Wednesday, July 30. 2008
I've been in Singapore for nearly 3 days and I have yet to find the dark underbelly. Singapore is not like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, it’s more like Dr Seuss’ Whoville. The people are, from this observers’ perspective, absurdly good-natured. While exploring the city yesterday I witnessed a guy digging a trench next to the road. He was sitting in his backhoe and he had an enormous grin on his face. I watched him for a few moments and he didn’t stop smiling the entire time – the guy was REALLY enjoying digging with his backhoe.
I continued to explore, and while walking in the downtown district I encountered a few locals here and there, and they were all positive and upbeat. Even the electronics salesman that tried to sell me a digital camera for twice the actual value was really quite friendly about the whole matter.
The place is also incredibly clean. There’s no spitting and no chewing gum. There’s also no litter – anywhere. Apparently there is a strict no-tolerance policy on everything, but I jaywalked 3 times yesterday and I didn’t get flogged, so I think it’s more of a myth. Singapore is a success, and I’m interested to find out if there is a Letters to the Editor/Complaint section in the local newspaper.
The downside to Singapore is that if someone is looking for authentic Southeast Asian culture I doubt this is the place to visit. All the street signs/menus are in English, everyone speaks English, and there’s a Starbucks on every corner. With all of the banks and high-end shopping, Singapore is capitalism on steroids and could easily be confused with a very humid Newport Beach.
As for the training camp itself: I’m pretty tired. The reason that I went out exploring the first two days was to prevent myself from sleeping in the middle of the day so as to acclimate to the time difference. However, it didn’t seem to work out the way I intended. I did double practices the first two days here (8,000 per) and explored the city in between sessions. Unfortunately my body didn’t adjust, so I was awake most of the night. Right now I’m tired from traveling, swimming, exploring and not sleeping. The combination showed last night and this morning at practice when I had a couple of awful sessions. Today I decided to take a different approach to my adjustment process and am going to try and rest any time I can, regardless of the hour.
One observation from the pool that’s pretty funny. Every day the swimmers all get in the water for a 7am training session and most of us do an 800 to 1,000 meter warm-up. During this warm-up period time all of the coaches go to the coffee bar and have complimentary cappuccino or espresso. They then return to the side of the pool, with a cup and saucer in hand, and casually sip their morning beverage. It’s rather funny to watch 15 coaches, who typically chug coffee from a 7-11 Styrofoam cup, daintily sip cappuccinos during practice.
Skit night is forthcoming.
Sunday, July 27. 2008
Sunday July 27th, 2008
Flight from San Francisco to Tokyo was fairly non-descript other than my encounter with a guy that was going to Asia to close one sweatshop that paid employees very little so that his company could open up a new sweatshop in a different country that could pay the workers even less. I’m not going to elaborate. Flight from Tokyo to Singapore was longer than expected and by the time that I finally arrived in my hotel room I had been traveling for 25 hours - without sleep.
On the trip to Singapore I did a bit of reading. I’m currently reading two books (there’s a point to why I’m sharing this information with everyone). The first is “Disciplines of a Godly Man” by R. Kent Hughes. As one could imagine, the concept of the book is to use biblical teaching for modern application, and even if you’re not a Christian, it’s a good read. (I’m not preaching – there’s a reason I’m reading the book). The second book is “The CEO of the Sofa” by P.J. O’Rourke. The author pontificates on pop culture and politics from the comfort of his living room couch all while sipping a martini. The perspectives are essentially polar opposites.
I bring up my reading list because I just arrived in Singapore and my first inclination is to do the opposite of what I am here to do. I am a mere 2 weeks away from the start of the Olympics and less than a month away from my 10K race and I am faced with a self-discipline problem. The hotel, the pool we swim at, the meals (thus far only breakfast), the weather, and the general Singapore atmosphere all make me feel like reclining in a lounge chair and enjoying a drink under a palm tree.
Let me set the stage. Surprisingly, I couldn’t sleep very well last night so I woke up early this morning and went down to an early breakfast at the hotel. The most sufficient description of the breakfast is to use the phrase “the best breakfast I’ve ever had.” Really, the best ever, and I’ve had quite a few good breakfasts. This wasn’t one of those places that have a waffle bar that everyone goes nuts over. This was a place with a 20 person staff cooking fresh, flavorful, diverse foods at the whim of the hotel guest. My breakfast was broken in to about 9 courses consisting of: fresh Indian naan and a plate of breakfast curry, French Toast, poached eggs, an omelet, a fruit platter, smoked salmon with cream cheese, some sort of breakfast pudding, a few rolls and some delicious coffee. I avoided the pastries and about 5 other stations featuring breakfast items from all sorts of cultures. For the breakfast enthusiast this was essentially Willie Wonka’s Breakfast Factory.
