DISCLAIMER: Open-water swimming is inherently dangerous. Open-water swimmers risk drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heart attacks, panic attacks, cramping, jelly fish stings, fish bites, boat or jet-ski collisions, collisions with floating or submerged objects (including other swimmers), and other calamities that can be injurious, disabling or fatal! The "West Neck Pod" is an informal association of open-water swimmers who swim "outside the lines" with no lifeguard protection, it has no formal membership, organizational structure or legal identity, and its participants, including the author of this blog, make no representations and assume no liability with respect to its group open-water swims. All swimmers who participate in West Neck Pod group open-water swims do so at their own risk. Be careful out there!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Forgive me if, unlike my usual blogs, I do not simply recount the highlights of today's swim, although I will eventually if you have the patience to read to the end...

Today is Father's Day, so Happy Father's Day to those of you who are fathers or who are lucky enough to still have fathers -- my own father having passed away 30 years ago when I was 25. Because it is Father's Day, whether or not you still have one, family issues are very much in the forefront, particularly so in my family because today is the three-month anniversary of my younger brother's tragic death.

Some of you may have read last week about the dramatic "rescue" by Pod members of a man whose car had run off the road and overturned in the woods near West Neck Beach, and who lay bleeding for five or six hours before we found him. My brother, who had fallen and hit his head, also lay bleeding for many hours before he was found, but by then he was almost dead, and he did in fact die some hours later but not, as might otherwise have been the case, alone.

Happily for the man in the car, and for his family, he is still alive this Father's Day.

None of this was in my mind, of course, this morning when I set out with an exuberant group of swimmers for what I hoped would be an easy, relaxed, casual swim after my marathon swim yesterday. We set out for the buoy, swimming against the current, to which Rob Ripp and his friend Damian were already enroute. As I, at the head of the well-spread-out pack, approached the buoy, driving hard to close the seemingly endless last hundred yards, I turned my head to the right and saw a powerboat approaching fast and heading straight toward me. I have not felt such terror since -- well, since I pulled open the door of that upside-down car last week not knowing what I would find inside. I knew -- as I was screaming at the top of my lungs for the boat to "STOP!!" -- that I didn't have time to get out of the way, or even to make that surface "pike-dive" I remember learning about in life-saving class some 20 years ago. I just watched in horror as this nightmare of every open-water swimmer was about to come true for me -- and my last, lovely open-water swim would end on a beautiful Sunday in June on Father's Day.

I don't know how or why the boat driver saw or heard me (or Rob and Damian screaming to him from the buoy) and at the last possible second cut the motor and swerved away so that all that hit me was the enormous wake of his boat, but I imagine it was the same kind of divine grace that let my ruined baby brother die with his mother, sister and loving friends attending him, that saved that man in the car from a terrible and lonely death, that spared my mother from the unimaginable anguish of having to bury two children in the space of three months, and that saved the driver of that boat from the pain of having killed someone else's child...on Father's Day.

When all had finally reconnoitered at the buoy, and I had recovered somewhat from my fright (and my annoyance at being chided by the unapologetic boat driver for "being out there" in the first place), we swam back to the beach, propelled by a fast current and, for me, exhilaration at being alive to make the return trip...Kara had thoughtfully provided us all with coffee and donut-holes, for which I, being in great need of "comfort food," was most grateful. I was grateful, too, as I always am, for this wonderful gift of open-water swimming, but acutely mindful that what we do out there is dangerous. So although it will take more than having been nearly julienned by an outboard motor to keep me from the open water, I intend to be more mindful, more careful, and, oh yes, ever so much more grateful in the future.

Be careful out there! And Happy Father's Day!


  1. Carol, I did not know of your recent loss of your brother and am so sorry to learn of it. I'm very happy you were okay today and at my unbelievable serendipity at meeting you and the OWS group and being a part of such a warm POD of friends. I consider myself equally lucky today. Ok, nearly as lucky. So glad you're okay.

  2. Thanks, Gae. It really is a wonderful community, and I'm glad you're now a part of it. We really do look out for each other, and help to keep each other safe...See you Tuesday! -- Carol

  3. Carol - thanks for the post. Very special and I too am so sorry to learn of your very recent loss. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to join such a welcoming and fun group of swimmers. As the current anchor/slowpoke for the 8am group I am particularly grateful that members of the group continually check on my progress and well being out there. On a lighter note, I'm still laughing about Ken's offer to give the ladies "a slice of his soap"

  4. Thanks, Evelyn. My brother's death is still very fresh and traumatic for me, and the events of the last week just brought it all back to the fore. Writing about how interconnected it all seems was cathartic...Thanks for slogging through it -- and for your support and caring. (By the way, I can get you slivers of Ken's soap at a steep discount....) See you on the Beach! -- Carol