Roy Webster Cross Channel Swim, 2022


I must confess that, for several reasons, I was reluctant to do this swim.  Here is what I mulled over while deciding whether to do the swim or not:

The Voice whispering into my left ear said:  You know that you do not love getting up at five A.M. to drive in the dark to a swim that you have already done 19 times.  And what about the possibility of getting infected with COVID because there will be hundreds of swimmers crammed cheek to jowl on the ferry as it crosses the Columbia River to the swim start?  It’s your birthday.  Stay in bed!  Relax, you deserve it.

A different Voice whispered into my right ear:  Don’t listen to that Voice.  This is your annual birthday swim, your 88th birthday.  How many more birthdays can you expect, Old Guy?  You can swim in the pool every day, but an organized Columbia River swim does not come up that often.  About that COVID thing:  Everyone is required by race management to be vaccinated.  You have had the vax twice and two boosters.  And you can wear a mask even if no one else is interested in protecting themselves.

You two Voices: Just shut up.  This is my decision.  It is now two days to the swim start, and I will decide on my own terms.  Thank you for your inputs.  Now leave me alone.

Here is where I am at:  I have done my preparation, put in sufficient yardage in the pool, and swam in the Columbia River every Saturday this summer.  I know that I am ready for my 20th Roy Webster Cross Channel Swim.  I have done the work and I deserve the reward.  Should I do it?  I can certainly wear a mask on the boat.  That way I will not infect anyone, and I will most likely avoid getting COVID.

Then I heard from the wise and intelligent and loving Sylvia, my wife and advisor for so many years.  Sylvia reminded me of the Japanese saying:  A man who has never climbed Mount Fuji is a fool.  A man who climbs it twice is a bigger fool.  Then what, she wondered, about climbing Fuji or entering the same swimming event twenty times?

Sylvia always makes sense.  I was still wavering when I got an email on September 5, the day before the event, from Kelsey Eliot with the company managing the event.  I will quote Kelsey directly:

“Tomorrow’s forecast currently projects 5-10 mph sustained winds with gusts up to 16.  There is a chance that the water will be too choppy to safely swim.”

She added that she would send out an email at 6 AM the morning of the swim.  That wouldn’t do me much good, because by 6 AM I would be well on my way to the start at Cascade Locks, and so would many of the swimmers who were not local.

Bottom line:  It looked like there was a strong chance that the swim would be called off because of wind and chop.  I am aware that it happened before, when the swim was still held where it belonged in Hood River (before it was relocated to Cascade Locks.)  As a swim director with three decades of experience, I understand the need for safety, and it is quite likely that many of the swimmers may not be ready for a choppy swim.  People have lost their lives swimming in conditions beyond their ability.

After swimming for many years in the currents of San Francisco Bay, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, I personally have no problem with chop.  I do have a problem with driving to a swim only to have it cancelled.  Decision made: I am going to stay in bed on Labor Day.  No regrets.

When the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, being beaten regularly by the Yankees, the word in Brooklyn was always “Wait ‘til next year.”  I can wait.  The Roy Webster swim has been around for a very long time.  It will still be here next year.  So, hopefully, will I.

There are times when acting in a mature, sensible manner aches a little.  But there are benefits to be reaped.

POSTSCRIPT:  I spoke to my friend Nicole a couple of days after her Roy Webster swim.  She told me that the swim was almost cancelled by the Sherriff because of rough water.  At the last minute, aboard the ferry, all the swimmers were given the choice to opt out of swimming because of the swells.  Some chose not to swim and stayed on the ferry.  (One observer said that there were waves a foot high.)  Late in the swim, Nicole said, things calmed down somewhat.

Those conditions made it very difficult for many of the swimmers.  In the past Nicole has done the Roy Webster swim in 25 minutes.  This year it took her 40 minutes.

Still, perhaps a potential disaster was averted.  And for the swimmers who succeeded under stressful conditions, I have a quote to ponder.  I think that it was Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

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