December 15, 2013
Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
It was as if Selene and Artemis in the heavens were really two children in a vendetta to possess the moon. Their gravitational feud violently propels the salty water directly into my face. Above our undulating vessel is the formidable crimson underside of San Francisco’s icon, the Golden Gate Bridge, enveloped in a veil of thick, adoring fog.
I tuck the last wisps of hair into my neoprene cap and adjust my goggles. With my index finger, I push the silicon earplugs further into my ears; the crashing entropy of the green bay becomes muffled, but still persists. I sit on the edge of the boat in only a swimsuit, silently wishing that Hyperion's daughters would soon settle to an agreement.
The Jump, 8:00 A.M.:
I'm dreading jumping in.
The inevitable sudden sound of the air horn harmonizes with the enthused "Go!" from my coach. One by one, the ten swimmers, including me, reluctantly plunge into the violent waters of the San Francisco Bay.
Swimming, 8:05 A.M.:
I've always been the slowest open water swimmer in my group. In the competition pool, my concentration is streamlined; at 5 o'clock morning practices, there's often not much to muse on, except perhaps sleep – and I do fine. In the bay, however, the concept that hypothermia could at any time hinder my mental function rendering me incompetent; that there have been shark sightings in the San Francisco Bay; even the fact that jellyfish sting continually take root in my peripatetic mind.
This time, however, I tell myself, I will focus on simply touching the base of the Bay Bridge as fast as I can.
I keep swimming.
Alcatraz, 8:48 A.M.:
When I breathe to my left, I see the historic island – "The Rock" – from an unconventional perspective. I imagine the ghost of Al Capone cheering me on as he folds his shirts.
Concentrate on swimming, I correct myself.
Swimming again, 9:24 A.M.:
Without a wetsuit on, the icy water bites into my flesh with every stroke I take. The monotonous rotation of my limbs has established cramps in every corner of my body. Worse, my previously streamlined concentration begins to diminish. I see the monumental bridge, but all I can think about are my cold hands, sore shoulders and increasingly defeated spirit. The first swimmer has already touched the base and is back on the boat thawing his insides with a warm drink.
Testament, 9:30 A.M.:
The pain becomes nearly unbearable. I tread water for a moment, and my pilot asks if I want to stop. I say no, as I look towards the bridge. I can no longer see my group but am determined to finish.
I continue to swim, but I allow myself to think of something new. I take my mind off of the pain and imagine having lunch with Al Capone. I have what-if and whodunit scenarios playing out in my head. I recite Shakespearean sonnets. I create mathematical functions and then take their derivatives.
The pain tapers as I swim onwards; my mind brings me comfort and strength.
Touching Base, 9:42 A.M.:
I am the last to put my hand on the barnacle-encrusted base of the bridge, mentally and physically enervated. But I have touched base – of the bridge and with myself, conquering 10K of quasi-shark-infested, jellyfish-inhabited, Arctic-resembling water.
Hoisting myself onto the undulating boat once more, I look up again and see the glorious charcoal underside of the Bay Bridge. I had bridged a gap between two bridges not only with bodily muscles, but also with the strength of my mind and fervent imagination.