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And so the story goes…

July 1, 2009

I’m sure that this news will potentially come as a shock to most people.  Two years ago, I swam the Channel for the first time.  Two days after that I signed up to swim it again.  However, I had a new goal.  I wanted to swim the Channel three times in one go.  Yes that is right swim first from England to France, turn around swim back to England, and then do it one more time.  Yes, it is crazy.  Only 3 people (2 men, 1 woman) have accomplished it before and many have attempted.  At the time I signed up, I wanted to do something GREAT in my life.  Give my family and me a reason to look at something and say that I did THAT.  Yes, I understand that I had just swam the Channel in just over 10 hours, but somehow that didn’t seem enough.  Some may think that I was seeking fame, but it wasn’t that at all.  I wanted to make my family and friends proud of me.  Hell I wanted to make myself proud of me.

Yes there was a part of me that wanted my name to be remembered among the great American marathon swimmers like Gertrude Ederle, Lynne Cox, Marcia Cleveland, and Marcella MacDonald.   So since 2 days after my first Channel swim, I’ve been training and planning.  I had the most amazing trainers, friends, family and sponsors helping me along the way.  People who gave up their time and resources to help me reach my goal.  I also had the best Channel pilots. 

After all the preparations and training, we all headed back to England.  Though I felt physically the strongest I’ve ever been something seemed to be missing.  I was enjoying my training swims in the water so I tried to push that other “off” feeling away.  I was so happy when we got to talk to Reg and find out that the swim was early in the tide and when he looked at me and said “You’re looking fit”.  I would finally get to find out how the story ended.  Just like a pick-a-path book, the story could end in many ways.  I guess I never imagined the way that my swim would end.

We arrived at the boat as scheduled, Reg, Ray, and another boat captain Andy King were all set to guide us on this adventure.  Mikee Philips was the observer and I was happy to see another friendly face as he was the CSA observer on my first crossing.  We loaded up the boat and set off for the start. 

Samphire Hoe, the land created from the Chunnel dirt, was the start of the swim.  On the way there, I was busy with preparations; sunscreen, rashguard, etc.  I was ready when it was time for me to jump in the water.   And the first 2 hours of the swim were going really well.  I had turned off everything except what was necessary to swim.  I so far had chosen the right path in this story.

It was the third hour that I began to notice that “off” feeling becoming stronger.  Since we marathon swimmers have plenty of time in our heads I decided to explore this feeling and deal with it and move on.  It seemed to me that the question that needed to be answered was “why are we doing this?”  The original answer is above…the lasting accomplishment.  Giving me something to be proud of in myself.  The answer that I got while in the water was; Think of all the time, resources, energy that trainers, sponsors, family, friends have put into this swim.  You can’t disappoint them.  They have expectations.  My next questions was “What about your expectations for yourself, Michelle?”  I could definitely remember my original intent, but I no longer felt the fire that went with it.  It was then that I realized that my path on this story was about to change.  I guess the only way for me to put this is that I was an injured athlete.  Yes, the physical muscles were all fine due to all the work that the trainers and I put in, but it was my soul, my heart that was injured.   

In an earlier post I mentioned that my mother and father are my moorings.   And they are, but 6 weeks ago I became adrift.  I thought that I could overcome this feeling of being lost.  To find that fire within me to keep this swim going.  But the flame was not there, my heart wasn’t in it.  My soul was aching.   At the three hour feeding I told my crew “We have a problem. I’m fine physically, but my heart hurts. I will finish this part of the swim, as that is the right thing to do, but I don’t think I can go on.”  So for another 8 hrs 26 minutes I swam. 

After reaching France, my fabulous crew asked me to continue swimming.  I did…for a very short period of time.  I came up for a feeding and I saw the waves and fog in front of me.  It seemed to be taunting me by matching my internal environment.  Jane, Katie, Cathy and Jeff were amazing!  They did everything that they could to keep me going forward to the next feeding…to the next five minutes.  They all had the heart that I was lacking and I had drawn on that to make it across the first time.  But the fire also had to come from me for this swim to be a success. 

It was me and me alone that called off this swim.  It was me that had to make the choice to touch the boat and end the years of hard work.  It was the path that I had to take at this time.  I know it is not the path that ended the story the way that I wanted to or that I believe anyone wanted. 

After changing clothes and laying down for the return trip to England, I finally felt like I rested.   There was some quiet.  

I don’t regret my decision yesterday.  I’m hoping that as time passes that I never will.  I had 8 hours to really think the decision over.  An athlete can force themselves to do only so much without a fire burning within.  I am not the first athlete or even person that this has happened to and I surely won’t be the last.  I have seen many an athlete falter and fail after years of hard work and thousands/millions of dollars spent.   I can see those clips that are played on TV in my head.  It is these athletes that give me my inspiration right at this moment.  Most of the clips of the athletes show great pain and suffering, but not to long after that I’ve seen the clip of their renewal and success. 

