Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Race

I'm kicking myself for not creating a podcast of Dom's swimming efforts over the past 5 months. It had all the potential for a great audio diary; the 6ft 4" non-swimmer challenging himself to race one of the most notorious stretches of open water, from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco shore.
Aside from the physical challenge of learning an effective freestyle, his initial concern was great white sharks. Those brutal killers come to the oceanic 'red triangle', which incorporates the northern California coast, because it's a breeding ground for so much marine life, perfect for hunting a vulnerable snack. Hungry sharks that have traveled miles for food, no thank you. Digging around on the internet Dom unearthed news that a great white was spotted in the bay three years ago. Three years? That's yesterday when it's murky below and you're dressed up in a wetsuit the colour of seal flesh. Admittedly it was about eight miles from the race waters but I think sharks can swim at about 25mph which means it could have been nibbling Dom's toes in less than twenty minutes.
Early August and during a day trip further up the coast, we found out the beach we were sitting on had been closed for six days after two shark sightings. Then, last month aggressive sea lions began attacking swimmers in Aquatic park, the open water practice area. That was quickly followed by a suicide victim being washed up there. A sombre sight; to see blankets thrown over the beached body, police cordons set up, ambulances by the shore.
I've forgotten to mention that this was actually a triathlon, after the 1.5 mile swim, Dom had 14 miles by bike and a 6 mile run. A month before the race Dom said he was worried. I nodded, perhaps my face contorted a bit, thinking how I'd feel ahead of a challenge like this.
'Worried I won't hit my fund-raising target' he went on. The fact that he'd already raised 17 thousand dollars for a UK children's charity seemed to have passed him by. The man wasn't thinking straight.
Less than three weeks til the race, the hottest day in San Francisco this year, and Dom throws in some last minute cycle training. In the upper eighties he biked over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausilito and back, then topped it off with a six mile run along the coast. I think it dawned on him then, that it wasn't all about the swimming.
What luck, then, that just days before the race an email came through saying that permits for the cycle ride had been revoked. It would now be a duathlon (although spell check tells me there is no such thing). Dom had mixed feelings about this, on one hand annoyed that he wouldn't be able to do the challenge he intended, on the other, after his hot lycra-clad biking efforts, undeniably a little relieved.
24 hours to race day and the sunshine turned to storm clouds. Claps of thunder shook the house in the night. At the pre-race registration, the other athletes appeared either very chiseled or had necks as wide as their shoulders. Back at home, the children and I made flags out of an old sheet and a bamboo with Dom's number drawn on in black felt tip.
Then, finally, race day; a grey morning lifted by porridge and ginger tea, a ferry to the start point and hands on hearts for the 'Star Spangled Banner'. A team of firefighters were swimming the race to honour a colleague who died attempting it last year. A fire boat had it's hoses going, the jets shooting out like huge water-tentacles. The spectators found their spot. Then the first of the swimmers started arriving at the beach. An hour in and Dom emerged from the water, a big grin. Total elation. Both the physical and mental battles won. No mistake, it was all about the swimming.

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