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Achieving Success One Stroke At A Time

Courtesy of Marcia Cleveland, North Channel.

Marcia Cleveland does what she says: achieving success one stroke at a time – the title of a TED Talk she gave in Winnetka, Illinois in 2015.

Cleveland has done a lot in her open water swimming career, but no achievement was a difficult as her July 21st crossing of the North Channel, 35 km of 12°C water between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The 54-year-old popular author of Dover Solo described her 15 hour 3 minute crossing, “It was the toughest swim I’ve ever done. My crew was amazing: Mark Green, my husband, and Lee Harkleroad, a great friend, attended to my every need and one of them always had eyes on me. As a result, I was never hit head on by any one of the hundreds of jellyfish we encountered. These jellies weren’t the cutesy ones you see at the aquarium: many were the size of large stuffed teddy bears dragging Rapunzel-length tentacles; I did brush by several of these appendages, but no envelopments.

The water was about 12°C for most of the swim and it certainly took its toll on me in the second half of the swim. The other issue was my nutrition plan which will be receiving an major overhaul going forward.”

So it appears her illustrious marathon swimming career will continue. Carry on, one stroke at a time as she describes below.

Post-crossing Update:

Memories of my North Channel swim are still coming back to me in pieces and I am still understandably exhausted. Last night, we had dinner at Pier 36, an iconic restaurant and guest house in Donaghadee, with my observer, Cara Miller, and her lovely family so more thoughts on this swim have solidified. After dinner, the proprietor, Lewis Waterworth, got out the markers and I had the privilege of signing THE BOARD. This is a huge honor.

If I told you this swim was all rainbows and unicorns, you would have the right to call me a complete liar. So hard, especially with my crappy nutrition plan for which I take full responsibility and now have the opportunity to change if I choose to do so.

However, one thing sure is clear: I do have grit. I just kept going.

During this swim, something very unusual – for me – happened. There are times for the last several hours I simply don’t remember because I was moderately hypothermic, not severe, because I was still conscious. The cumulative effect of cold water and not ingesting enough nutrition had a huge impact at the end. The video Mark took of me at the end looks like another person (i.e., not me) is swimming, a poor one who can barely get her arms out of the water. This is very hard for me to watch because I thought I was just tiring. Lee got in the water to swim me in to the finish and said I didn’t notice that he was there for several minutes.

By the grace of God, there was a kayaker about to launch from the beach where I finished. Like all my other swims, I’d figure that I’d swim back to the boat, but had no idea that this was not possible due to the tidal waters at that point, and my deteriorated condition. Lee asked this ‘Angel Kayaker’ to paddle me back to the boat.

I have a very hazy memory of getting into the kayak and it was only later that they told me it was not under my own power; Lee and the kayaker had lifted me in. I have only a slight memory of getting back onto the escort boat, maybe because the four people who were lifting and hauling me into the cabin were quite gentle and carefully didn’t bang me around.

They got me out of my wet swimsuit, into dry clothes, and under a stack of blankets fit for a reverse reenactment of the Princess and the Pea. I didn’t realize Cara, the observer of my swim, had been massaging my limbs to get my circulation going, for a long time.

To end this particular swim, you must either touch the cliff face or stand up in waist-deep water. A bit unusual but due to the severity of the Scottish coastline, we now understand. So if I had touched the rock that was jutting out on a little peninsula about 1000 yards from the beach, I probably would’ve save myself a bunch of swimming and time. I never saw it even though Lee was pointing it out but since I wasn’t registering that Lee was there yet, let’s just say that it was a missed opportunity.

Then if I was hearing what Lee was telling me, “Stand up now!” when we were very close to the beach, I would’ve been done. But not Marcia. If there’s a beach, I’m going claw myself onto that beach to where there’s no water behind, quite ungracefully on all fours as was the case in this swim. I managed to slice a nice chunk of skin off one of my fingers in my quest to finish properly. I was operating on sheer instinct because I was so out of it. But I finished.

My throat has been sore since the swim. The end result of soaking one’s mouth/bod in salt water for 15 hours. Throat lozenges help immensely. My voice is also hoarse for the same reason. I just tried to voice record this so I didn’t have to type but my phone didn’t recognize my raspy voice and it was really hard to speak anyway.

My body remains puffy, from fatigue and brining in salt water for 15 hours. My hands are still so swollen I can’t get my wedding ring on and passing my watch over my wrist is still painful.

However, all in all, I finished. It wasn’t pretty or the way I had expected it to go. I had to reach deeper than ever before, not in some macho, hulking effort but continuing to move forward even though I didn’t realize how close to the brink of not finishing I was.

I had to earn this swim and I surely have a great respect for the North Channel.

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