The act of diving (or in Mallory's case, awkwardly falling) into the frigid, choppy water eight miles from the South Boston shoreline may have sealed our plans for the next year, but it was merely the culmination of years of speculation and preparation. It all began early in our friendship... someone suggested that Mallory (already an accomplished distance swimmer) should swim the English Channel, and I jokingly replied that if she did it, I would too. I don't think I could put my finger on the actual moment in time when our grandiose plans morphed from being in jest to being deadly serious, but I think some part of me has always wanted to tackle the great white whale of open water swimming.
For most of my life, I've enjoyed pushing myself higher, harder, and faster. I came into my own as a distance swimmer at around 14 or 15, but I always chose to swim all the longest and hardest events available in my age group, long before I was any good at them. Why? Because other people were scared to swim them. 400 IM? Mile? 200 fly? Bring it on! Anyone who has ever played a game of ultimate frisbee or water polo with me knows that I always willing to sacrifice personal safety to win, and in my freshman year in high school, I wanted so badly to be the one to swim the furthest without taking a breath that I swam until I passed out. In short, if a challenge presents itself to me, I love to take it on.
Of course, pool swimming has its own obstacles. There is always the challenge of posting faster times, swimming longer and more difficult sets, etc, etc. But at the end of the day, you're still swimming in highly controlled, laboratory-like conditions. Some pools may be a little warmer, or more poorly lit than others, but within reason, every single pool race has the exact same parameters.
Not so with open water swimming. If it's cold, choppy, rainy, you just have to suck it up at TAKE it. Open water swimming is you against nature, and she is a fiery and unpredictable opponent. And every race is totally different, even on the same course. Yeah, sometimes it's so cold you can't f-ing pee, and the water is so full of minerals that your suit-rub spots are bleeding, and that stupid landmark you're sighting just never seems to get any closer, but when you finally pull yourself out of the water at the end... well, there's nothing like it. So why do I want to swim the English Channel? Because it's there!
That all being said, I don't think I would have ever seriously considered actually making a Channel attempt if it wasn't for Mallory. When she swam (and won) the 7.8-mile Little Red Light House swim in New York, the furthest I had ever swum open water was a mile, and that was in a dinky man-made lake. The next summer, when she swam 28 miles around Manhattan Island, I had made it out for a 2-mile ocean swim in San Fransisco bay, but I was still clearly playing catch-up. She's my partner in all of this madness, but she's also my inspiration. So in 10 or 11 months, when I'm ten miles in and ready to die, Mallory, who brings out my craziest and most hard-core traits, will be my motivation to just keep swimming.