After breakfast we had the option of going to the pool to swim. Since we arrived so late last night we were not required to get in the water, but I felt that it was a good idea to swim considering I had just consumed the equivalent of three meals in 45 minutes. The pool is at a country club that rivals anything in your neighborhood and the pool looks out over a tremendous golf course. The pool itself is one of those state of the art aquatics facilities catering to members that exercise leisurely.
Now, to the point. We all have a bit of a discipline problem in our lives in one area or another. Reading Hughes book reminded me of many areas of my life that I lack discipline, but I’ll keep this post in relation to swimming. The circumstances of our current “training camp” are primed for someone to loose their self-control. For most of the swimmers on the team, this time in Singapore is primarily about adjusting to the time difference and to begin to taper. (For those who don’t understand “taper” here’s a quick synopsis: Taper is about getting your body and mind extra rest so that it is prepared for peak performance. This means less swimming and very little hard training.)
The problem is that we all live a fairly disciplined life at home, in fact our discipline at home is one of the main reasons we made it to the Olympics in the first place. Those that can avoid the beer and the pastries typically find more success than those that cannot. Swimming is about discipline and routines and patterns, and we’ve just put a bunch of athletes in a beautiful tropical location where our discipline is going to be tested. (There’s a “no alcohol” protocol, but there isn’t a “no 10 pastries” protocol.)
I became self-aware of the situation while I nearly sank to the bottom of the pool this morning. I have to discipline myself in two ways. First, I need to keep the diet under control. Some people think that swimmers can eat whatever we want in any quantity, but the reality is that we have all become very efficient at swimming and an 8,000 meter workout doesn’t burn as many calories as you might think. Second, because I swim the 10K at the end of the Olympics, I have to train hard for the entire time here in Singapore. While the other swimmers do 3,000 meter warm-up practices and 15 meter sprints for main sets, I have to continue 8,000 to 9,000 meter workouts with a pretty high intensity. I’m going to be doing a lot of swimming on my own while the other swimmers arrive after me and leave before me.
The discipline required to fulfill both of these objectives is not unattainable, but often times we set out to discipline ourselves under the assumption that something is easy and quickly find out that it’s more than we bargained for. I’ve been pretty disciplined in my life and I’m self-aware enough to recognize when I’m being tempted, so it’s a winnable contest, but that’s not to say I can snap my fingers and have complete self-control. The pastries look good, and doing 8x800 on 9 minutes is not really all that enjoyable.
Anyway, being disciplined is on my mind and I thought I’d share it with you.
Friday, July 25. 2008
After Melbourne, I went back into training to prepare for the USA Olympic Trials which would be held in October of 2007. Sometime in 2006 the International Olympic Committee had determined that the 10K open water swim would be introduced as an Olympic sport in Beijing. I didn’t have one of those pivotal life-altering moments when I found out, rather the reality of the Olympics seemed to grow steadily in the beginning of 2007. I stopped focusing on the 25K race, and with my coaches John Dussliere and Gregg Wilson, I mapped out a plan for making the Olympics in the 10K.
Going into the 10K USA Olympic Trials in 2007 I was not the favorite to win. Chip Peterson was the clear favorite, followed by Fran Crippen. I was supposed to get third or maybe fourth behind Chad LaTourette. At the race the top 2 Americans would qualify for the World Championships (which would be the Olympic qualifier) to be held in May of 2008. Third place, as is often the case in swimming, was essentially no different than last place.
In preparation for USA Olympic Trials I decided to make a few sacrifices to ensure that I would be at my best for the race. I recognized that life in Santa Barbara was full of distractions and that I needed to go somewhere that I wouldn’t be tempted by friends, family and the town of Santa Barbara itself. I decided to go up to Colorado Springs and to the Olympic Training Center for most of July, August, September and October leading up to the race. John Dussliere (coach at Santa Barbara Swim Club) came up a few times to coach me, but he had responsibilities to the rest of the swim club program that kept him from working with me full-time. Gregg had his hands full as the UCSB coach. Diana stayed at home to continue working as a preschool teacher for most of the time I was away. That summer and fall I spent a lot of time alone in the water.
Obviously, the race in October went well. I swam most of the race in 4 to 8th place, and took the lead with about 1500 meters to go. Chip Peterson and I pulled away from the pack with 800 meters left and I touched him out by 1 second at the finish.
