A Swimmer’s Amazing 21-mile Journey

27 09 2007

The below is copied from Zendurance.net, which is a site run by friend and recent co-competitor in the 24 Hours of Triathlon, Shane Eversfield.  Of course, I recommend taking the message that Shane illustrates below AND adding it to your diligent and well thought-out training plan before attempting such amazing feats. Scott



A few weeks ago, a tall slender woman dressed in a black suit and high heels walked into High Peaks Cyclery. (How’s that for a great opening line, huh?) I asked if I could assist her with anything. In a soft, youthful voice she informed me that she was here to pick up a wetsuit we had agreed to lend her. Two weeks prior, Brian and I sat in his office pondering a card sent by this woman asking if we would be willing to lend her a wetsuit for a 24-mile open water swim. It struck us as unusual that someone about to swim such a distance did not already own and swim frequently in a wetsuit.

We introduced ourselves to each other and Maya began to tell me about her upcoming endeavor. She planned to swim 24 miles in Lake Champlain to raise money for a cancer foundation she and her brother had started to assist families of cancer patients. (Her mother is currently in remission from lymphoma.) In April, Maya’s brother had set a world record in an office building in New York City, climbing over 47,000 feet in 24 hours (using the stairs to ascend, an elevator to descend). He used this feat as the inaugural effort to raise money for their foundation. Maya accompanied him for the second half.

Maya’s training for her upcoming marathon swim seemed pretty minimal to me. She had no real experience with ultra endurance swimming feats, except for one 8-mile open water swim 2 years ago. Her training in the current season was minimal, consisting of pool swims no longer than 2 hours in duration. While swimmers are often slender, Maya did not strike me as a hard-core athlete by any means. I inquired about her fueling strategy, pacing, escort craft, etc. I was surprised with her naivety and inexperience, yet I felt certain she would accomplish her mission – her intent was pure and clear.

I was grateful that we had to drive to Brian’s house to retrieve his wife Karen’s 2XU Elite wetsuit for her swim. I offered her a nutrition strategy, using Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem and Endurolytes and figured out her hourly amounts. I also suggested that her kayak escort tie a long rope with flagging to the stern, so she could site without lifting her head. The escort should also monitor her nutrition to assure she was fueling correctly.

My final advice to her as we returned to the store was simply to execute each and every swim stroke perfectly, and not to extend or project her thoughts beyond that moment. I told her that I felt her intention was pure and clear, and that this would see her through her endeavor. Finally, I gave Maya a copy of Zendurance as my offering to her endeavor.

The day after her swim, she left me a voice mail to let me know she had completed almost 22 miles, despite windy conditions that generated up to 3-foot high chop, and despite 7 attacks by lamprey eels. Her first encounter with a lamprey occurred just 20 minutes in the swim, when one attached itself to the wetsuit on her right shoulder. Suddenly she had this “sea snake” waving right in front of her face. She nearly ended her quest right then and there. However, she thought about the hardships that cancer patients endure and returned to swimming after struggling to remove the slimy creature. All 7 of the attacks occurred in the first 4 hours of her over 13-hour endeavor – with 2 of them attaching to her skin, not the suit. After those first 4 hours, she seemed to have survived her “initiation” and was left in peace to finish her endeavor.

Maya had originally chosen 24 miles, because 24 hours in open water seemed too dangerous and logistically complicated. (It was her way of responding to her brother’s quest.) Maya did this epic swim without fanfare or accolades, and without much media hype (just a newspaper article in the Burlington Free Press). She received no medal, no T-shirt, and no M.C. announcement, as there was no finish line. For me, her quest epitomizes the transformation of aerobic fitness into spiritual fitness. Loyal veterans of the endurance lifestyle realize early on that our pursuit is not for fanfare, accolades, recognition or bragging rights. Ours becomes a valid path in life towards wisdom and heartfulness.

Quests of endurance have a long history that pre-dates our modern glory-seeking media-hyped “sport” versions. Consider the Native American Sun Dance and epic spirit runs: Candidates preparing for such ordeals do not follow a certified coach-approved periodized training program. There are no base, build or peak training phases in the preparation for a Sun Dance. (In considering Maya’s marathon swim, how could she “train” for lamprey eel attacks?) Rather, the preparation for a truly spiritual endurance quest involves purifying and clarifying one’s intent. There most certainly is a metaphysical “science” to this, not recognized by our conventional scientific model

This kind of profound, deep inner preparation and training transcends our crude form of physical athletic training – regardless of how advanced and cutting-edge the scientific basis for our program may be, and regardless of how meticulously we adhere to it. Do not misconstrue this to mean that there can be no deep and profound inner growth through a well-planned scientifically-based endurance training program. Our conventional methods of training and racing can indeed lead to such powerful inner transformation – when our intent is pure and clear!

What truly amazes me is the power of pure and clear intent, regardless of the nut-and-bolts physical training. Maya’s swim was a great reminder of that for me, and I am grateful to her for this. When one’s intent is pure and clear, then one’s mindfulness – one’s capacity to be absolutely present in this moment, here and now – leads to brilliance in performance and capacity that defies our modern conceptions of possibility. (To read more about the spiritual context of extreme endurance within and outside the “sports” context, see my book Zendurance.)

I must be clear with the reader: I do not profess any degree of mastery in sourcing clear and pure intent and applying it towards remarkable athletic achievements that defy modern scientific models or our concepts of what is possible. Rather, I have a commitment to acknowledging the power and the possibilities that lie dormant in our spiritually based endurance endeavors. I wish each of you divine guidance and sacred sourcing in your endurance quests, on your path of spiritual fitness, as well as aerobic fitness. May your intent be always pure and clear.

Namaste, Zenman

(To contact Maya Davis: mdavis_05489@yahoo.com.)




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