FishDreamer scribbles, one page at a time

Monday, 18 August 2003

Danskin Stories

Another Danskin has gone by. Another year of doing the swim angel thing. That's three years of swim support, the same number of times I did the race. And it was better than ever this year.

My sister came over with the kids. We hung out, I cooked dinner and Sis played computer games on the kitchen machine while Mr D watched movies with the kids. I managed to get to bed around 12:30, which was not the best idea. Alarm went off at 4:15. Got up, got dressed, put the coffee on, organized the stuff I hadn't pulled together the night before (coffee additives, parking pass) and then crawled back into bed while the coffe brewed. I guess I fell back asleep, because I woke to my sister coming in the room. Up. Coffee in thermos, shoes on, double check I have my wetsuit, and off we go.

Picked up my friend Nan, and got to the docks by 5. (Had to be there by 5:15, because that's when the put up the swim finish chute and you can no longer drive onto the docks.) Sat around for an hour and a half, waiting for things to get moving. We made a new friend, especially Nan, who was really cool and very funny. She wants to do Ironman Canada next year, like Nan is doing this year. Eventually things picked up. I had a bagel & cream cheese, and some coffee, and we got into our wetsuits and then into the water.

They do this whole "introduce the Dove Angels" thing, because the sponsor (Dove) loves it, and because it gets the swimmers excited. They know we're there if they need us. We swam around the doc to the swim start and got ready. (Apparently they're doing some kind of documentary too, so there was a ton of footage of what we were doing.) I got pulled off by a volunteer who'd been asked by a racer where the Angels were. So I had my first race buddy, in the third wave.

Her name is Jean, and she was in the Team Survivor wave. These are all women who have or had cancer. Jean told me she'd just finished treatment (I think it was radiation) and she knew she could do the swim but she was nervous. She just needed the reassurance of having someone there in case she got tired or something went wrong. So I swam along. I don't remember her needing the swim noodle. I don't even think she hung on a boat, although I could be wrong. We talked. I told her I was a cancer survivor too, and a little about my story. I think it made her feel better to know, because at least I could understand somewhat the demons she was facing down in doing this race. But then she told me hers metastasized to her bones. (Is that fairly close to a death knell? I really don't know, but it sure didn't sound good.) So I encouraged her, and talked about swim support and how much I love it. And stuff. We swam.

She got to the end and gave me a hug, then ran up to transfer the timing chip to the biker on her relay. I put my foot down on the nice soft sand and came in contact with a nice broken bottle. It wasn't sharp, although with the right pressure it would easily cut a foot. I bent down and got it, and hid it behind my back as I got out of the water and went searching for a trash can. A couple of people saw it, but no panic ensued. I got back in and did start line duties for maybe half an hour, then swam out after a wave to catch stragglers.

There isn't really a job description for us. It requires tact, intuition, and perception. I floated around, talked to some people, chatted with the lifeguards (they're on boats), and waited. Eventually there was a woman swimming from boat to boat. She was doing okay, but really slow. I said hi, and after a bit asked her if she wanted a buddy. Sure, says she, somewhat grateful not to have to ask. So I swam alongside her, and she asked me about myself. And told me her name was Penny, and she was a nurse, and she weighed quite a bit (she told me). And she had asthma. I had reason shortly to be very grateful I had that little tidbit, because near the first buoy she got smacked in the face with a wave and started to go into an attack. I gave her the noodle, asked if she was okay, could she breathe, and when she couldn't respond I called the nearest boat over. ("Help!" and a frantic handwave and they were there. They'd heard us, so knew something was up.) She hung on and got her breath back, without recourse the the inhaler she had in a waterproof box attached to her suit. And when she was okay, we continued.

We swam around, and talked, and she rested a few more times along the way. I asked her about asthma, since I have no experience with it or anyone who really has it. At some point in there, I let out a plaintive, "I'm hungry." (Mr D's favorite of my daily events...) And eventually there was ground, and on she went. As I got out of the water, I got asked to get back in and be a swim start line for a while, but I told her I had to eat something first. So off with me to the volunteer tent. A chocolate peanut butter luna bar and a bottle of water later, back into the water I go. I had to force my way past some spectators who pretty much would not get out of my way. I guess they were afraid I was trying to stand in front of them. Which I would have been, since it was two guys over six feet. But I wasn't.