Now that the American Open Water Trials were completed the confusion about how to qualify for the Olympics began. Since the 10K would premiere in Beijing the International Olympic Committee wanted to limit the number of participants to 25 men. They created a bizarre selection process that would make you very confused, but for the purposes of this post the only thing that was important was that I placed in the top 10 or that I beat the other American (Chip Peterson) at the World Championships.
During the fall of 2007 and early in 2008 I went back to training in Santa Barbara, but I soon found that swimming in Santa Barbara was not as ideal as it was in Colorado Springs. Training at the Olympic Training Center took away the temptations of home, and without those temptations I logged many hours of lonely swimming in February, March and April. (Coach John came up a few times, but even when he was on deck I was the only athlete in the water).
In May the USA Open Water delegation went to Seville, Spain to compete in the World Championships. I had made quite a few sacrifices to get into the race at all and now I had one opportunity to make the Olympics. However, if I failed to place in the top 10 in that race my career would be over. Seemingly it would have been an anxious time, but I felt a tremendous peace leading into the race (a future post on nerves, peace and joy, with a bit of a faith testimony, coming sometime soon). I swam the race of my life and got 7th, nearly touched 4th and was only a few seconds behind 3rd.
The lack of anxiety I felt before and during the race made the post-race tension peculiar. Because the final sprint to the finish line had been very close between 4th through 13th place the officials didn’t want to prematurely announce places. The key was to finish in the top 10 and because so many of us touched at essentially the same time we had to wait for 15 minutes after the race to discover who would be an Olympian and who would be watching the race from home. My 7th place finish put me on the team, and that’s the story of how we got here. Next post from Singapore.
Thursday, July 24. 2008
Over the past few posts I’ve written about what’s been going on in my life here at Stanford, but I haven’t really explained the process of how I actually got here. If you’ve heard this before you can leave now, but if you’re interested in staying……here goes.
Part 1 2006-2007
Leading up to 2006 I was a good swimmer but I couldn’t get over the hump - there were too many great swimmers that stood in the way of making it to the top. I failed to make the Olympic team in 2004 (after failing to make the Olympics in 1996 and 2000 as well) and nearly gave up the sport, but my mom encouraged me to stick with it. In the summer of 2005 the UCSB assistant coach, Jeremy Kipp (now at USC), encouraged me to do an ocean race in Santa Barbara. The race was against local fitness enthusiasts mostly in their 40’s and 50’s that swim primarily to stay healthy.
Fortunately I won the race, and even though it was against marginal swimmers, it was a big confidence boost. I still wanted to be a top level pool swimmer, but I could see the writing on the wall. Open water swimming had started as a novelty, but the curiosity quickly grew. The following year, 2006, I decided to abandon any hope at a career in the pool and devoted myself full-time to open water swimming. My original goal was simple: make the USA National Team in the 25 kilometer race. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the Olympics were a possibility.
The USA Open Water National Championships for the 25k would be in May of 2006 in Fort Myers, Florida. That March I changed my training regime. Even though I was already a distance swimmer that had logged many miles in the pool, I increased my practice distance total from 70,000 meters a week to about 100,000 meters per week. The goal at the time was to focus on the 25 Kilometer race because there was a very limited number of swimmers in America willing to swim a 5 hour race. I realized that all I needed to do was to be able to swim for 5 hours at a reasonably fast pace and I could win the battle of attrition. I figured “Heck, I’m spending 20 hours a week training for a 4 minute race and I’m not finding success, but if I train 30 hours a week for a 5 hour race I can be on the National Team.” It seemed pretty basic at that point.
So, I went to Fort Myers and I decided to enter the 5K and 10K races that were held a couple of days before the 25K. (Coincidentally, the largest hammerhead shark every caught was reeled in less than 2 miles from the race course – one week before the competition). To my surprise I got 3rd in both the 5K and 10K races and beat quite a few accomplished swimmers. Then, in the 25K, I won the race by 15 minutes and put myself on the National Team.
That week in Fort Myers in 2006 was the beginning of my open water swimming career. As a National Team member I qualified for the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia and I spent the remainder of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 training for that competition. I went to Melbourne with high hopes (I would race the 5K, 10K and 25K over a week long period) but quickly realized that the rest of the world is really good at open water swimming. In the 5K I got 17st and in the 10K I got 20th. The water was freezing, my confidence was shot, and I was miserable. Fortunately the final race of the week, the 25K, was my best race and I got 4th place. My overall performance was still a bit disheartening, but I reminded myself that 4th place in the world is better than I’d ever been before in any race.
