120 mile hudson river grind for GRRRL

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It’s 3:45am in mid-January of 2009. Even for an early bird like myself, my body attempts to protest.

I’m awakening by the sheer fact that I am uncomfortable, sore in every way possible, and exhausted. In addition to the pain of leaving my warm bed, I then have to slide on my still damp (from last night) uniform practice swimsuit and waterproof heart rate monitor. I go over and wake my mom up, who gets the pleasure of driving me at this God-awful hour before her full day of work starts. I am headed to the pool at 4:30am to make sure I am not late for my 4:45 am swim practice. If you were late, you’d get locked out. You’d allow your teammates, who were also your fiercest competitors, to get the extra training… those extra milliseconds that may be the difference between success or not.

A “normal” high school experience (I imagine) consisted of going to school, doing your homework, having relationships with your friends, participating in clubs, holding a job, and going to the school dances. That’s a lot. Ours included all that but also completing it in the slim-to-0 window you had between practicing 2-3 times a day (depending on if you swam for your high school team…that was additional and not replaceable for a Crimson practice). Whether you liked it or not, you had a 98% attendance policy to uphold if you wanted to stay at this elite level on this team. We practiced 8 times a week/ about 24-28 hours weekly. If you were going to add that element of risk by going to that dance or having that party you better make sure you were at 100% in the morning …excuses were nothing to Coach Spring. Crimson Aquatics was and is still one of the most elite teams in the U.S.

At Crimson, we lived by a few mottos: “the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle,” “always expect the unexpected” and “if you’re not doing it, someone else will be.”

These quotes taken in literal form consisted of our weekly 3×1000 on 11 minutes test set, 100,000 yards over 7 days of Christmas vacation training, Saturday practices including 6-mile runs followed kettle bells, TRX workouts and then 2 ½ hours of intense threshold sets, or having Coach Spring ask his young daughter at a weeknight practice what her favorite number was, to which we would do that amount of repeat 300’s (her favorite number was 20 by the way).

We would push our limits, wearing sneakers and ankle bands having to tread water hands-out style for 28 minutes because someone miss-counted a set, used nets (which were screen door-like objects that clipped to the lane line) which made sure we got past 7-meters off every wall, and did on-land dolphin and flutter kicks continuously for 14 minutes (due to people putting their feet on the ground during the usual 5 minutes of kicking) before we got in the pool. You had to check your ego at the door because on deck you were a nobody (including swimmers with trial cuts, or olympians). Your a$$ was going to get kicked.

Why would you stay? First off, nobody was forcing you to do this, you could leave at any time. Sure, you could go to a team with less commitment, but at the end of the day nothing would replace the hustle you were taught at Crimson.

Simply put, we expected excellence because we trained though anything that could ever scare us. You learned to improvise, adapt and overcome any obstacle you could ever dare to imagine.

This kind of intense training took place every day over the 11 years I was at Crimson Aquatics.

This is why I am confident in my predictions, because I am so confident in my preparations.

This is why I was able to go from no marathon swimming experience to accomplishing what swimming aficionados call “the greatest open water swimming challenge in the world” on my first try… with no protest during the swim.

This is the reason why when someone says: “naturally talented,” I laugh. This is 16 years of maximal effort.

When I pick my big swims (like the 120 miles of the Hudson), I know if its up to me, I can accomplish it. That’s not because I feel that 6 months of focused training will be enough, but it’s because I know I have had 11 years of being broken… which is why I am unbreakable now.

When you have that ammunition, no fear or doubt will ever be in your mind.

I dedicate this to the ladies who have been there through it all: Samantha Hall (College of the Saint Rose, Captain), Carah McClure (UVM, recent LA Marathon completion), Selene Chilton (CCSU), Kasey Chilton (CCSU), Danielle Tagarelis (Assumption College), and Allie Hall (MIT). We’ve laughed, cried, celebrated victories, supported each other through defeat and gone through training that nobody will ever fully understand. Even this post doesn’t do it justice.

To me, having this kind of unconditional friendship is the biggest success story. I owe a lot to you all, and words will never do that justice. I am incredibly proud of where we all are today.


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