HAITI — “Do you have any last-minute advice?” I asked Diego Lopez, an ultra long distance shark who was here to crush this event.
“One arm in front of the other,” he said.
“And follow the guy in the canoe?”
A total of 23 swimmers who signed up for the 10K (assisted and unassisted) Swim for Haiti 2018 hopped on the boat this a.m. Another 75 local and international swimmers participated in the 1.5k along the shore.
The 10k group consisted of first-time distance swimmers like me to men and women who did the Ironman to an Olympic sprinter (in a distance race) to a global swimmer who is planning on doing (crazy) long courses this year on seven continents.
Naomy took a bunch of great photos on the boat ride out and the event folks will also have more soon. It was awesome to encourage each other and share supplies as we all hoped for the best. At one point, Naomy and I both paused from chatting, looked out in the massive bay, then back at each other with wide eyes.
“I think we both just shared a baby-panic moment.”
She was correct.
When we reached the island, we were paired with our canoe leads. Vincent took my hand and led me to his canoe. Naomy translated to him, “Sunscreen,” and she pointed to it.
We heard the whistle blow and set off as a group. We had to communicate with our drivers via a limited number of hand signals. I had no idea how to stay on course, so Vincent whistled at me a few times, and eventually we got it right. I spent half the time on the right of him, but the sun in my eyes was killing me, so after one of three short water breaks, I hopped on his left. That’s when I started to pick up the mark on the mountain that we were told to look for. I was pumped and started picking up my pace.
But the mark didn’t get any bigger anytime soon. I must have said, “You are almost there,” 87 times. Sea lice introduced themselves a few times with little pricks. I avoided jellyfish, but hit some plastic garbage and some seaweed and coconuts. When I spotted the red ballon buoy, I knew I was much closer, but still it felt like so much work to get the ballon to grow.
Whether or not he knew it, Vincent pushed me. I didn’t want to stop for the final water break, but I also did not know what would happen in the third hour if I didn’t stop.
Three hours and some change later, I hit the red buoy and it was a straight line to the beach where I would ideally stand up without falling over. Margaret grabbed my phone and did a short clip and then grabbed some of the post-swim photos where I look a little shocked and thirsty.
Diego López finished his 10K in 2 hours and 28 minutes without stopping once. He hopped out of the water and jumped on a shuttle back to Port-au-Prince to catch a flight back to NYC so he could go back to work — after arriving yesterday. My new friend and inspiration, Devon Peavoy, a lawyer from Halifax, Nova Scotia, finished in 2:53 (fastest female). Bill Ireland, my helper this week from SoCal finished exactly as he hoped, coming in at 3 hours. Naomy, who also rushed off to the airport since she has to be in class at the University of Chicago tomorrow at 1 pm, finished in 3:08.
Proud to say I finished in 3:21.
It’s been an incredible experience in a country that has been forgotten by and written off by too many. Yet the people from around the would who paid to make the trip and support the cause and local economy, and the organizers and all the volunteers — medics in particular — who came in to support us after leaving their volunteer jobs in the community — it is the collective effort of all the people that made this trip remarkable.
I do hope I can convince those who have followed to join Swim for Haiti 2018 next year or to do something similar in a country that needs tourism and support as much as disaster relief.
We are heading out to dinner now. Just wanted to post a few photos and thank you all for the love and encouragement. We did it.
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