After Melbourne I came home to Santa Barbara and started to focus on the USA Olympic Trials that would be held in October of 2007. (Next post: USA Olympic Trials 2007 and World Olympic Trials 200
Tuesday, July 22. 2008
July 21st 2008
On Saturday the team went to San Jose State University to do processing for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Last week we’d already gotten a lot of clothing from USA Swimming but the USOC (the parent governing body for all American Olympic sports) has a different set of clothing for the athletes. At certain times over the next month the USOC wants all American athletes to look like a team, regardless if we are 10K swimmers or basketball players or high jumpers. For instance, when we get off the plane in Beijing, all American athletes are required to wear a particular outfit – no questions, complaints or requests otherwise will be tolerated. Similarly, when we give official press conference interviews we are required to wear an outfit with a particular sequence of shoes, pants, shirt and jacket. Diana can attest to the fact that I hardly ever dress correctly for any social engagement, so I’m a bit nervous of the dress code police that will be monitoring my outfits.
The primary focus of the processing was to get fitted for our Opening Ceremony attire. My good friend Ralph Lauren is the official outfitter of the USA Olympic Team, and I’ve got to give the guy credit for designing a pretty cool looking Opening Ceremony uniform. The uniform was modeled after the 1920 Olympic Team uniform (as seen in the movie “Chariots of Fire”) and the attached picture finds me enjoying my new wardrobe.
Let me back up. We got to SJSU and were taken into a room about the same size as your high school basketball gym. The room was set up like a grocery store, except instead of frozen foods, dairy products and vegetables, the room was filled with shirts, shoes, pants, jackets and hats. So, per instruction, we all grabbed a Home Depot Shopping cart and started filling them up.
It wasn’t a free-for-all (I had a checklist of things that I was issued) but it was still a rather surreal experience. It took about an hour and a half to get through the room and I was as happy as a pig in mud. My favorite part was getting our measurements taken by a tailor with a thick Italian accent. He looked me over once: “44 Regular, 32 Long” and someone appeared with a sport coat and pants. We chatted about suits, neckties and buttons as he sized me up, finishing with “Excellent, this is very nice.”
When I got to the last section of the room my shopping cart was full (actually it was overflowing) and my face hurt because I had been grinning for at least a full hour. It was a lot like that moment on your wedding day when you realize that you’ve been smiling for a long time because the muscles in your cheeks hurt.
After we got through the clothing section we were taken to a room where we got measured for commemorative Olympic rings. Now I’m not a jewelry man, but it’s hard not to appreciate a ring that looks like it could be used for a Roman Empire style signature. We won’t get the ring until after we get home from the Olympics, and I’m sure I’ll never wear it, but it felt rather stately to pretend to be Ben Hur for a brief moment.
I left the USOC processing having achieved a longtime goal. Former Olympians always talk about the day they got their shopping cart and filled it with Olympic stuff, and for so many years it was a fantasy that I feared would never become a reality. After the processing I did the math: averaging 30 hours a week for 50 weeks a year I have been training for 62.5 days of every year for the last 15 years. Sometimes, when the practice got really lonely I would question the motives for it all. Why? What’s the point? Is it all worth it? I don’t want to be callously materialistic and say that my experience on Saturday was the point for the struggle, but I will say that because of my experience over the past 2 weeks, I am more appreciative of the struggle itself. I don’t know if I would have appreciated Saturday if it had been an easy road to get there. It was something that couldn’t be bought with money, only with time, pain and sacrifice. I’ll cherish it because I know it was difficult to get there, not just because I was there.
When we got back to the hotel we were told that we had more stuff than we could possibly wear in China and that we had the option of sending some of it home. I packed up a box and sent it back to Santa Barbara because I knew that there was a very good chance that something might get stolen or lost in China and I wasn’t about to let that happen.
I’ve got some stories on other topics that I’m working on, but I thought I’d share that one for now.
Monday, July 21. 2008
The USA Swimming Olympic Team training camp officially began on Monday the 7th here in Palo Alto. I was the only swimmer that hadn’t just spent the previous 2 weeks at the exhausting Olympic Trials and so I was a bit more alert than my teammates upon arrival at SFO. Most of the swimmers were pretty emotionally drained by the Trials, and the first day was more about recovering than anything else.
USA Swimming is having an extended domestic training camp together as a team before we leave for Singapore on July the 25th because the coaches and team leaders don’t want us to go back home and swim on our own. There is a very real fear that without supervision we might lose our focus and not prepare ourselves properly. This is a problem because there are so many swimmers that are just excited to be going to the Olympics at all. USA Swimming, on the other hand, doesn’t care WHO made the team, they only care about winning medals at the Olympics. So, we have a 3 week training camp where we all swim 2 times a day and we keep our competitive edge by racing each other on a daily basis.
