Call me old. An aging (63-year-old) athlete sets out on a lifetime glamour swim in New York City with the support of his best friends. This saga began 40 years ago when I started running races. Twelve years ago I started swimming on a masters team, and four years ago I started triathlons.
Two years ago I stumbled across the NYCSwim.org website. NYCSwim has been organizing swims in the waters around Manhattan since 1993 in an effort to revive the New York City aquatic tradition. The effort was helped recently by the vastly cleaner waters of the Hudson, East and Harlem Rivers.
I had never been a champion athlete, so in the spring of 2013 I decided it was finally time to do something memorable. As I perused the six races offered by NYCSwim that summer, one in particular caught me – the Statue of Liberty swim, three-quarters of a mile around Liberty Island. Does it get any better?
But you don’t go alone to the Big Apple. I needed friends – supportive ones who didn’t have to swim but could give me the confidence boost I knew I would need. An obvious requirement – they had to be NYC-friendly, ready to walk for miles without rest, tolerate hotels, dodge traffic, shop, gawk at skyscrapers, hop subways and cabs, mingle with the (remarkably friendly) Gotham natives. Who do you pick? My kids weren’t interested. After much deliberation, I invited two lady friends – Carla and Kate – who could support me and handle anything the Big City could throw at them.
The race goes like this: about 275 swimmers and their guests take the ferry to Liberty Island on a Friday evening in August, visit the Statue and museum, and when all the tourists have left, the swimmers are tagged, lined up and told to jump off the ferry dock in groups as the horn sounds. This begins the difficult and exciting swim around the island wherein you get the thrill of a lifetime by using the Statue of Liberty as your reference point while fighting the tides and waves trying to get to the finish. I finished the race (barely) and my buddies were there on the dock with a big hug and a camera.
Like I said – does it get any better? Yes, it does – the next day was NYC on steroids as we hit every attraction on our list that we could visit in a 16-hour window. The swim was just an adventure within an adventure.
That was 2013. This year, pumped by the experience, I signed up for the Brooklyn Bridge Swim in July. Once again Team Hammer rode the rails to NYC. This race was supposed to begin near the South Street Seaport and go across the East River under the famous bridge. That’s not what happened. The tides were wrong and we would go under the Manhattan Bridge instead. This would have been fine if we had known about the rip current around the second stanchion of the bridge. About 100 of the swimmers were swept downstream or clung to the stone stanchion wall and had to be picked up by rescue boats. I somehow finished (barely), but it was OK because the team was there to calm me down when I crawled out on the Brooklyn side.
What did we do beside the race? You guessed it – sightsee till you drop.
Moral of the story – step out of your comfort zone and do something wild before you get old, and get by with a little help from your friends.