The one athlete story that sticks in my mind is Paula Radcliffe.  I watched her 2004 Athens marathon.  I stumbled and cried with her.  I sat down with her on the curb and wept.  I also had the good forture to watch her months later (via computer) stride triumphantly to the finish of the New York Marathon, which she has done two times since.

My dad emailed me yesterday and said “6 weeks before your first Channel swim, your mother told you she had cancer and yet you swam.  6 weeks before your 2nd Channel swim your mother passed away and yet you swam.  Many others would not have done the same.  I’m proud of you”.

This is my time to regroup, reset the course, refind my center and my mooring and then move forward.  I know that there will be comments about this swim and perception about what went wrong and some of them may not be that kind.  Regardless, I plan to dust myself off and begin to accept that while overall this was an unsuccessful triple Channel crossing it was a successful solo crossing that took a lot of guts on my part.

So to start this healing process and to restart the fire, I will swim.  It won’t be a long swim, but I will return to swimmers beach in Dover, put my suit on, and shove off from shore.  That is what I’m going to do.

Thank you to Reg and Ray:  You can’t find better pilots.  I only wish that I could have been the swimmer that we all needed yesterday as I would have loved to provide them with another swim to add to their already phenomenal legacy. 

To Mikee Philips and Andy King: Thank you for coming along on the journey.  I know it wasn’t what anyone expected, but you were kind throughout my whole swim. 

To my trainers, coaches, medical professional team:  We did all the right things and the body was there.  I’m the healthiest and strongest I’ve ever been.  You have all taught me so much about what it takes to build an athlete.  I know that with our continued work, I’ll only become better.  Thank you for being a part of my life.

To my friends and family: Thank you and I love you.  You have been there for every crazy adventure and I’m guessing you will be there for the next one.  Thank you for all the love and support.

To Jane, Cathy, Katie, and Jeff:  Thank you for coming along on this ride.  You have been there for it all and for that I can’t thank you enough.  I know that I can never repay all the generousity that you have shown to me.  I love you all.  And thank you for having the heart on this swim. 

And to my sponsors:  Thank you for helping me chase and live my dreams.  Without your support, I wouldn’t be living my passion.  Thank you for believing and seeing that I’m worth it.

 

(Note:  I know that there are problems on this blog and my friend is helping me to correct it.  Bear with us as we work through the issues.)

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14 Responses to “And so the story goes…”

  1. Emma France says:

    Michelle – you are an amazing athlete and an even more amazing person. I feel very privileged to have met you and spent time with you on the beach. Your strength of character is amazing, I have learned a lot from you.

    I think that your decision to not continue shows just how strong your character is. I can’t think of many people who could have finished the single crossing in these circumstances, let alone make such a logical choice in such a physically and emotionally draining circumstance.

    I’ve long since learned that marathon swimming doesn’t have a destination – it is a journey. That journey can take you places you hadn’t planned and often with hindsight, these diversions are part of what makes the journey so special and makes us who we are.

    Wherever your journey takes you next – good luck and I’ll be watching out for updates.

  2. Cara Gosse says:

    Michelle, I didn’t know you were planning a triple Channel swim (I’m guessing not many did), and I am just as proud of you and your amazing accomplishment as I was the first time you did it. And I will be just as proud every time you swim, even when it’s just a couple laps in a pool. When someone does something that you can’t do, amazement, pride, joy, (and even a little bit of jealousy!) are what we feel. You did not fail. You accomplished something that hardly any people on this earth can do, and you did it with an injured heart. That is nothing to be ashamed of! I am proud of you, and always will be.

  3. Jim Burmaster says:

    You are an amazing person. Way to go! I look forward to hearing more about the adventure in Pilates.

  4. Kristy says:

    Michelle,

    You amaze us by simply jumping in the water without a wetsuit, muchless swimming in that same cold water for 12 hours (heck, even 10 hrs).

    I had the privledge of knowing what your plan was. Though we were not there physically, know that we were there with you emotionally, our hearts still broken with yours, we swam with you and we stopped with you. We will also be with you when you make your next paths across the Channel. You know you can do it physicially and in time, your heart will be ready, too.

    We love you Michelle…for who you are, what you have done and what you will do in “your” future!

    Outstanding job yesterday, we look forward to following your next lap or laps across the Channel, we know your heart will take you back.

