We finished! 7 days, 7 stages, 120 miles

Today it’s hard to believe it’s all over. It’s certainly going to take a few days to digest the events of the past seven days. Right now I’m feeling somewhat stunned about all that just unfolded in the past week, and a mix of bliss and indebted gratitude to the amazing group of people that came together to make 8 Bridges happen. From the boaters, particularly Greg Porteus and his daughter Amanda and son Buddy on Launch 5; to the kayakers, particularly Pat, Terry, Margrethe, Steve, Gary, Rosanna and Suzie; the 24 swimmers who worked so hard, were so focused, and also jazzed about their swims; Lisa Neidrauer for coordinating the kayakers, feeds, swim logs and finisher videos day after day; Janet Harris for coordinating boat loading for Stage 7, swimmer escort support, and all the ginger cookies; William Miller for all the help with Agent Orange; Tara Sullivan and the NYS Bridge Authority for transporting us all over the Hudson Valley; sponsors Blueseventy, Keen Footwear, and Gu Energy Labs. It was an incredible team effort. Thank you everyone!

Lisa Neidrauer coordinating kayakers and swimmers on Launch 5

For yesterday’s Stage 7 the weather gods were overly generous and completely made up for the harsh head-wind conditions of Stage 6. We motored to the George Washington Bridge in calm waters under sunny skies with a gentle tail wind from the northwest. A last minute discussion between the boaters and race directors had the swimmers splashing on the New Jersey side of the river. Here swimmers could be also be protected from the flood while waiting for the tide to turn. In addition, we found that the flood was weaker here than the Manhattan side of the river. It also meant we didn’t need to cross the shipping lane once the ebb kicked in — a win-win-win situation.

Martin and Amanda splashed at 8:30 am followed by John at 9 am, and Patty, Grace, and myself at 9:30 am. The tide was scheduled to turn after 10 am but we felt the push of the ebb almost immediately and made good headway down the Hudson. I reached lower Manhattan after about 2.5-hours of swimming and the Statue of Liberty around 3-hours. With the staggered start swimmers converged on the harbor about the same time which made it easier for the boaters to protect us.

Grace swimming past the Statue of Liberty. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

I’ve never swum past the Battery in such calm conditions; at times the water was glassy flat. With Gary and the Osprey at my side I felt safe and protected from the mayhem of water taxi’s, ferries, yachts, boats, and helicopters. I learned later that as I swam blissfully through the harbor, our boaters and two ribs were aggressively directing boats and ferries out of our way.

I visited Amanda and Martin during the swim, sadly this was the only time I saw Amanda yesterday as we were on different boats. Martin, having just become a US citizen, was stoked to swim by Lady Liberty.

We flew through the upper harbor toward the Verrazano-Narrows at over three knots. I was sad the swim was coming to a rapid close and was disappointed when feed times arrived because it meant another half hour had passed.

The Riverkeeper boat paid a call south of Bay Ridge. As I was swept by I heard Captain John Lipscombe, my hero, call out his appreciation for what we are doing for the rivers. This brought an unexpected rush of emotions, more so than finishing the swim. The Riverkeeper folks then motored off to test the waters of the Gowanus Canal at low tide. We got to catch up again with Capt. John last night as we grouped for a celebratory dinner in Ossining and saw photos of the Gowanus’s disgusting pollution.

The Riverkeeper boat visiting us en route to the Verrazano Narrows.

Meeting up with Captain John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper with David, Grace, John, myself. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

Arriving within 30 minutes of each other, the six of us finished the swim on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, moving out of the best current to keep clear of the large tugs and tankers arriving and departing the harbor through the shipping lane.

Me under the Verrazano Narrows, the most spectacular bridge of them all. Photo credit Greg Porteus.

Grace and I are the first to finish the 120-mile swim, the longest stage swim and marathon swim in the world! It was a complete honor to share this experience with Grace. Not only is she a fantastic athlete, she is grounded, warm, real, courageous, and inspirational. Swimming with her kept me focused on the task and brought out the best in me. Thank you Grace. Grace has set the bar high for future 8 Bridges swimmers. Also a big thank you to David for making this all happen. Dave and I each did our separate thing to organize the event, but David is the one that holds it on his shoulders; he’s incredibly flexible, generous, and stoic in the face of adversity.

Grace and Rondi – all finished! Photo credit Greg Porteus.

It’s a thrill that this years event was such a success. May there be many more 8 Bridges in the years to come.