On Tuesday we were taken to the pool where we had a short meeting to determine what training group we would be broken into. Primarily there would be 2 sprint groups and 1 mid-distance group. Since I’m the only 10K swimmer on the team I don’t have anyone that wants to train long distance with me. The result is that I join the mid-distance group for their training session and then swim an extra 2,000 meters after everyone else is done. My training partners in the mid-distance group are a veritable who’s who of the American swimming world: Michael Phelps, Erik Vendt, Klete Keller, Peter Vanderkay, Ryan Lochte, and Larsen Jensen. I am, without a doubt, the slowest swimmer in the group.
Tuesday night Pete Carroll, football coach at USC, was brought in to give us a bit of an impromptu motivational speech. The gist: he was excited for us. I would say that he’s pretty much always excited.
Wednesday was the first day that the intensity of the practice started to increase. It feels rather momentous to be training in this group because I know that at the Olympics the athletes I’m swimming with are going to get the bulk of the primary TV coverage. I won a few of the swims, got beat on a majority of the swims, but I held my own for the most part.
Thursday was Christmas. I’ve often said that the reason I didn’t quit swimming 3 years ago (when I probably should have quit) was because I wanted to get a T-Shirt that said I was on the USA Swimming National Team. Well, Thursday I got the T-Shirt that said I was on the USA Swimming Olympic Team. In fact I got an entire bag of stuff that indicated I made the Olympic Team: shirts, shorts, sweatpants and jackets all with the USA Swimming logo’s on them. It was Christmas.
Thursday night was our first official team meeting. We all introduced ourselves and told the group one interesting fact that no one else knew. I told the group that I’ve had a series of accidents in the past few years, but none was more memorable than cutting my leg with a chainsaw. After the introductions Erik Shanteau (who qualified for the Olympics in the 200 Breaststroke) made the announcement that he was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. He said that it appeared to be under control for the time being, and that he intends to swim at the Olympics. He’s going to get tests done weekly leading up to the games. It was shocking to hear that he was diagnosed the week before Olympic Trials and then he competed and made the team under the circumstances.
In between practices on Friday we had a meeting called “Being a good Ambassador” where we learned about how to be good visitors to China, how go give good interviews, and more importantly what NOT to do over the next month. The Olympics, on such a big stage, are a stage for incredible high’s as well as incredible lows. Stupid decisions and bad interviews can have some pretty significant implications if everything goes the wrong way.
We also learned how to speak Chinese - it only took about 45 minutes. The Ambassador program included a Chinese lesson from a teacher who gave us a crash course in the language. The problem, as is often the case with crash courses, is that the pupil retains very little information. This pupil remembers “Hello” which is pronounced “Knee-How?” and absolutely nothing else. I will be a very friendly visitor and I intend on saying “Knee How?” quite a bit.
Another rather special event on Friday was when the entire team signed a flag adorned with the letters “USA” in big letters above the Olympic Rings. Actually, the entire team signed about 150 of these flags. Some of the flags will go to donations and charities and some will go to “big shots” at various sponsors. All the athletes were promised that we would each get 1 for ourselves to keep, and as a result I made sure to sign my name legibly on each flag, just in case that particular flag would end up at my doorstep.
Saturday was the final practice of the week. The media and fans had been told that Saturday would be the only day for interviews and autographs during our stay in Palo Alto, so the pool deck was packed. Microphones, cameras, reporters, and hundreds of kids running around trying to get close to Dara Torres and Michael Phelps. The problem is that Michael can only sign so many autographs and Dara can only give so many interviews at one time. The result of the logjam is that autograph seekers started looking for other Olympians until the Dara and Michael line died down. This is where I step in. I happened to be one of the guys that facilitated the fans with a picture or an autograph while they waited for someone else.
I also got interviewed - by one reporter. During the interview another reporter walked up and interrupted the interview to ask the first reporter “Who is this?” “Mark Warkentin, he is our Olympic10K swimmer,” came the reply. The second reporter stood there for a moment pondering whether it was worth it to stick around or not. Fairly quickly he decided that it was not worth it and he backed away and tried to find someone else. (I don't write this with any bitterness, I'm really just happy to be apart of this whole thing, but it was a rather awkward moment that I can now chuckle about.)
It’s been an eventful week up to this point. Today, Sunday, is a day of rest and we don’t have any swim practices so I went to Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and enjoyed the service. Next week begins another week of swimming and whatnot.
