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Reflections on Treading Water for 12 Hours

Reflections on Treading Water for 12 Hours

On Friday, September 21st, I treaded water for 12 straight hours in the Chesapeake Bay, beating my personal best by 2 hours. A BIG thank you to all the supporters of my Tread-A-Thon!

I entered at 7 AM and exited at 7 PM. This year I invited special guests to come join me throughout the day, which had a significant impact on my morale and made time fly by!

My Dad took the early shift — I can always count on him — especially early in the morning. Before I could drive, he’d wake up at 03:45 AM to get me to swim practice, as it started at 4:40 AM and we had a 30 minute drive. He’d sleep in the van on a throw pillow until practice was over and then drive me back. A graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy (’76) he knows a thing or two about boats and water safety. Unfortunately, I for some reason forgot to interview him while LIVE on Facebook. But, we talked about the difficulties of search and rescue missions — looking for someone’s head in a giant body of water — or trying to calculate the drift by capturing data points from helicopters flying over. He also mentioned that, “In the Gulf of Mexico we looked for survivors. But in Lake Michigan…cold water kills.”

The second VIP to hop in and tread with me was the one and only Leslie Paul, the founder of the non-profit organization RAPS (Really Awesome People Swimming). Since 2007, Leslie and her staff has taught over 2,600+ people in Virginia Beach how to swim, the majority of them being kids. A part of all donations to my tread are going to help fund next summer’s program!

Just after high noon, Coach Kristian Ramkvist brought his entire team of military and civilian personnel. This program helps prepare our current and future service men and women in the water. If you want to join the Navy but need to strengthen your swimming skills, this program was built for you.

Throughout the day I thought a lot about Kay Longstaff, the 46-year-old British woman who just recently fell off the back of a cruise ship and treaded water for 10 hours until she was rescued. I had ample water, a ham sandwich from Wawa, and plenty of snacks. She had no food or water. I had sunglasses and a hat. She had neither. I have tens of thousands of hours of hardcore swimming under my belt. She’s a yogi and can carry a nice tune.

I thought to myself, “You don’t have to be a former college swimmer to tread 10 or 12 hours. You just need to know how to float, tread, and keep calm.” I reminisced about teaching children to float on their backs in the Maldives. We would say, “Vaagi Dhookollaa” which in Dhivehi means, “relax”.

Family and friends joined me for the last hour, counting down the minutes. The first 11 hours and 50 minutes were a breeze but the final 10 minutes dragged on slow as molasses. Time is a funny thing…

After it was all said and done, the sides of my tongue were raw from swigging saltwater. Impossible to escape the sun and the reflection off the water, my face was torched, my lips blistered. My joints (ankles/knees/wrists) hurt from overuse. Too many egg beater kicks. Too much sculling with my hands. Too much flicking of my feet.

So why tread water for 12 hours?

To bring awareness to the fact that drowning is killing a ridiculous number of people every year and over half of them are children. From large community surveys we know that some 250,000 – 450,000 children drown each year in Asia Pacific alone. Drowning has become the #1 killer of children in numerous countries. Drowning is the reason why developing countries could not “Reduce Child Mortality” — #4 on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) just published it’s first ever Report on Drowning in 2014. But we’ve been drowning since the beginning of time. To say that we are far behind in this fight is an understatement.  

Nothing will stop be from continuing to sound the alarm on drowning. Next year I will go for 14 hours. How long can you tread?

“No matter how much we as parents might want to protect our kids, we can’t actually swim for them. Both metaphorically and actually, when we teach a people to swim, we give them the chance to handle risks and make their way through hazards without someone more experienced shielding them at every turn. They are the ones who get to withstand the currents and unanticipated shoals that may alter their path. Learning to swim involves not just knowing how to float, how to breathe, how to stroke, how to tread water — but also understanding when each is called for.” – Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann