“North Dakota? What? Are there people there? Doesn’t it snow year round? That’s where we’re going this summer?” I said to my husband as he came home and announced that he had booked a flight for us to Grand Forks for a race on July 13.
A year ago, my husband Rob decided that he wanted to attempt a channel swim from the Channel Islands off the coast of California to Oxnard, about a 21 mile open ocean swim. When he found out that the entry fee was $1000 and that you need a support boat to accompany you (also very expensive), he began looking for alternative endurance swimming events. An ad popped up for End Racing and an event called the The End Wet, a 27 mile endurance swim on The Red River in North Dakota.
For me, personally, I would have traveled to Bangledesh before seeing him swim in the open ocean. He is most comfortable out there, but I had a vision of him being eaten by a shark, or dying of hypothermia. I was secretly pretty nervous about it, so although the idea of visiting such a remote place sounded, um, well, boring, I went along with it because I was confident that there were no sharks in the Dakotas.
July came up on us fast and before we knew it, we were flying to Grand Forks, North Dakota. We boarded our little prop plane bound for the far north. As we took our seats, my husband nudged me and said, “hey, see that old guy sitting in front of us?He’s the Big River Man.” “The Big River what?” I replied. “He swam the entire length of the Mississippi, Yangtze, Danube and Amazon Rivers… they made a documentary that won a Sundance Award in 2009” Rob said. “Whoa! Now that is impressive, but Rob, I said, Isn’t he, well, kinda of old, and, not to be mean but… heavy to be, not just endurance swimming, but swimming 50-60 miles every day for two months straight?” “That’s what the story is about, just an average, or not so average guy doing something extraordinary. Here is the trailer to his film–>
The next morning we woke up and made our way down to the starting line at the river banks where the swimmers did a two mile shake out swim and practiced getting out of the water at mile 2, because of a section of rapids that are too dangerous to swim. We met the race director, Andy, a fascinating guy who has an incredible story of how he began coordinating his adventure and extreme race series – definitely check out his website if you are interested in doing something more than your average race.
That night there was a dinner for the 30 swimmers and support kayakers (each swimmer has to have someone beside them helping them along the course). After a quick briefing, we headed over to the local theatre to see a viewing of Big River Man, staring Martin Strel, the man we sat near on the plane ride to Grand Forks.
As I fell asleep that night, my heart was filled with excitement and nerves. I was so grateful to be supporting my husband, instead of the other way around. He has been there for me countless times as I crossed finish line, tomorrow was his day to shine and I was so happy for him.
The next morning the swimmers lined up at 8am and started their journey that would last for the next several hours. The most inspirational part of this race was that it was filled with normal people. Some athletes looked as though they would not be able to swim 1 mile let alone 27. It reminded me of myself, just an average girl taking chances and going big. It convinced me that all things are possible if you put your mind to it. Never say “I can’t” if you dream big, work hard and take chances, anything is possible.
I saw the swimmers off and jogged along the river path about 2 miles up where they were doing the transition out of the water and meeting up with their support kayakers. My father-in-law, Jim, flew out from Maryland to support my husband. I am so touched by the way my husband’s family loves and supports him, they would drop anything to be there for him. It always brings a tear of joy to my eye to observe my in-laws dedication to their family.
After seeing Rob in at the 2 mile, I drove ahead to mile 14 (a little more than half way) to the private home of Wayne Devine. He lives up to his name, what a divine gesture to open his front yard to the spectators.
Rob and my father-in-law breezed by mile 14, looking strong and ready for the next half. Now the race begins, anything can happen after 14 miles. As I left Mr. Devine’s home and drove to the finish line another 13 miles down the road, I said a prayer that my husband find the mental strength to overcome any difficult spots that may come.
Before I knew it, the relay teams and first finishers were coming in, and not long after that, there was my father-in-law’s yellow kayak and my husband beside him. A wave of emotion and excitement swept over me as I saw my husband take those final strokes into the finish. He had just swam 27 miles in 7 hours and 35 minutes. He had worked so hard for this, and no person could understand what that moment meant greater than me. Not only had he achieved something huge, he had done it FAST! He came in 6th overall and was the 3rd male finisher. I am so proud of him, and so grateful that I was able to come along and be on the other end of racing. It was my turn to be the helper, cheerleader, sherpa, and support crew — and it was amazing! Thank you to my Mom for watching our children and making it possible for us.
Don’t ever let someone, including yourself say you can’t do something, if you have a dream, go after it! The hardest part is the first step, or in Rob’s case the first stroke. So proud of my husband! Congratulations Rob! I love you!