Wednesday, July 16. 2008
Sorry for the delay in getting this up. Between my brain being fried and bad internet connections it took me a couple days. Today is Wednesday 7/16, but on SUNDAY JULY 13, 2008 I SWAM THE ENGLISH CHANNEL! ENGLAND TO FRANCE! 10hrs and 50minutes. Alright so now for all the details.
Last I wrote I was still waiting. I spent my last week leading up to the Channel Crossing swimming about an hour a day and watching DVDs and eating my face off with the rest of the time. I tried to swim in a pool one day but I had to get out because my toes literally felt like they were on fire! During the course of my last week I met some more cool people at the beach; Karah from San Francisco, Jeff from Colorado, Neil from San Fran, a team and solo swimmer from Iceland. Anyway on Saturday Ali gave me the green light that Sunday was the big day. I went to bed early, no problems sleeping and was up early ready for GAME DAY!
I got on Alison Steeter’s boat at around 6am. They still had some boat things to do before motoring off to Shakespeare Cliff to start so I went below and took a nap. They woke me up earlier than most swimmers because I am so pale and had to sunblock-up. My mother Dolores Dios her boyfriend Tom and my friend and goalie Kyle Davis were on the boat with me. Alison was my pilot and had her crew there too. Kyle took a funny photo of me (not posed) where I am jumping off the boat “Peter Pan” style. I swam up onto Shakespeare beach, took a knee, said a prayer and then got up to swim. They blew the horn and then I was in the water, not too quickly, I go slow even if I had just been in there. I took off swimming fast though, and almost crashed into the boat in record time. Everyone was screaming at me and I stopped a few feet from the back of the boat. I then moved to the right side of the boat and set off towards France.
The swim was amazing. The water is so clear. People always wonder what swimmers think about while swimming. Honestly, I prefer to zone out. The temperature was 61 when I started and got warmer the whole way across. When I swim I count my strokes between breathes. It is very rhythmical. 1, 2, 3, breath, 1, 2, 3, breath… etc. This occupies my main thoughts on something, then I just have to worry about that subconscious voice. I am a religious person. I went to High School at St. Benedicts in Newark, NJ. During the first half or so of the swim I was mostly thinking to myself how amazing the day was and to appreciate the perfection and beauty of God’s creations, and how lucky I was to be out in the middle of the Sea experiencing things that many people may never experience.
The day was great. The Sun shinned on my back all day long, the Sea was as flat as you could pray for and the water did not feel very cold. But the swim wears on. I did not wear a watch but I counted my feeds. When you are swimming your crew has to feed you so you have the strength to go on. When they decided, about every 20-30min, Kyle or my Mom would lie down on the side of the boat and reach down to me with a cup of warm Maxim. I would swim ahead of them, flip on my back, glide back – grab the cup, roll over and tread while drinking. Chris one of Ali’s crewman was great. If I took a second longer than he liked he was “Encouraging” me to continue. “This is Not a McDonalds!” “Quit Sight Seeing!” “SWIM!” But I did not take too long anyway. I didn’t want to stop. I was swimming with a steady stroke count the whole way, about 71 strokes per minute. In a pool that would take me over 75yds below 100yds, I have an ugly short non-rotating water polo style stroke. Kyle and Charlie from Kingsdown joked watching me once that if they didn’t know me they wouldn’t think that stroke would get me to France. As the day wore on my stroke stayed the same, strong all the way but I think I was pulling less water sometimes.
So I counted my feeds and put it in my head that the swim would take me like 16 or 18hrs even though I hoped that I was lying to myself. Eventually we hit the shipping lanes and that was cool. Ali timed it right and we didn’t have to stop but there were huge super tankers, cargo ships and all sorts of things. I got very excited seeing them because when I am back in New Jersey I watch them from my Mom and Grandmother’s porch. I kept saying that those boats were going to my house. Jeff from Colorado left a few minutes ahead of me and I was chasing him all day long. He was a very strong swimmer and unfortunately I heard he actually got held up by one of the tankers. Apparently Ali overheard the radio conversation and the Ship Captain was from Russia or Eastern Europe and have never heard of Channel Swimming and kept saying he saw the boat but no swimmer. I don’t think the stop hurt Jeff very much. He completed his swim in 10:30.
