“Are you preparing for the Third World War, Sir?”, smirked the cashier as I passed him with my trolley crammed full of toilet paper. “No, I just have a very exciting swim on Saturday and I’m nervous like hell!”, I answered casually.
It was only Thursday, but I already knew I was doomed. The diarrhoea had come to stay. I’d never been so anxious in my entire life. I was really looking forward to this swim, but somehow many questions and doubts had managed to get inside my safety bubble. This was a real double crossing between Denmark and Sweden. No more cosy swimming along the shoreline. After my panic attack in Lanzarote back in January, how was I going to react to the water depth this time? What about the infamously strong current in the shipping lane? Would the weather be as bad as all the forecasts? What about the other swimmers in my team? What about my gear? My new wetsuit didn’t work for me and my new glasses were already ruined. On top of that my bloody dog wouldn’t sleep for three nights in a row so Martin and I had to take turn sleeping on the floor in the living room. “Let go of the uncontrollable”, they say. Well, there was no cutting loose for me this time. No sleep, ruined bowels, no fluid balance and an overloaded brain. When I woke up at 4:00 am Saturday morning I felt like a zombie – stuck in the loo. What a start! 😮
More than ever I was happy and moved to see some of my friends and runners show up at 5:45 am on the beach to wish me good luck. It helped me relax and refocus. It all started very gently. It was slightly windy with the current going east. The crossing (named “Øresundsracet 2014”) had been arranged by the “extreme team” of The Sport Society. It was all very down-to-earth and professional at the same time. They had made sure to get the necessary permissions from the relevant authorities and made all the arrangements to get four escort boats for the 15 swimmers. Thomas had been invited to join one of the escort boats, so he could take fantastic pictures as always.
The other swimmers in my group, Dennis, Fredrik and Kenneth, were a perfect match. We set off calmly and found some fair speed very quickly. Time flew by as I reached the zone very easily. It didn’t take long for my mind to drift away to the place my dreams had taken me that night – East Africa. Not that there is any connection between swimming in open water and the semi desert of my Samburu-land in Kenya. But I guess that’s the magic about being in the zone – it takes you where you feel safe and relaxed. Not a single conscious thought about the water depth, the current or the ship traffic. Africa is my haven and I stayed with it for quite a long time, only to realize it when interrupted by our feeding breaks every 30 minutes. Everything went perfectly for an hour/an hour and a half – except for my diarrhoea getting worse and worse. But what the heck! Neoprene is not transparent and nobody is looking at you in the middle of the water anyway. I’m sure it must be good for the fish 🙂
Then suddenly the weather and the current changed drastically. The wind rose and the waves got quite lively. We got stuck just outside Helsingborg – around 600 m from the shore but a few kilometres from our official destination. We kept swimming on the spot or even backwards at some point. Again and again the current pulled us back to the busy shipping lane. So after a few more attempts the pilot decided to abort the crossing. Safety first. As a favour though he took us to our destination point in Helsingborg so Dennis, Fredrik, Kenneth and Jacob (from another group we’d picked up on the way) could land on the Swedish shore. As for me, my diarrhoea had taken the best of me, so I chose to stay on board but ended up getting pretty seasick because of the boat rocking back and forth on the waves. More for the fish! 🙂
Our pilot took us quickly and safely back to Denmark where we had a nice brunch altogether along with our family and friends who’d come to support us. Although we didn’t make it forth and back between Denmark and Sweden I had an amazing day and an extremely rewarding experience with a view to my crossings in 2015 and 2016. There were many relevant lessons to learn from. For a start crossing open water is completely different from swimming along the shore. Even with a wetsuit on, you are even more exposed to and dependent on Mother Nature’s will. It requires more arrangements, more intense teamwork and even more trust in your team and your pilot. You have no choice but to rely on their better judgment. Furthermore timing is of the essence, both in relation to the traffic and the weather. I found it very interesting to sit on the boat at the end and see how a few others tried one last time to swim all they could without getting an inch out of the spot. You don’t realize that while you’re lying in the water. Everything feels right. I mean – a stroke is a stroke and you feel like it takes you forward. But as one of the pilots said, it’s like running on a treadmill – the miles keep on piling up, but you’re still in the same place. This Saturday’s swim has given me even more respect for the elements and for my sport. At the same time it has taken a lot of pressure off my nerves as it’s given me a deeper insight and a broader perspective as to my bigger goals in 2015 and 2016.
In the meantime I’m looking forward to this winter where I’ll get the chance to train with the “extreme team”. I’m sure those guys will give me a good kick up the arse – especially when I run out of self-discipline and feel like backing out of an interval training session in the fishbowl.
More than ever I now know the importance of swimming strong. Dear Sweden – your fish can rest assured! I’ll be back! No shit! 🙂
Click here to see all the pictures by Thomas Voller.
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