as many years to come as possible. I’ve participated as a swimmer doing one or two bridges, as well as striving for the whole chalupa (is that what Dave was calling 8B for the 7 stagers last year??) and I’ve come back as a volunteer, too. To be a part of 8 Bridges is not just to swim, but to be a part of a family. It truly is a magical time when you allow yourself to embrace not just your swim but the experience of others’ swims, as well. There is so much excitement, so many nerves, so much spirit, and so much love.

You’ll hear constant chatter though out the week about the water temperature (which, like I mentioned, is always “perfect” according to Kent – you’ll want to remember this and maybe allow it to become your mantra) and about things you feel or felt along the way, about the weather, about who is swimming what day, etc. “What is the temperature this morning?” “Do you think it will warm up?” “How are you getting back in the water day in and day out?” My favorite bits of chatter, though… that would be the positivity and the way we lift one another up for what we are about to or have accomplished. There is a spirit you’ll encounter during the week that may be unlike any you’ve been a part of before – a support system more giving than any I’ve experienced outside of swimming. This is after all, as far as I know, the most team oriented solo sport around!

The positivity doesn’t just come from one swimmer congratulating another, it comes from the non-swimmer perspectives as well. It starts at the top as Rondi and Dave have created this glorious river swim for us and you can tell how much they care without words even being a part of the equation. If you pay close attention, their actions will comfort you more than warm water and a sunny day. The passionate guidance from Greg and his crew as he guides us all on Launch 5 goes just the same. Let’s be honest though, what fun would swimming down a river be if you didn’t have someone with whom to share the experience? This is where the positivity of kayak support comes into play. Personally, I know I am the luckiest swimmer in the water when I have Lizzy by my side guiding my way, supporting my needs, and cheering me on… sorry, everyone else! Lizzy, you’re the best.

The emotions and banter all come together and nothing is better than finishing the end of each day with a smile, so don’t forget to bring that with you. As you approach the bridge (don’t sight too soon or that bridge may feel forever away for a very long time) at the end of your first and maybe only stage, or your second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or final stage just remember to enjoy what you’ve just accomplished. Turn over onto your back and take a minute to look up at the beautiful structure you just swam to, and appreciate where you started. We will all have a different experience despite sharing the same water, and somethings may be harder or easier for you during that stage, but the smiles at the end are the best part. Stay strong, swim smart, and enjoy yourself. Don’t get too upset if things don’t go exactly as planned though because no matter what you do in this river, you’ll only be as good as the Mighty Hudson allows!

See you in the water soon. Swim happy, my friends!