View Full Version : Great Chesapeake Bay Swim 2004

June 16th, 2004, 09:32 AM
Letter to friend about GCBS 2004.


It's Monday June 14th about 3:20pm. I'm home from work recovering. I've always fancied myself as pretty tough, willing to attempt any challenge, especially physical. Yesterday I did the hardest thing I've ever tried in my life. I always thought an elitest, pompouse, prideful attitude toward any physical challenge until this point in my life was always a good thing. I don't have this attitude anymore, it's been washed completely away into the Chesapeake Bay. You really have to believe or convince yourself you can do something before you actually do it, unless of course it's really not that hard. I think pride amoung other things saved me yesterday while I was fighting off disqualification for allowing the currents to sweep me to the wrong side almost instantly after I turned into the bridges. By that point I had already totally reajusted my expectations to just finishing at all cost. I was foolish at the bay's edge just before the gun to think I could actually do more then just finish. When the race started, I started just like everyone else, except the only swimming I've really ever done is in a pool and I justed learned that last November. The closest person was usually in another lane and occassionally I would have someone in my lane sharing. As you know the Bay isn't that kind, especially at the start. People were on top of me, I couldn't breath, I was swallowing water, and immediately my brain started saying you can't handle this, your not prepared. Your a novice swimmer, 10-15K yards per week wasn't enough. Your 43 yrs. old you love your wife and kids more then anything, what the hell are you doing wasting precious time in this Bay away from them swimming! So that was the beginning. I made it to the bridge, made a left hand turn and tried to get control of myself, especially breathing. I wouldn't say I was panic'd, but I was certainly overwhelmed at just how hard the waves smashed into my face and body as I swam forward. Once under the bridge I knew from the tidal chart I looked at and the pre-race meeting to stay close to the left bridge, but I totally under-estimated the current. I never swam in currents before. Maybe a rip-tide or two on my raft as a kid in the ocean, but that was nothing compared to just how quickly while swimming I ended up against the right bridge and had to start swimming as hard as I could almost perpendicular to the left bridge to save myself from getting pulled out and DQ'd. I struggled mightily to stay in the event (it was know longer a race for me it was now all about making it across). For the next 1.5 miles I swam almost on a 90 degree angle to the bridges to keep myself from a DQ. The funny thing is the currents probably weren't that bad, I really don't know because I don't have any experience to compare it to. I do know it was overwhelming to me at the time. I made it to the 2 mile boat. I was completely exhausted, spent. I remember our conversation the night before and you telling me to make sure I stopped and got a little drink of water at the 2mile boat. You said, "Do it, take a few glups of water and push on. It will only take 30 seconds of my time." Well I stopped at the boat alright. Those people in that boat are wonderful. So wonderful I stayed for 10 minutes. I couldn't drink, but I did calm down. I was going to quit, climb right in that boat. I couldn't bare the thought of 2.4 more miles of current and waves beating the crap out of my body. I had also swallowed enough Bay water to qualify for drowning. I don't know why I left the boat. I think it was because another guy came up and started saying, "I can't make it!, I can't make it! What should I do?", he said. That's when I left the boat and started to swim again. Mile two to mile three was better. I calmed down a lot. The currents weren't as strong. I found that really amazing. Man really has no power against mother natures waves and currents. I was now able to stay in the middle of the bridges and swim straight, but I was exhausted, totally. I made it to the three mile bouy and one of the kayaker (also amazingly good people) was trying to talk me through a direction change, but I was to delirious to understand him. My lower body was starting to cramp up. I was getting muscle spasm in my hamstrings and calfs. I had to stop and float and stretch my legs. I didn't think I could move my shoulders anymore. I think 25 years of rowing and racing helped, because I always was able to kick, and kick, and kick. I don't know if my kicking helped, but I was able to keep doing it. It turns out the kayaker was directing me away from a floating pile of grass and dead fish. Again, I was delirious so I didn't comprehend anything he said and swam right into the mess. I guess (maybe) that would freak some people out, but it didn't bother me to much. All I wanted to do was finish. At this point I was thinking I'm going to get close, but probaly would not make it. I knew Joan and the boys would be at the finish worried where I was, because my last conversation with them was before I went in the water. Back when I was ignorant, foolish, unaware, pompous and egotistical about these sort of things (swimming). Well I made it to the end of the bridge and started to turn right to get out from under the bridges. The current had now changed direction and was back to suck the last drop of life out of you, especially someone with my pre-race attitude. I made it through the bridge span, barley and them turned left to see Hemingways off in the distance. I couldn't go any further. I mean I really couldn't do it. I rolled on my back and floated. The current moved me toward the rocks of the jetty which supports the road onto the bridge. I rolled back to my stomach and swam for another minute and I saw a man standing up! I put my feet down and I could feel the bottom. We were all just in 3.5 feet of water, but you couldn't see the bottom. We were still hundreds and hundreds of yards from the finish, but you could stand. I stood up and 5 seconds later I was violently vomitting. I mean the gut wrenching kind where your eyeballs are trying to pop out of your head. It was all bay water and whatever else goes into your stomach when your adrenilin gets to much of a workout. I vomitted for about 5 minutes. I tried to walk, but ended up stationary until I could breath again. For some reason, I don't know why I started to swim again. I could have walked the rest of the way, but I didn't want to finish that way and now I was believing finally that I could make it and make it I did! I finished, I actually crossed the Chesapeake Bay between those two bridge spans and got my shirt. Making it across is probably nothing for most people in that race, for me 5 minutes after starting it became one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'll never have the egotistical attitudes again about anything I've never done before, like I did before this race. Ocean swimmers are incredible people. I made it across in 2:50:11. At the mile mark I told myself I would never, ever, the rest of my life try this again. Well I think that was the only lie of the whole day because thoughts of next year have creeped into my head. I really don't know if I'll try it again, but I am thinking about it. I do know I'll never under estimate the physical abilities and guts of ocean swimmer, life guards or anyone with the prowest to swim in the open water. The Chesapeake Bay swim is an amazing event put on by dedicated people all for charity. For me it turned into a much bigger accomplishment then I ever thought and a truly humbling experience.

