OR, lessons learned while paddling in 2016 SEAPaddle NYC
Whatever the circumstance was, I need to keep going My heart was pounding at 172 bpm, way over the 145 bpm I planned for to be able to complete the 26 mile long trip around Manhattan. We just launched for the 6 hour paddle and I knew I cannot sustain this pace. I tried to slow down, take deep breathes and wait
for Linda, my training partner with who I planned to alternate drafting through the race to reduce air resistance; She was nowhere to be seen in the chaos of roughly 100 paddlers under the Brooklyn bridge. This was unexpected and I knew that if I continue at this pace I won’t last; how can I handle this? Throughout the event I found myself thinking and reminding myself why I am here. Since I was diagnosed with lung cancer I find it almost therapeutic to train for, and participate in an ultra endurance athletic event every year, to prove to myself and fellow survivors that if we put our mind to it we will endure, and there is so much strength, analogy, and optimism to be drawn from the journey.
I’m doing the best I can, and remain optimistic Two hours into the race, while still paddling in the east river, I am facing 5 ft. high swells rushing towards me; where do they come from? I can’t see a single boat around that can cause such swells and they keep coming. Fortunately they are perpendicular to my course so I can paddle “into” them and remain balanced. I noticed that several paddlers ahead of me who try to avoid them are quickly thrown off their boards. Raising my head trying to see the end of these scary waves, I realized that I was entering Hell Gate, a triangle where the long island sound and the Harlem river merge into the east river, a notoriously gnarly area. I kept to the left and focused on balance and was able to pass safely, on my board!
Family and friends! UP! the Harlem River. By now the current that pushed me up the east river slowed and began going against me, the pleasant morning sun turned into a blasting midday NYC furnace and I was searching for reasons to remain happy. I raised my head, looking around trying to enjoy the moment. I noticed that I’m overtaking cars stuck in traffic on the Harlem river drive, and then I heard my name; my family and friends standing on the water edge by Lincoln Ave in the South Bronx to support me, not a moment too early to be supported by such caring and loving people, what an awesome feeling. Unfortunately I was laboring along the opposite bank trying to avoid the current and crossing to meet them was just too much, physically.
Staying in the moment, being mindful. I was under the Broadway Bridge which connects Harlem with The Bronx and it was hard to believe what I was seeing. I eased off the paddling to enjoy the amazingly beautiful cliffs towering over Spuyten Duyvil Creek. It is hard to believe that I am around Manhattan. I already enjoy the flow going down towards the Hudson River where we are supposed to meet wind in our back and strong current to take us all the way home to Chelsea piers.
Thoughts of giving up; it is too big for me I entered the Hudson River under a thick layer of ominous clouds, and no current to be found. I paddled slowly toward the center of the mile wide river in hope of catching the flow, but nothing. I am met by wind and rain, and the wind is coming from the south east – not what I expected or hoped for. I started to cramp, I was cold and moving nowhere. I really had to talk myself into continuing, what other option do I have? I’m not giving up.
Not a fun part of the race and it lasted for what seems forever. But I knew that the current will begin (unless earth stops rotating and ebb and flow stops happening) and will help me get to my final destination. I could barely see other paddlers and I was constantly checking my GPS for speed. As I got closer to midtown Manhattan, the water became much choppier due to heavy ferries and Sea Taxis traffic. I tried to avoid it and kept away from the banks where the chop was exacerbated by the sea walls.
My journey brings many challenges and joys and I do the best I can to enjoy it. I started to paddle towards a spot I thought was the finish line, but I miscalculated the current speed and found myself so close to finishing yet paddling harder than at any point during the last five and half hours, and of all things acrossing and slightly up the current to arrive at the finish line at pier 60, 5:42 hours after I launched on the east river under the Brooklyn Bridge.
I couldn’t be happier when I saw my wife, my two boys and our great friends waiting for me at the dock. I did it.
I am thankful to Larry Cain at MonsterPaddle for excellent training and preperation, Ray Dente for strength and nutrition counseling, my amazing doctors at MGH and MSK, Starboard who supported with equipment, all my great friends who supported me, the many kind people who help me raise $40,000 for cancer research and most of all: my wife, two boys and extended family who “endured” me through this.
*By Mike Tyson