Swimming Across

Written By: Nicole  Garguilo

There in the break of dawns first light, the salted breeze from the Sound calmed me, as I signed the mandatory death and dismemberment clause. Despite the small craft advisory, I wished for quiet seas and safe passage for this band of brave, potentially mentally unstable souls who were about to swim across Long Island Sound. A high pitch frequency from a megaphone pierced through the August haze, putting an abrupt end to my placid state of mind. An announcement directed all swimmers to the boat dock where we would be taxied five miles out into the Long island Sound to jump out of a perfectly good boat and swim back to shore. A small sacrifice of a few, for the greater good of many. The sun and moon united in the sky, as the boat departed from dock. A local school of bluefish and a few voracious gulls, served as escorts through the no wake channel, as patches of beach grass waved us farewell in the distance. A young boy, no more than 13 years old, sat at the stern with his father. Baffled, trying to make sense of why a child was suiting up, I noticed the words; For My Mom, handwritten across his chest. I identified with his bravery, looking to each of my arms, marked with the initials of friends and family. All compassionate, selfless heroes who never stopped fighting, not so they could live, but so we could live life beside them. We were the second line of defense. A small group of ordinary people, with extraordinary intent. A promise of hope for survivors, courage for fighters and perseverance for those lost on the battlefield of Cancer. Thirty minutes had passed before the boat shifted into neutral approaching the starting point. Local fishing boats, recreational mariners and volunteer kayakers, who were there to assist distressed swimmers, applauded our arrival. The boat overflowed with adrenaline, fear and uncertainty as each swimmer prepared. I stopped the young boy from joining in celebration, to convey the importance of preserving his energy. I instructed him to visualize his breathing low in his diaphragm, as soon as he hit the water to prevent panic. To choose a landmark to swim towards and to stay with the bubbles, made from other swimmers. Whether he was listening or caught in the excitement was irrelevant as I repeated the words; If all else fails, remember your training. Trust your training, to myself. My heart was beating louder than the crowd counting down. I had dedicated the last year of my life to this moment. There was no backing out, regardless of my gut screaming at my brain to do so. I squinted my eyes to block out the suns rays over the horizon, planted my feet on the bow to spring off and then, I just jumped. There is no training to prepare for the solitude that comes with swimming that distance, in open water. The occasional sting from an errant Jellyfish becomes a gift, for pain is a far better feeling than thoughts of mortality. Then, the irony sets in of the reality that a great swimmer might meet her maker, in the body of water where she first learned to paddle. The sounds of cheering bystanders fuel each stroke for the first mile. The second is brimming with silence as swimmers find a good pace and break further away. While an exciting mark, the halfway buoy is the most dangerous. It is the point where a swimmer gets in the zone, forgetting to look up, becoming vulnerable to rip currents. At least that’s what happened to me. There are moments in life that are so terrifying, you question perception. Had I swallowed too much salt water and begun to hallucinate, or did I really drift 400 yards off course? There were no swimmers or kayaks in sight. My right leg was numb, except for the clicking sensation from my hip, which was a comforting indication that I was conscious. I understood two truths; the longer I treaded water, the further I drifted and stopping meant drowning. Faced with the very same decision the people I was swimming for made, I chose life before surrender and continued swimming diagonal towards the shore. I have rescued grown men from the Atlantic Ocean’s wrath, surfed in hurricanes and swam in nor’easters, without a doubt that I would make it out. But the pain became so unbearable in that final stretch, that I began speaking to my friends and family who had passed. And as I kept swimming, without the use of my legs, something inexplicable happened. A wave began to carry me, almost as if each of my arms were being lifted by wings. The pain stopped and a fire from deep within me blazed brighter than the bluest flame, until I could see the sand beneath me. I planted both feet on the algae painted sea bottom, raised my hands to the heavens and screamed Thank You as loud as I could. All I had ever wanted in life, was to be someone’s hero. Somewhere out in the Long Island Sound, I found mine while swimming across.