The Finish Line I Hoped to Cross
When I took up swimming this year, if my joints could handle it (serious doubts!), there was a finish line I hoped to cross.
2018 Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim
1,300 swimmers signed up to swim 2 miles in the open ocean against the current, to have the simple satisfaction of finishing. I was one of them.
I was ready to quit at any time my spine or shoulders had enough. I am very protective of them. But that did not happen. Instead, I got stronger and more stable from all the the training. Yay!
I only recover and get more stable from exercise because I inject Vitamin C, which of course you know because you have read my entire blog, right? Without injected C, I am hopelessly debilitated by Ehlers-Danlos, as I was born very severely affected.
The Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier race goes like this:
Start south side of Hermosa Beach Pier
Swim 2 miles (wow!) up the Coast of Los Angeles
Finish swimming around north side of Manhattan Beach Pier
This race was a profound goal.
I grew up swimming in the Pacific and swimming competitively until doctors told me to stop when I was 15 because my knees hurt so much. This was terrible advice. I have gotten a lot of horrible medical advice in my life. Swimming is a big range of motion, too much for a hypermobile body in my opinion, but getting weak is the absolute worst option of all.
I used to swim the Dwight Crum Pier-to-PIer. I did it many times last century, until I got too tired to lift my arms over my head. I feared for my safety because I felt so weak. Without knowing the real reason why, I quit ocean swimming altogether. I did not want to drown.
Manhattan Beach is also where I imagined my suicide when I was in too much pain to stand being alive and too fatigued to do anything. If I could not get my health any better, if I could not get to having some quality of life, I decided I would swallow all my pain meds swim off this beach one night alone. That would be a nice way to die, if I had to do the deed myself. This comforted me. The thought of living decades more so disabled, in so much pain, was completely intolerable. Having a plan cleared my head so I could focus on finding help for Ehlers-Danlos. Would I ever have done it? I am not sure. Suicide is such a meh option, not really my style. As last resort can always wait.
When I was so ill, completely disabled but suicide plans on hold, I used to sit on the hot sand at Manhattan Beach and daydream a better for myself, listening to the soft sounds of the ocean, looking like I was just another summertime beach goer.
But I was not.
Manhattan Beach is wide. Walking across the soft sand tortured my unstable body. I could not come often because the pain just from walking across the sand was too much. Only once or twice per summer I would get in the water, because the agony caused by the force of the waves slamming into my soft, flexible body would last for days, no matter how much Vicodin I took. Those waves in Manhattan Beach come in hard. When I did go into the water, I would never stroke swim. My spine could not take it. I would swim out past the waves that pummeled me as carefully and fast as I could, then tread water and bob around with the surfers until I got cold. I loved doing that. The feel and taste of the water, the peace of being out there alone.
For everything I dreamt I might one day do, if a miracle happened and something could be done to alleviate my EDS symptoms, I never never thought about swimming the Pier-to-Pier again. I like to keep my dreams in line with reality, in spite of anything I say on my blog. I dreamt of being only a little bit better, having a little more energy, a little better sleep, physical pain that was treatable, so I could enjoy my life just a little.
This year, when I decided to try swimming again for this first time in decades, and I made my goal the Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier, every time I swam, from the first time lap swimming in a pool, and every swim ocean swim after, I imagined getting around that Manhattan Beach Pier.
What I remember from my old days swimming the Pier-to-Pier was how hard getting around the Manhattan Beach Pier is at the end. I would be so weak and tired after the 2 miles, which turned into 3 when the south flowing current was strong, I could not get any more power out of my arms. At the end of race, dizzy (from undiagnosed salt depletion) and choking on the diesel exhaust from the lifeguard boat, swells pushing me toward the pier pilings, I was so tired I was afraid I might drown. I never ever really wanted to drown.
I was terrified of the end of this race.
Throughout my beautiful summer of ocean swimming, even when I was with the dolphins off Hermosa Beach, I was nervously imagining one thing: getting around the Manhattan Beach Pier at end of the race. Could I do it?
I never bothered to swim around the Manhattan Beach Pier for practice this summer. I knew I could do that. The problem would be doing it after two miles of swimming. I never swam two miles, either. I kept my mileage low to spare my joints extra strain. I did not really train very hard. I swam for pleasure, until I had enough. That, plus a dry land program, was my training regimen. I had a wonderful time doing all of it, in spite of my fear of the pier.
I had nightmares about the race:
I didn’t make it to the race on time
I brought the wrong wetsuit
They changed the start time to 4:00 pm when the ocean is very rough and I was too afraid to try
These are the dreams of an overachiever. That I am. This goal was very important to me.
Picking up my timer and swim cap the day before the race was profound happiness and joy. I never thought I would make it even this far!
Race morning came. I awoke at 5:45 am after an excellent night of sleep. I was elated. I knew I was going to cross the finish line.
Not so fast. Ehlers-Disaster in progress.