Crossing the Finish Line
Look good and have fun, no matter what happens. That is the meaning of life.
I had an Ehlers-Disaster the morning of the Pier-to-Pier Race. I barely made it to the starting line. I was very sick, and had no idea how long I could swim, or even if I should be trying to. Catch up on that story here. Trying is more fun than not trying, so that informs my choices. Perhaps that is also the meaning of life.
I got around the Hermosa Beach Pier and I started swimming toward the Finish Line, two miles north on the other side of the Manhattan Beach Pier.
The Pier-to-Pier is a long race. It separates the triathletes, usually best at running or cycling, from the real swimmers. After two hours, they kick everyone still swimming off the course. You have to qualify to enter, and the day I did was a great day of my life, when I really did have fun. Not today.
I had been up since 5:45 in the morning and had hours of unglamorous stomach problems which I could only hope were over. I was exhausted before the race started, so upset by this unfortunate turn of events, my head was spinning. I decided to get around that first pier and either quit or swim to the end. Because of my foot injury, I could not walk to the Finish Line on the sand.
It took the first half of the race before I began to feel better, as my body recovered from my stomach episode and I calmed down. Definitely not having fun.
Those volunteers on paddle boards did their best to corral us, but this is the ocean. The swells kept pushing us towards shore.
“Sight the tip of the Pier! Sight the tip of the Pier!” they screamed at us.
One zealous paddle boarder crossed over my legs and I kicked his board with my injured foot. F*ck! F*ck! F*ck! I wanted to push him into the water, not just for that, but for yelling to sight the pier.
The last thing you want to do when swimming the Pier-to-Pier is sight the pier. I will spot the beach or other swimmers to guide myself, but not the pier. No matter how long you have been swimming, the pier never gets any closer until the very end. Completely demoralizing!
It was a beautiful day to be in the Pacific. Once I felt better and realized I was going to make it, I made sure to stop and look around every now and then to take it all in, especially when I needed to cough up some water. The peace of the open ocean, the smell of the scratchy salt water, the soft sounds of the other swimmers’ limbs hitting the water. No place I’d rather be.
For the first part of the course, the deep water was still and clear, and I could see the sand on the bottom. Going north, the water got rougher. I could see nothing. I shivered as I swam through pockets of cold water, hoping I would not arrive at the Finish Line hypothermic. That would embarrass me. I don’t like to attract attention to my strange problems. I didn’t want to have to ask for help. But my body temperature recovered each time that happened. Yay!
I found a fast swimmer to draft off and let her set the pace. That is swimming in someone’s blind spot, so you get pulled along with the current they create. I swam hard with her and relaxed. I felt safe. I played Justin Beiber songs in my head. They went well with pretty blue-green water, the sounds of my bubbles, and the rhythm of my breathing. It was a beautiful day to be swimming. I was happy. So so happy.
A procession of friends of swimmers and spectators marched north like refugees from Hermosa Beach to the Finish Line.
The swells were strong. I began to worry about coming in. Manhattan Beach is rough. The white water from the crashing waves there holds you under, even when the waves are small. Rip currents are common.
In my life, I have been slammed against the sandy ocean floor by crashing waves too many times to care. But now I was concerned. At the end of a two mile race, when I had been sick all morning with no idea of how much energy I had left, I did not want to end up with lungs full of water. I did not want to drown, not now.
Mr. Pennington did not catch my finish. He could not pick me out of the crowd of 1,300 swimmers. But he did catch the first swimmer finishing, Ryan Bullock, who wins every year.
On a Saturday earlier in July, Ryan Bullock swam by me, north of the Hermosa Pier when I was treading water. I only knew it was him because, captivated by his beautiful stroke, I stopped mid-sentence. Barbara said, “That’s the guy who wins the Pier-to-Pier. Some guy from Arkansas. And he wins by a lot.”
Ryan slinked by us, through the water like seal. I had never seen a human swim like that. Like the way the Los Angeles dolphins swim, on stealth-mode, slipping in out and out of the water, silently creeping up on you, only if you are alone, because they know you would come in for a hug if you got the chance.
I wished I could have stopped him, asked to watch his stroke from underwater. But in a second, he was gone.
Some pics of dolphins creeping up on me off Redondo Beach. I felt their presence and turned around and saw them. They were so close. “Hey Guys! Wait up! I want a hug!” I swam after them but couldn’t catch them. In a second, they were gone. There was a third dolphin, but he was so sneaky he avoided getting in the pic altogether.
About thirty minutes after Ryan won the Pier-to-Pier, I looked up and the Manhattan Beach Pier was close, but it was way off to my right. Oops, I had veered toward Japan. That’s what happens when you refuse to sight the pier. I turned back towards Los Angeles and swam in.
It was a long swim in. Every wave forming gathered force and sucked us back out to sea. Finally I was close enough to catch a wave that shoved me to the bottom but still carried me to the shore. Yay! Finally my foot touched the ground and I stood. Yay! Ouch, the pain as my injured foot hit the sand. F*ck! F*ck! F*ck! F*ck!
Volunteers were shouting, “Watch the ditch! Watch the ditch!” I stumbled in it anyway. The waves had carved out several that morning. I ran-limped up the beach, disoriented as one is at the end of a race, found the chute and crossed the finish line in 1:09. Very respectable!
Jumping for joy at the finish line!
I texted Dr. Plance. He was super-duper proud of me, more than he ever had been, I think. Men! Nothing impresses them like muscles.
Mr. Pennington and me at the Finish Line, both of us battered by stress.
Mr. Pennington had spent the race not sure where I was or what was happening with me. He has spent a lot of his life worrying about me. Why not? Independence, self-reliance, overrated! It’s fun to be too involved, too committed, too tuned-in, too wrapped up in someone else. Codependent bliss!
My fabulous hairstyle by saltwater.
After we took this selfie. I started to cry. I cried and cried. These were not happy tears. I was confused.
It was all so confusing because the race was easy.
I had last swum this race when I was 20 or so. I could barely do it then. This time, decades later, even after how horribly sick I had been that morning, getting around the Manhattan Beach Pier wasn’t even hard.
It was nothing.
Yes, my arms were tired. But I had another mile in me, easily.
That’s all it took? Monstrously big shots of vitamin C every day? That’s the difference between me totally disabled and me functioning almost sort of like a kinda normal human being?
Well, not just C shots. Tons and tons of physical therapy and exercise, which I can only benefit from if I inject C. Plus time to heal and catch up on sleep, which I can only do if I inject C. Then I had to fix my brain, made stupid by the neurological effects of Ehlers-Danlos, and trashed from long-term opiates. I will write more about what I have done for my brain another time. I have done a lot.
That’s all it took?
What if I had been injecting C all my life?
I could not admit it that day, but the feeling I was feeling was anger.
I wept. And wept. I couldn’t stop.
It was no problem. I had done an excellent job of rehydrating before the race. Yay!
Then we had pancakes. Followed by ice cream. I was starving!