A guest post from Julie. Thanks for writing this Julie.
(This also means the other people I’ve asked for guest articles are under more pressure! Stop delaying Prez.)
Julie is recently married so her married name is now Julie Galloway Farrell, but I wanted to fit as much into the title as possible, no offence to Mr. Galloway Farrell. :-)
You can Vote for Julie for World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year.
When I posted my deposit for my Jersey swim, it was so far away that I didn’t have to think about it too much. I was confident. I had just finished my Lake Zurich swim, my body felt great and life was good! Jersey wouldn’t be a bother to me. Or so I thought.
Last spring, when all my sea swimming buddies were heading to the coast to train for their summer endeavours, I stayed behind. I had taken up running, which allowed me to (finally!) lose my channel weight. Twenty pounds of warmth were gone, and I knew it, and that scared me. I tried to rationalize it with myself, being that there are plenty of swimmers out there far thinner than I, swimming away without a bother to them. But that wasn’t me. As expected, when I started hopping in the sea, I was freezing.
“Ah sure, it’s early days, the sea’s on its way up”, my local High Rock swimming crew would say.
But I was cold, and with the cold came doubt. Over time I began to seriously question myself. My mind went from comfortable confidence to constant questioning. How was I, a Channel Swimmer, going to live this up? Instead of using the struggle as a chance to grow, I retreated. Any time I knew a sea swim was on, I went running, or did something else. It would have been the perfect opportunity to reach out to my amazing Channel community, but I didn’t. I felt alone.
I didn’t completely ignore the task at hand. I was in shape from pool swimming, and knew I could physically tackle Jersey. It was a mental thing, and as time ticked closer to my tide, I knew I had a lot of work to do. I’m a fairly realistic person, and I know myself pretty well. Time and time again, I would head to the sea, full of confidence and excitement, only to retreat a half hour later, freezing and miserable. It was exhausting, and I felt like I was seriously letting myself down. My spirit was pretty low, depressingly so. I was up during the night by this stage, my sleep haunted by the thoughts of being so cold out there, so alone.
So I made a decision. I’d discussed it with the famous Jersey boat pilot ‘Charlie’ Gravett. I still want to swim, but if it doesn’t happen, could I do a relay instead? He said that’d be fine. I was doubly disappointed; I’d already done a relay around Jersey the year before. Doing it again wouldn’t really accomplish anything, in my eyes anyway. The box had already been ticked.
When I arrived to the beautiful Channel Island, I was a royal mess. Everybody seemed afraid to ask me anything. My poor fiancé (now husband!) Dave was being as careful as possible not to upset me. Mentally, every thought was ‘Will I? Or won’t I? Yes? Or no?’ We headed to St. Catherine’s Bay the day before I was set to go off. My dear friend and Channel buddy Sakura was out there on her solo, getting it done. I was inspired. I hopped into the water. Not bad. Swam a bit…still, not bad! Okay, let’s do this. When my heroic Sakura arrived back, she looked great, and said she wasn’t cold at all. So I said it’s a go, see you tomorrow, I’ve got some eating to do!
I surprisingly slept well, and awakened excited. It’s go time! I was thrilled. We arrived and headed off soon after. I could already sense it was going to be a good day out there. The sea was flat, and the sun was on its way up. As well, I had full confidence in Charlie and Mick (boat crew) and my support crew Nick Adams and Dave. These were all positives, and I was ready to feed on positives. My goal, as the legendary Freda Streeter first told me in 2008, was to swim from feed to feed. Three years later, it’s still the best advice anybody has given me.
I still had doubts. As I said, I’m a realist. I knew the swim would take around 10 hours; I was barely into one hour. I had a long way to go. But any time I started questioning what would happen in the upcoming hours, a voice inside me appeared from virtually nowhere, and told the negativity to shush. I was out here to swim and have fun. Just keep swimming.
By hour four, I knew the swim had officially begun. I felt a bit tired, a bit cranky and a bit sore. I knew my pace was okay, but the doubt crept back inside me. I wasn’t yet halfway and felt like I had already put in a lot of my effort into getting around the island. I took a feed, nice and fast, and decided the upcoming half hour would be spent thinking about my swimming career. Lucky for me, I’ve been swimming since I was five. I started from the beginning. The summer league meets, starting year-round swimming like my brother and sister, qualifying for my state meet, winning my first state title, setting my first record…the works.
Things went amazingly well in my swimming career until I hit my late teens. Those were the low times. The personal struggles and physical setbacks. The depression. The tears. Before I knew it, I was taking another feed, but remained absorbed in my own past. Once my face re-submerged, I was back in that time. See, I quit swimming on a horrifically low note. I was so below my potential, and I knew it. Unfortunately, I was too despondent to care. I could not swim, nor could I walk, and as I hobbled around my college campus on crutches, I felt like a completely defeated person. Gone was the scholarship, gone was the prestige I once owned. I let it slip from my grasp, and I had never forgiven myself for doing so. I swam along, remembering those feelings, shedding a few tears in my goggles.
Oddly, I felt a pure sense of joy during this time. I knew the proceeding events were positive. I was anxious to relive them. I took another feed, all smiles and positivity. Back I went, to the silent environment owned only by myself, full of mindless strokes carrying me toward my ultimate goal. You see, during my final year of college, I decided I was going to move to Ireland. I had visited both as a teenager and during college, and was determined to get myself there. Why? I had no idea. When I arrived in Dublin, I had zero friends, zero connections, and definitely did not have my swimming gear with me. I realised my predicament soon enough, and knew I needed to meet people in the community. So I thought I’d go swimming.
I hadn’t touched a pool in many months, but within weeks, I had joined a masters team, and had taken my first plunge into the sea, freezing like a wet dog, but happy. Within months, I’d signed up to do the Channel. The following two years were a complete renewal of my confidence in myself both as a person and an athlete. I was nowhere near the speed I once had, but that meant nothing to me now. I was doing what I loved. When my arms touched the sand at Cap Gris Nez in France, I felt a feeling I never, ever wanted to relinquish. I felt, for the first time in years, successful. This was huge for me. When I arrived back onto the boat, I knew my world would change. And it did. But, being young, I don’t think I quite understood my inner strength.
Back to the present. I’m in extreme pain. My shoulders hurt, and every stroke feels like pins are going through my hands. My wrist feels broken. My face is tense, and I feel like every stroke is becoming less and less efficient. I am tired. I am in the final stretch, but that does not mean I am there yet. It is time for me to once again enter that place I went during my Channel swim, when there is nothing is left to give, and you’ve still got sea before you. I sludge on.
The lads smile down at me. I can’t smile back. I want to, but I can’t make my face do it. Too much effort. I continue. I don’t know how long it took, my mind is unreliable, but finally, after hours of effort, I could see the finish. I shook my head in disbelief. I would be, in a matter of minutes, finished. Despite the pain, I could smile.
Jersey was an amazing, altering experience in my life. But being the fastest person to ever do so is secondary to the lesson it bestowed me. After my Channel swim, I still did not understand the inner strength I had. It was my Jersey swim that showed me that. I’ve realised that doubt can be a good thing, if use it in a positive way. I didn’t realise this until the last minute, but I now know better. For me, being nominated for the WOWSA Performance of the Year is great, and I’d love to win it. But, really, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve already won with myself, and I can’t think of anything more satisfying than that.
Vote for Julie for World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year.
And follow her on Twitter. (She occasionally discusses Coldplay and sushi.)