32,122 Strokes to Start the Final Push

Some quick vignettes from Tampa Bay:

An Old Friend Says Hello.  I was standing near the starting beach a few minutes before 7:00 a.m.  It was at the pre-race stage where you start to question your sanity for signing up for a swim like this at all.  A fellow walks up to me.

He:         Are you Doug McConnell?

Me:        Yeah, that’s me.  Have we met?

He:         Not for a long time.  I’m Tom Dougherty.

Me:        <Lightning bolt.>

I haven’t seen Tom Dougherty since I graduated from high school, some 35 years ago.  He was a couple years behind me, and his older sister was a classmate of mine.  We all had a blast swimming together as age-groupers in the summers for the Dundee Park District.

Me:        It is great to see you!  What on earth brings you here?

He:         Well, you.  I’ve been reading your blog and your wife’s blog, and they’re great.  I just wanted to say good luck with what you are doing.  It is a big deal.

Me:        Wow, thanks.  I still can’t believe you’re here – do you live here in Tampa?

He:         No, down in Bradenton.  It isn’t far – I made it here in about 30 minutes this morning.

So we talked for a few minutes, this old friend and me, about everything and nothing, until I had to ditch a shirt and get ready to swim.  Tom shook my hand again, and he vanished as fast as he had appeared.

I was really touched.  Here’s a guy I haven’t seen since Gerald Ford was in the White House, who woke up at five-something a.m. on a Saturday, drove a total of more than an hour, found the obscure beach where a bunch of knuckleheads were starting this long swim, all just to see me and wish me well.

I am still floored by the whole thing.

Feeding.  One of the big question marks with a swim of this length is feeding, and I believe we now have that nailed.  I was drinking this sports drink that I discovered called Infinit (www.InfiniteNutrition.us) that is actually custom blended; it even tasted good while I was in salt water, and I was never hungry and I never ran out of gas.  Hence, my conditioning and endurance were good and the nutrition worked, and those are major reliefs for the Channel.  Before we had left, the boys and I built a feeding basket that we put on the end of a painting roller extension pole that worked beautifully.

Jellyfish Sting.  When you swim in salt water, you run into little jellyfish that mostly hit your hands and chest, and they only sting for an instant like nettles.  We had those all day in Tampa.  Unfortunately, when I was at about 9,000 (strokes, that is) I also had a nasty encounter with the other kind of jellyfish that has the long arms, and it felt like an electric shock at first.  It wrapped around my left forearm that promptly blew up like a balloon. I immediately had stomach cramps and was began sneezing uncontrollably.  For some reason, Susan had an antihistamine with her on the boat and I took it.  My boat captain told me of another home remedy for jellyfish stings, the scatological details for which I will not provide, but it will be a great story for years to come.  I was concerned that my stomach was tied up in knots, but thought if I might be able to calm my system down a bit if I could force myself through another 1,000 strokes.  My stomach still wasn’t right for a while, and my arm still hurt, but I felt like I could keep going.  What’s left now is an icky rash and these long slasher welts on my forearm.

The English Channel is famous for jellyfish, so we’re going to make sure those antihistamine pills, along with Benedryl and an epi pen are in the kit bag to Dover.

Non-Sinister Wildlife.  Other wildlife sighted were three pods of dolphins (very cool – it was Earth Day, after all) a couple of stingrays and a small but aggressive little fish that seemed intent on trying to swim up the leg of my suit during the last mile. In his frustration in not succeeding, he leaped out of the water and even jumped over me a couple of times.  He reminded me of the bluegills that nibble on our toes when we swim in the fresh water lakes around here.

A Whining Puddle of Self-Pity.  The biggest physical issue for the day was a very sore left shoulder. It hurt like a son of a gun starting at 15,000 or 18,000 (again, stroke count).  I assume that it is lingering weakness from rebuilding my left arm after my herniated disc problem last year.  As my left arm got more sore, I was overcompensating with my right, and it was harder than ever to swim straight.  It was disappointing, but it was another crucial “lesson learned” about some of the training over the next four months to strengthen it.

Speaking of Counting Strokes.  People tease me because I occupy my mind during long swims by counting.  It has become a habit but it means that I kind of know how far I have gone, how much time has gone by, and when the next feeding should be coming around.  In flat water, I can swim a mile in 1,100 strokes and about 23 minutes.  In wavy water, it is more like 1,500 strokes per mile.  Tampa’s 24 miles required 32,122 strokes in 10 hours and 44 minutes.

St. Gemma.  A neighbor of ours, Tina, who may be the single funniest woman I know, has had some health problems recently.  She has managed to keep an incredibly positive outlook in the face of a negative situation, and there is no limit to my respect for her.  A couple of days before we went to Tampa, a large flat envelope from Tina was in the mailbox.  In it was a letter, a picture and a religious medal.  Her note was an explanation of this St. Gemma, how she has had such comfort and relief from learning about the saint, and how she has had a series of positive experiences with people who have been named after St. Gemma.  Tina asked if we would consider taking the medal with us to England in August, as a token of good luck to us and to her.  Susan sent her a note saying that, not only would we be pleased to take St. Gemma to England with us, but we were going to take her to Tampa Bay this weekend.

So, St. Gemma is becoming a world traveler, one stroke at a time.

See you at the lake (very soon).  I will report back.


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