Friday, October 3, 2008

Chris and his Amazing Catalina Crossing

On September 18th-19th, I had the fortunate experience of watching and participating in the most incredible athletic accomplishment with which I've ever been personally involved. The best part about it was it was my 14-month older brother , Chris, who did it. Back in early summer, he casually asked me if I would like to support kayak for him as he attempted to cross the Catalina Channel. I thought it sounded fun, and it was an excuse to get out of Iowa and go to Southern California, so I promptly said "Sure, if I can work it out". I really didn't have any understanding of what it really meant though, and I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to pull it off with my work schedule and finances. However, as his targeted day grew nearer, we revisited the idea and we decided we would really try to make it work. With some help from Chris and a little negotiating at work I was able to get off and fly out to Orange County for the big event. Prior to the big day, I worked three straight 18-hour shifts, then got off my last shift at 11:00 pm and drove 5 hours to Chicago to catch a 5:30 am flight to Orange County. By midnight that night, Thursday the 18th, I was on a boat watching Chris jump into pitch black waters and swim to Catalina Island to begin his Channel Crossing.

My parents and I, along with a support team that included an Ironman triathelete, an English Channel crosser, and the world-record holder for most miles swam in one month, were all there to cheer him on and provide motivation, direction, and nutrition. Because I wasn't as experienced of a kayker as others there, I was told to not go out at night...when the ocean was so dark, vast, and formidable.
But at about 6:00 am, when the sun crept over the wet horizon, I went off the boat onto my ocean kayak to paddle up to my brother who was still just moving along with a rhythmic cadence.
For his swim to be officially recorded and accepted, he had to have an observer there to "officiate" the swim. He was not allowed a wet suit, or any kind of physical assistance at all (no one was ever allowed to touch him, or him use the boat or kayak for support).
Every 30 minutes he would have a "feed" where the kayaker would reach out a water bottle and a little "gu" (power gel) to him. These feedings would last all of 15 seconds before he would get back into his stroke. They were told to be so quick for two reasons, because they didn't want to add on any extra time or have him expend any extra energy that wasn't propelling him towards his destination and safety; and secondly, so that his metabollic heart rate would not lower which would cause his body temperature to decline. The water was usually mid-60s and any stopping would cause his temperature to drop quickly, in which case he would be at risk of cramping and even hypothermia.
The conditions of the swim were good to start, with moonlight casting a glow on the water so that we could see his arms escaping the dark ocean and his head turn for his breaths. However, by mid-morning, winds had started to pick up and the currents had changed as well....not good things for open-water swimmers. The swells and waves became much larger than expected posing problems for both he and myself, the kayaker, and the current the boat was trying to follow had shifted as well. This caused him at one point to be swimming for an hour straight with literally no progress. He was swimming on a treadmill essentially. They had to re-route him to find a current, and after he finally got to a better current, he had lost valuable time and added essentially four extra miles to the swim.
Eventually we saw the coastline and the beach-front hills began to get a little bit larger and larger. My brother continued to go strong, with his arms churning in a steady motion like an oil rig, moving up and down, up and down, for what seemed like an eternity.
We all worried about him, considering how long he was in the water and how much energy and strength he would be able to sustain, but his stamina and perseverence were incredible. We finally made radio contact with an on-shore lifeguard to help us find a place he would be able to safely come into the coast since his landing spot had been changed multiple times to account for the current and conditions. He helped us find a little cove in which he finally, almost literally, crawled ashore....25 miles and just under 15 hours later.

I was truly amazed and inspired at what he had just done. He became the 156th person to successfully cross the channel since 1926. His feat was the equivalent of running almost three marathons back to back to back. I felt blessed to have been able to assist in some way and to share that incredible accomplishment with him. Way to go, Chris!!!
Not only was I so glad to be able to share in that experience with Chris, but it so neat to see my Mom and Dad, Brooklyn and her family, Chris's family, and I even got a 4-hour layover in Salt Lake City on the way home, in which time I was able to meet Sara, Aryn, and Quinn again for lunch and a little visit. It was a WONDERFUL weekend!


Dane and Emily said...

Totally amazing! I am still so blown away by Chris' accomplishment. How awesome you were able to support him like that!

Vigoren Family said...

Very cool rendition of the experience. I can't believe how little gas you were functioning on, Jord! You're a busy dude and I'm impressed with your stamina. I sure wish I could have been there as well. Thanks for sharing your experience. Loved the pictures!

Ammo and Josh said...

I am going to start training for it soon so I can be the 157th person to cross Catalina.

Ammo and Josh said...

Seriously though, that is AMAZING! Gave me chills. Glad it worked out so you could be there and also see the kiddos.

Trevor and Liz Covington said...

wow for chris.. sounds like a really memorable experience for everyone involved!! said...

Jordon, loved your account of the most incredible athletic event I have ever witnessed in real life or on the screen. Chris is truly all of our hero. When I think I can't do something, all I have to do is remember Chris in that scary cold ocean for 15 hours, it is empowering for sure. How fortunate for a mother to be a small part of such an incredible event with two of my sons. I'm still in awe of the whole event. love, m

cherlyn and family said...

Great Job!

Rebecca and Co. said...

It sounds like your part of the experience was pretty dang cool too.