Last weekend I was invited to help my friend Danny Page “man the boats” for a race known as S.C.A.R. here in Arizona. Going into this my knowledge consisted of one thing, I would be on a boat all day. No idea what kind of boat or what my duties were to include. I did know it had something to do with helping swimmers cross Apache Lake. The name alone had me interested in what I was getting myself into. What I witnessed that day on the lake can only be described as pure amazement by the will power and the type of conditions the human body can endure. Included at the end are pictures, click on them to see full size.
S.C.A.R. what’s in a name? The 4 letters combined form an acronym that spell out the four lakes swimmers will tackle in an open water swimming competition over a 4 day period.
S: Saguaro – 9.5 Miles
C: Canyon – 9 Miles
A: Apache – 17 Miles
R: Roosevelt – 6 Miles
Swimming from buoy line dam to dam on the Salt River system which represents 41 miles of open water swimming in what could easily be considered as some of the greatest views and fresh water on earth.
“Oh I can swim 41 miles no problem”
Think again as 47 athletes have trained for over a year to condition and prepare for the length, water and conditions of this event. Only 27 people out of 47 (57%) evidently completed the entire swim across all four lakes from beginning to end.
My volunteer day took place on the Apache Lake, which also happens to be the longest of the four lake challenges. The drive alone was a hair raiser with dirt roads, no side rails and numerous hair pin white knuckle avoidances of a head on collision. When I get to the lake I am greeted by smiling people everywhere. The coordinators, athletes and crew were all happy as hell with smiles ear to ear at 7 AM. They had this demeanor knowing what obstacle was ahead and appeared relaxed and prepared. Event days for me, I am nervous wreck just waiting to start. These people were cool as cucumbers. As we start to load the boats (7 roughly to get everyone to the start) I notice no one is wearing a wet suit. I think to myself, there is no way they are doing this without a suit. The water is easily 63-65-degrees.
I love the water! It is one of my all time favorite past times. Surfing, swimming, wake boarding – anything to get in, and I am in. Yet one thing I hate is cold water! It cramps your muscles, twists your insides and makes you dizzy. Not a fan – not even a little bit.
Our boat arrives to the beach where things are starting. And yep, as I feared these swimmers have no wet suits. Its actually against the rules! They are swimming 4 lakes over 40 miles in freezing water with no wet suit! There are groups of kayakers that follow along the swimmers to provide nourishment. They have a clip board of times when the swimmer indicates needed food or beverage. They support the swimmers on a schedule like clock work. It’s a very calculated swim for both the support and swimmer.
And we’re off!
There are three waves of swimmers that are called out in groups 1, 2 and then 3.
Our job is to provide cover and water support for the teams. We stay next to the swimmer / kayak duos to assure no oncoming boats or traffic interfere or hurt the people in the water. Aside from a few jack asses flying by pulling rafts with drunk college kids at 10AM, all was pretty quite.
The other aspect is to pull swimmers or kayakers that can no longer continue. This can be for various reasons; hypothermia, exhaustion, hunger or they simply can’t physically continue. As we near the 3PM hour in the day something interesting happens.
As swimmers hit one of the channels in the lake, the wind kicked up to over 25MPH. The waves were gaining speed and the pure force of the wind was holding people in place. This continued and worsened by the hour.
We see arms up and a kayaker motion in the distance. Danny and I swing around to see what’s needed.
There sits Natalie, with her husband in his kayak by her side. “I’m done now please, we’re ready to come out”. Danny pulls close as I gather towels and proceed to pull her into the boat. We begin to get her dried off and head to get her dry bag from another boat. She was happy, happy to be on the boat and the process of heading to dock. We send for another boat to pick up Natalie’s husband.
Based on personal obligations in the evening, I departed the boat at the docks when Natalie . After we off loaded gear and our belongings, we parted ways and I headed to my truck. On the drive home I had to question myself – do I have the fortitude both mental and physical to conquer that swim? I had to laugh. Swim 40 miles – shit I would take 4 miles. I reminisced on the people, the event and pure willpower these athletes had to compete or simply just to finish. It was a special group of people that made me see things a bit different.
Days after the event was finished an email came from Danny about the event. It’s a blog post from Mark Sheridan. Mark is one of the swimmers, not just a swimmer – but one of the few who completed all 4 lakes. Mark hails from Sevenoaks in Kent, United Kingdom. He is a world class open water long distance competitor and remarkable athlete. Garnering the cherished British Long Distance Swimming Association’s Swimmer of the Year in 2013. His post is a great reflection of his personal journey. From preparation, experience, and recommendations for anyone interested in doing this swim in the future.
To hear this amazing story from someone who spent a year preparing gives you a completely different level of respect for the sport. Learn how Mark prepared and practiced for the event. Also his day by day journal is an amazing look into the eyes of a world class athlete on game day.
A few links that you should visit:
If you have a goal and can get out of your own way – amazing things can happen.