Thanks for the call the night before the race. I'll talk to you again soon. Sorry for the long response. Say hello to the family.
GCBS Bib# 469 - I'll be back!

Leonard Jansen
June 16th, 2004, 10:21 AM
Justin -

Congrats! Of course, you WILL be back - no one ever escapes once Open Water has you in its grips.

That said, the Chesapeake Bay swim is one of my least favorite swims, but there are many other races, some much less challenging and some more so than the Bay swim. I suggest that you consider one of them. There is one in Chestertown, MD this weekend...

Swim for Life 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 mile swims. 19 June 04 (http://www.swimdcac.org/)

C'mon - you know you want to go...


June 16th, 2004, 01:35 PM

This looks like a great swim. I would go, but will be out of town this weekend. Next year.

I'm hooked on the open water now, for sure. I do need a lot more practice and experience.

Thanks for the reply.

June 16th, 2004, 07:32 PM
Congratulations on finishing the 4.4 Chesapeake Bay Swim. I was there on Sunday to do the 1 mile Challenge. It was my first open water swim. I had fun despite swallowing much of the bay! The start was the worst, but I survived!

Tom Ellison
June 18th, 2004, 03:30 PM
Way to go...and way to hang in there....
I am impressed!

June 19th, 2004, 09:50 AM
Thanks Tom. Are there any good open water swims up there in Rome, NY?

August 3rd, 2004, 09:14 PM
Its been a while since I cruised this board. Your accomplioshment is great so Congrats. I too swam the bay this year for the second time and I was one of the ones who was DQ'd a little before the two mile mark. Long story short but the currents got me. I am a rookie at this too and Leonard Jansen was a big help for me last year as well as others. I made it last year across the bay. This year she won.

I too am hooked. There isn't a day that goes by that I think of the mistakes I made and what I will do next year. Well I am training now for it.

My friend finished second to last. Incredible feat 3 hours plus.

Keep it up and do it again. Now that you know what to expect its a different race.