Another cool thing about the shipping lanes was there were these crazy seagulls. I think they must live off the ships. They also might of thought I was food because the kept buzzing me. They were flying what felt like just inches over me. They were lucking I was on a liquid diet because I probably could have used my polo legs to pop up and grab one of them! They might mess with some people making them think they are closer to shore than they actually are, but I had a good idea where I was so it was nice to have the company. I had some other company that nobody, Thank God, told me about. A SHARK! Apparently there was a big ‘ole 15ft shark swimming out in front of our boat. The crew reassured Mom and everyone that I had nothing to worry about because he, “Only ate the little beasties” aka “fish” I’m glad nobody told me because I would have been worried.
About 5 or 6 hours into the swim my left leg started hurting. My hamstring or something in the back of my knee hurt on every kick. So I stopped really kicking with my left leg after a while. My shoulders took turns hurting. I threw up a little in my mouth about 3 times while swimming, my back hurt, my hands got sore. I never said anything or complained though. I just drove on. If you stop to complain it just makes the thing that is bothering you worse, it gets in your mind and you need to stay mentally strong. When the swim got worse I started thinking about Jesus, John F. Kennedy and Alvar Nunez Cabaza de Vaca. Cabaza de Vaca was a Spanish Sailor who ship wrecked with his crew in Florida and walked all the way back to New Mexico and then Mexico city back in the 1500s or so. Hs crew was him and three others after the wreck. When things got bad for him he reassured himself that Jesus’ suffering on the cross was much worse. JFK swam 16 miles in the Pacific dragging a friend with his teeth! I always thought that Jesus is God, so he could have gotten off the cross whenever he wanted but he chose to stay on there. I imagine that the pain and fear all of those men felt was infinitely worse than the little bit of discomfort that I felt. So I’d put my head down and drive on.
I had Alison Streeter, the Queen of the Channel taking me across with the best crew anyone could hope for. I had nothing to fear or worry about. Kyle said I got less witty as things wore on. One time, Kyle tried to tell me how France was getting closer. I was not letting myself look or think about France. I told him, “That’s a … that’s a … Visual… a visual lie!” then Ali was like, “An Optical Illusion?” and I was like “Yes! That’s why you’re the Queen!” then put my face back in the water and kept on swimming.
Eventually I got really close to France, obviously, and then during a feed Ali was like this might be your last feed. I was thinking, great, am I close or is she going to make me swim the last hour or so with no food. I had myself at 11:30 in my head when it was actually probably like 10:30 or something. I kept on swimming then the boat was yelling at me again. I looked up and Kyle was in the water next to me wearing his American Flag cap just like mine. I started to think, great, I have miles to go and I am slowing down so much I need a pacer, then Kyle told me to look up and I could see people on the beach in France! My Mom and Tom took out my Grandfather’s (John Dios) flag. My Grandmother (Marcela) told me to take it with me when I told her I wanted to bring a flag. Earlier in the week I had been swimming with Karah from San Fran. One day she wore an American cap like me, the next she wore a yellow one. She said she thought the yellow was warmer. I told her, “These Stars and Stripes keep me warm.” When I saw Kyle and those Stars and Stripes flying off the boat I warmed right up, I had gotten colder as the swim wore on even though the temps were going up, and everything that hurt stopped hurting. Kyle and I swam hard the last couple hundred meters to France. There were waves and sandy beaches. I tried to body surf in. When we hit the beach I got up and took off running. I was so excited I had done it! Kyle got up and ran with me. We were sprinting across the shores of France. He was like, “How are you running right now?” I answered, “We only have ten minutes I want to see something French come on!” We ran off the beach and found a bridge. I stood on the bridge and was happy to stand on something the French built in France after swimming there. We ran back to the boat, then I was like, “Oh man, I have to swim back out to the boat!” That might have been the worst part of the whole ordeal. I got back in, and swam out. I had done it.
On the boat I started to feel bad. The salt water messed with my throat and I was having a little trouble breathing. I threw up a couple times, although I didn’t have much to throw up. I went below and went to sleep for the ride home. When we got back to Dover I felt fine. I went and took my first hot shower in ages then we went out to the Pub. We went to the White Horse, a local place where Channel Swimmers can write their name on the wall. I signed the ceiling above the door next to two of my good friends and mentors, Tim Lawrence and Matt Johnson, both US Air Force Academy graduates. Tim is in Afghanistan right now. He actually called during my swim from there. I forgot to mention that. That was a huge motivation to know he called from overseas to check on me! I yelled from the water that I had been thinking about him and my Academy roommate Ryan Tate who is in Iraq right now. Tim and Ryan really helped keep me warm while I was swimming cause I kept thinking about how hot they must be.