I was, however still quite wet. Too bad they made me shove between them, because that meant they got all wet. I do understand that people get caught up in it, and when your significant other (or any other person with whom you're emotionally invested) is about to do this crazy thing she's been working towards for at least months, I forgive a little heedlessness. I just hope that I was forgiven in return for dripping all over them both.

I played start line for probably half an hour after that. This involves creating a barrier with the swim noodles to keep the racers behind the line, as well as much cheering and encouraging and supporting. And, in my case, constant warnings about the presence of the duckweed onthe way back in. Euch. When I was coming to the end with Penny, I saw a woman in a wetsuit get out with a beauteous garland of duckweed (actually, millefoil) draped around her neck like a feather boa. Right where the swim finish camera guy was. I would love to see her face when she gets that picture! Anyway, I shouted myself silly, I saw my neighbor go, and I had fun. And then it was the last wave.

For some reason, they always put the relay teams (except Team Survivor) in the last wave. Relay teams don't tend to have the fastest swimmers. I got one of the Soul Sistas, the very same one I'd said hi to the day before at the Expo, and the one my friend Nan had the year before. She was doing just fine, grabbing the noodle when she needed it and moving along. My main job for her was to put her back on course when she started swimming away. And then Sally caught us.

Sally Edwards is the national spokeswoman for the Danskin. She is an Ironwoman, and she is, to many many of the racers, the heart of the Danskin. She is the reason that the funds raised by the series go to the Susan G. Komen foundation. I love Sally, she's awesome and inspiring. And she asked me if I would pull my swimmer in the rest of the way, because apparently this woman had finished last the year before (I was there, how the hell did I miss that?) and Sally didn't want that to happen again.

That was the one moment all day I wished I'd gotten fins. I don't need them, mostly, because there isn't really much actual swimming involved. Mostly it's floating along and sculling. And here I was kicking my poor heart out (with a painful knee, no less) trying to get this woman in before the other one. Who was also being towed. Pant pant. The very end of a mile and a half of swimming and encouraging and focusing on these women, and I'm asked to actually exert myself. Pant.

Someone came to my rescue and towed her the last 100 yards. I meandered in, said many thanks to the lifeguards (in return for I can't tell you how many of them telling me how much easier we made it for them by being there and handling the non-life-threatening emergencies). These guards were really nice, and it really was fun. The day was beautiful, it got all sunny and gorgeous and was simply perfect to be floating in the water watching more than 4,000 women realize a dream and find out they can do something they didn't know they could. And then it was over.

Back to the tent, more food, off with the wetsuit, more coffee, oh and maybe some more food. We sat for a while, then wandered over to the finish (packed, a complete madhouse), picked up some cute Nokia phone sox (get it?!) And then we went home.

I was exhausted. I got a little nap in that afternoon, but not enough. I forgot to put sun screen on, again, but kept my face mostly away from the sun. And it was clouded over until half way through, so I don't think it was as bad of a mistake as it could be. I cried a little, I had a most wonderful time, and I can't wait to do it again next year. It is so very worth it. And now I have a very cute tank top to wear. We get some good strokes from everyone involved, and a lot of thank yous from both the swimmers and the race coordinators (not to mention the actual life guards). It's nice to get recognized, because as much fun as I have and as much as I want to do it again, it's work. It's tiring. I swam a mile and a half, I helped prevent a full-blown asthma attack from manifesting, I gave my heart to these women because I so want them to succeed. I know they can do it, and I want to be part of that. But even without the recognition and the cute shirt and everything, I would still do it. Because, again, it's all about the change that occurs in a woman when she suddenly finds she not only can do this fearsome thing, she already has. It's unbelieveably empowering, both for them and for me. And that is what it's all about.

Post Script: Two days later and I can see that the bottle I stepped on did indeed break the skin, but it's maybe two millimeters wide and I'm keeping an eye on it. Looks okay so far. I was really lucky, that could have been a disaster.
Post Post Script: I didn't manage to take any pictures at the race, but I will try to put a pointer in when they come up. And as soon as Mr D gets the new digital set up properly for download, there will be others. Then maybe I'll write up our Oregon camping trip properly!

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