    Kristy, Brian and Riley Edds

  5. ML Rice says:

    Dear Michelle,
    The depth of your courage knows no bounds.
    We all knew the courage to swim the channel was there–you had proven that.
    It took new courage to look into your own heart and see the break.
    You found enormous courage to stop the swim.
    And then, you took huge and very vulnerable step in courage to reveal your heart to us.
    Sending you love and respect,
    ML

  6. Willie Brock says:

    Michelle…..No matter what we are all proud of you and your accomplishment. I understand the drive and desire to finish, Hell I have been there myself, in another venue, but as an athlete. I can’t wait to see you and get one of those big hugs that you give. You are a special person.

    Trouble

  7. Jim Gorski says:

    Michelle,

    It takes great talent and courage to pursue a lofty goal. It takes greater courage and character to acknowledge that this is not the time for that goal. This is a time to heal. This does not change the fact that you are a hero. I know we’ll be seeing more from Michelle Macy, one of the greatest swimmers in the world.

    Jim

  8. Joan Barry says:

    Dear Michelle,

    I was, unfortunately, unable to follow online the hour by hour details of this swim as I had your first crossing. My first granddaughter was born yesterday at 2 pm. (She is beautiful and perfect!) I was, however, with you every stroke in my heart and soul. I just returned home from another several hours with the newest Barry family member. Other family members at the hospital were more up-to-date then me regarding your progress. They informed me you had touched shore in France. I couldn’t wait to get home, get online, and find out the rest of the story! And, like all the others, I couldn’t be more proud of you. Your swim, like the first, was phenomenal. The fact that you attempted so soon after your great loss was phenomenal! The fact that you were smart enough, in tune with your heart enough, to know it was time to touch the boat was phenomenal. Your commitment to life, your sport, your friends and family is inspiring and we look forward to the next chapter in your achievements. There are many more in your future.

    Talking with my family about your upcoming swim I told my grandchildren of an unrealized dream of mine. When I was a little girl I longed to swim the channel. I heard a report on the radio of an attempt, and I thought, “What an amazing experience that would be!” I didn’t even dare to dream it, though, and I certainly didn’t share my aspirations. Although I was a very strong swimmer, I was sure my family and friends would have laughed me out of the room. Somehow, getting to know you and feeling so proud of your accomplishments, I feel like I’ve had the last laugh. Thank you for that dear girl.

    Enjoy the rest of your stay and please know that we are all so proud!
    hugs,
    Joan Barry

  9. Jennifer says:

    Michelle,
    Truly you’re an amazing athlete. Your perseverance, ability to adapt, and willingness to change focus speak to your strength as a person. Thank you for letting so many of us be inspired by you.
    Jennifer

  10. enda kennedy says:

    Dear Michelle

    Can i just say well done and be proud of what you have done, especially under the circumstances. You have achieved so much, things only we can dream of.

    Channel swimmer *2

    Congrats and take a good break.
    Deserved

    Enda Kennedy
    endakennedy.blogspot.com

  11. Cindy Jacobson says:

    Michelle,

    You will always be my hero. I’ve always admired your passion and drive to set your goals high and accomplish what only others ever dare to dream. You are an inspiration – in and out of the water.

    Congratulations on a fantastic swim. Very few people can say they’ve crossed the channel SWIMMING – and even fewer can say they’ve accomplished this great athletic endeavour twice! I’m in awe.

    You make us all proud. Congratulations!

    Cindy Jacobson

  12. Lin says:

    Dear Michelle:

    I hope you are again feeling content and at peace by the time you read this message. I’ve been out in SE Oregon (Steens Mountain) where I was cut off from most forms of communication. What difficult decisions you had to make and how bravely and wisely you have managed the whole situation. I look forward to seeing you again on your return (in or out of the pool). I feel I am a better/richer person knowing you.

    Lin

  13. Barbara says:

    Michelle

    Even a single channel crossing is something to be extremely proud of and under the circumstances you did this one I would consider it to be a phenominal achievement…

    It often takes more guts to get out than to keep going. It will ALWAYS be the right decision…

    Barb…

  14. Dougal Hunt says:

    Hi Michelle,
    I just managed to get around to see how your channel swim went having not had a lot of access to the internet since returning home to Aus. I was both saddened and in awe to read of your amazing efforts in your second attempt at the channel. I think it is truly amazing to have achieved what you did on (not only your first but) your second channel crossing. It shows incredible character to be able to do what you did that day, especially after coming to the realisation that you weren’t going to achieve your extremely ambitious goal that day only 3 hours into it. It’s only because you are incredible enough to attempt something like a triple crossing that you would feel as though you’d under-performed in only making it through one lap.
    Don’t ever forget that so many people would give their right arm(haha!) to even make it across to France let alone have the ability to make an attempt like yours.
    Take some time out, have a good thing about what you were going through that day…but then move on and set more goals because when you do you WILL go on to acheive them.
    Take care, keep in touch and keep swimming!
    Dougal

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