So I wrote on the ceiling:
Matthew James Dios Price
E-F Con Dios
Go Army Water Polo
The beat Air Force was a joke for my Air Force friends.
Ali came to the pub and had a drink with us. I skipped the beer and had a couple Vodkas on the rocks. I needed a strong drink after everything.
Thank you so much to Alison, Freda and Neil Streeter and everyone else in Dover who has been so supportive and wonderful to me. To my Mother who always believed in me and gave me my love of the water and supports all my crazy endeavors. And my brothers who I wish could have been with me. To Kyle for helping me train and rest, to Tom for being there and taking all the time to come over too, to my boat crew, to Tim, Matt and Karen Reeder my Air Force mentors. Karen is the one who lets me post on this site, she can actually go correct my Go Army, because she is faster than me and she was a big help in my success too. To all of you who are huge parts of my life who have been supporting me and following me through all this. We all have more to do though. I have more events to complete this summer, and more money to raise for the fight against cancer. Thank you all so much though for helping me accomplish my dream.
I am in Sennen Cove, UK near Lands End right now. I will be going for a run today to start getting ready for the Ironman. I can’t wait to get back to the US and see you all soon.
Thanks again. If I forgot something or you want to know more, let me know
Sunday, July 6. 2008
This was a pretty awesome and hardcore week. Since Saturday is really my Monday remember that this week began with the 6hr/5.5hr awesomeness. Then Kyle Davis came town. He got in at around midnight on Sunday and little did he know he was getting up early Monday morning to train.
Dave who I have mentioned before picked Kyle and I up at around 9:30 and drove us to the beach. Charlie was there waiting for us. He gave me a 4mile workout, but I was still tired from the weekend and misunderstood/forgot how far it was between the buoys and ended up swimming 6miles instead. Kyle was very impressive on his first day in the English Sea he swam 4miles, and I swam 6, 2 by accident. My mom made fun of me asking if I was turning into my brother Zach who has been known to run many miles by accident. All in all it was a great workout, and I felt good even with the extra mileage.
Back to the beach at Kingsdown with Dave, Kyle and Shivering Sean joined us too. The day was amazing! I couldn’t even believe I was in England, sorry English readers, but its true. It was so sunny and hot, yes hot, and gorgeous out. The Channel was as flat as a pancake too! I am praying for a day like that when I swim. Charlie gave us an extra long course to swim because visibility was so good. We could see details on the French countryside. Each length was 1500m, almost a mile. I swam 15k/9.3miles, and felt great. It was an amazing workout and the sun felt awesome on my back. Kyle swam a good 4miles again.
Wednesday: A Taste of The Channel.
Oxford and Cambridge have a big rivalry, part of that rivalry now spills out into the sea. There was a relay race between the two schools. Neil Streeter was taking the Oxford team and a CSA Pilot was taking the Cambridge team, Ali took us out on her boat to watch the start of the race. We were lucky enough to see a solo swimmer take off too. After the swimmers took off from the white cliffs for France, Ali through me into the sea, actually I jumped ship. I have an awesome photo of it. I swam next to the boat for a couple miles, it was great. It was great practice; and really awesome water. It is so much clearer out there and a dark green color. It was weird swimming with the boat at first, but then I got the hang out it. I have a new plan now too. I’m not even thinking about swimming to France when I go, I am having a personal competition to see how long I can swim next to Alison’s boat and if France gets in my way I’m going to get on shore and say what’s up.
Thursday and Friday were rest days, I chilled out, saw Dover Castle and the Secret World War Two tunnels and watched lots of DVDs while eating lots of food.
Saturday/Sunday: The Harbor
I did 3hours on Saturday and 2hours on Sunday. Each day I did about a 15minute warmup, before knocking out a fast 5k. Both days I did my 5k on about 1:20. I did a total of 8k on Saturday and 6k on Sunday. Both days felt good and I felt strong. Alison is thinking that Friday might be my day to go. She says there should be a 5.5m tide which should be really good. I am excited. This week I am going to keep the training light and stay lose so I am ready to kick ass. My Mom comes to town Tuesday morning and then my whole crew will be here.
I’ll be in the Harbor having fun again tomorrow. Thanks for seeing how I am doing. Please keep spreading the word and supporting me. We have raised almost $4000 to help fight cancer, almost, our goal is just over $20,000. I appreciate all the support, even just emails. Anything to give me something to think about besides swimming is great too. Oh last thing. They throw a parade in Dover on July 5th, I pretended it was for the 4th of July, even though the parade sucked and had no cops, firemen or Soldiers. Happy 4th of July, I miss America but I have a mission to complete here. See you all soon.