Tejaswi's Big Swim p.2
The start of the swim.
I felt amazingly composed right from the start. I encountered problems almost immediately – my calves started to cramp, the goggles I had been training in for months without mishap, started to leak and my head started to ache with the familiar nauseating feeling of an oncoming migraine. However, deep inside myself I had resolved that I would not stop swimming until I reached the French shore, so I refused to allow my early problems to shake me. I stretched my legs under water whenever they started to cramp, refitted my goggles and concentrated on invoking the silent reserves within that I had discovered through meditating with Sri Chinmoy.
The first hour passed very quickly and I swam up to the yacht, fed and swam on. The next two hours passed in much the same way. It was cold, my feet started to go numb but I felt smooth and rhythmical in the water as I swam and chanted silently. After around 3 hours, the sun started to rise but it was still cold and looking up on deck, I could see everyone thoroughly rugged up against the chilly morning air. It was around this time that my threatening migraine disappeared, the cramping eased and I felt more physically comfortable. If ever I felt my mind quail at the monotony of the seemingly endless hours of swimming ahead, I would repeat affirmations to myself: “It is already done” or “It is your destiny to swim the Channel today” or “This is the greatest day of your life”. I found that they helped me to stay inspired, enthusiastic and above all, determined.
At my five hour food break, the pilot yelled down to me that we around half way across the Channel. This encouraged me tremendously. I knew that I still had the harder half of the swim to go but I started to feel that I could perhaps finish in under 12 hours. I was feeling good and was not feeling much muscle pain in my shoulders which I had been anticipating at this point in the swim, so I really tried to attack from this point on.
We were well into the shipping zone and I could see massive cargo ships around us. Some came within 100 yards or so. There was no sign of the coast on either horizon, just a vast expanse of ocean disappearing into haze.
Around half an hour later, I felt something brush over my left shoulder followed by an intense burning and stinging sensation and glanced down and saw to my horror, a purple jellyfish disappearing behind me. I yelped and stopped violently. The pain was quite strong – it felt like I had been burned and there was a long red welt on my skin, but I quickly realized that there was nothing whatsoever that could be done about it and resumed swimming, swerving violently to avoid other incoming jelly fish.
After seven hours, Dave the pilot told me that I had around 8 miles to go. “Right”, I thought to myself, “Let’s nail this swim.” I renewed my efforts and pushed hard.
Looking up to the boat, I could see Rodney being violently ill over the far side of the boat while trying to conceal it from me – a difficult task. He had flown in the day before and had not slept in 36 hours or something and was clearly finding the crossing harder than I was.
Swimming is a very isolating sport, especially distance swimming. It is like exercising in a vacuum. Your view is exceedingly limited and you can only hear the gurgling rush of water swirling past your ears. It can be very lonely. The toughest part of both training and racing is mental. I found that my mind would consistently rebel against the long hours in the water, the lack of stimulus and the strain of pushing further and further. I knew in the lead up the swim that the biggest impediment to a successful crossing was going to be mental. On the day of my crossing, however, I found that my focus was totally clear. To my great relief, I felt a sublime peaceful intensity that I tried to enhance by singing and chanting inwardly and maintaining a concentrated inner poise. The words of Sri Chinmoy constantly echoed in my mind:
“Do not rely even 1% on your own capacity, rely 100% on God’s Grace”
Every time I felt my energy flag or the stirrings of despair, I would repeat this to myself and invoke my spiritual capacities and within a few minutes I would feel renewed energy and greater peace.
From the seventh hour to the ninth, I pushed very hard and was still surprised by how good I was feeling. My crew told me around the ninth hour that I had four miles to go. I felt elated, I knew at this point that I was going to finish. The sun was high in the sky and I felt warm and strong. I figured that if I could maintain my pace for another two hours, then I would be finished. Now, I almost gleefully attacked the water. Thoughts of a sub 12 hour finished energized my body and my ego.