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Molokai Channel – A swim of gratitude

November 14, 2011

Yes my Molokai (Kaiwe) Channel swim was quiet and most only found out after the swim when I was met on the beach by the Hawaii News Now crew.  That is exactly the way I wanted it.  Well I may rethink the news crew, but it was a nice surprise. 

Last year I attempted the Molokai Channel and things seemed to be off from the start.  After last year, I felt like there was some unfinished business.  However, I knew that I couldn’t approach the swim the same way.  It just wasn’t right last year and the outcome spoke for itself.  I pushed too hard, forced too much and added too much pressure.  Something was bound to break and it was me. 

I knew that eventually I would head back to Molokai Channel.  I just didn’t know when.  I sort of hoped that it was this year, but I wasn’t sure.  This past swim year while successful has lacked some of the joy I find in the water.  I don’t exactly know why,  but it did.  I knew that I couldn’t go back to Hawaii thinking that it was something that I HAD to do.  It had to be something that I wanted and could enjoy.  I had Molokai tentatively scheduled for September 2011.  As September inched ever closer, I found myself growing more tense, more ill at ease, more stressed.  This wasn’t the way to even begin to think about a long swim.  I reached out to my pilot, Ivan, and asked if he would postpone, but keep me tentatively on the books.  I was up front with my pilot from the beginning about last year and how I wanted to do things differently this year.  He was very understanding and told me to reach out when I felt ready.  

In the middle of September, I was ready to hang up the suit for a little bit and take a break, but then one weekend I woke up and thought “I’d really like to try Hawaii again.”  I knew it had to be done my way though.  This time there would be no postings, no tweeting, no stress and no expectations.  My intent was to have a “Safe, relaxed and successful swim.”  I worked with my sports psychologist to mindfully plan for just this outcome.  I didn’t know if there was still even a window for the swim this year.  I reached out to my pilot and asked “does anything in October look good?”  He replied that there appeared to be a good tide window October 22 – 28th and that he had availability.  Ok, this may happen.

I reached out to my friends on Hawaii and began to put together the details.  My sister agreed to be crew, as did a good swimming friend from Oregon, Marisa.  I again stated my intent was to have a safe, relaxed and successful swim.  Marisa and Katie reminded me that some fun wouldn’t hurt.  I knew that the fun would be there if I could stay safe and relaxed.  

Next was to locate some kayakers.  I reached out to some of the expert watermen that had escorted the Kaieiewaho Channel swim that I participated in in November.  Rob said yes.  I immediately started to feel a different energy around this Molokai swim.  It began to become the relaxed and even more spiritual journey than the first attempt.  Also I was lucky to have a woman from Oahu stay with me for the Portland Marathon.  Turns out she had more connections to paddlers.  She mentioned she would ask around for a loaner kayak as well as a paddler.  See very different mojo.

The last kayaker came on board through my good friend, Linda.  She had put out some emails to some of her contacts and there was a guy who was intrigued by the prospect.  Plus he has aspirations to kayak some of the Hawaiian channels so this would be a great opportunity and he had flexibility in his schedule.  Funny his name was Robert.  So now I had two kayakers named Rob.  

I went over to Hawaii after crewing for a friend’s successful Catalina swim, which I’ll tell you all about in another posting.  I learned so much from Patti as she swam.  I noticed that every feeding she had some new person or expression of thanks.  We talked about it and she mentioned that she often just thinks of all that people had done to help her and she honors them as she swims.  I thought this was fantastic.  Yes, I think about all the people that get me to each swim, but I usually thought about it in “I can’t let them down.”  I hadn’t thought of thinking about them and offering gratitude while swimming.  Patti became a major help to achieve my intent of a “safe, relaxed and successful swim.”  Crewing for her was just the motivation that I needed before I flew over to Hawaii.

I arrived in Hawaii on October 18th.  I spent the time relaxing, joining the Oahu club masters swimmers and lining up the swim.  Everyone was so positive and welcoming.  I met with the pilot and Robert as well.  We talked logistics of the swim.  The plan was set and everyone had their jobs.  Katie and Marisa arrived on October 20th.  

The decision was made to go on Sunday October 23rd.  We arranged all the remaining details like flying over to Molokai and getting the boat loaded.  It all seemed to be going very smoothly.  Katie, Marisa and I planned to fly over around 1pm Sunday.  We were going to stay with some locals, but unfortunately they had something come up.  I got on the internet and located a B&B very close to the starting point.  I called and Sue and Jim couldn’t have been more welcoming especially since the conversation went something like this:

“Hi, I’m coming over to Molokai to swim the Kaiwe Channel.  I need a place to stay for a couple of hours to rest, eat dinner and then go to the beach. Would this be something you could help with?”  Jim responded, “That’s great.  Where do you need to go on the beach?”  My reply, “Papohaku.”  Jim – “We have a room that you can sleep in and you can use our kitchen.  We will even take you to the beach.”  I’m telling you, I was floored.  This swim did have a completely different mojo.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as Katie, Marisa and I had a place to stay with a welcoming family. 

Robert was going to take the boat over with Ivan. And Rob was arriving from Maui on the 7:30pm flight.  All was set.  Jim and Sue from the B&B were amazing.  They had a great quiet room that the 3 of us quickly laid down in to take a nap.  Then they opened their kitchen to us to heat up our dinner.  Rob arrived on time and we caught up.  It was soon time to go down to Papohaku beach.

Jim and Sue loaded us up into the van and kept things light as we made the short drive to the beach.  Now I had been to Papohaku beach when I participated with Team Nike in Epic 5 in May.  However, I hadn’t been there in the dark.  Marisa and Katie had never seen the beach.  As we walked down to the sand, we could hear the large surf.  I became pretty nervous.  Robert met us on the beach.  We said goodbye to Jim and Sue and we prepared for the swim.  We were talking with Ivan via radio.  

The plan was to load the kayak up with all the remaining gear that we had brought with us to Molokai.  It was just a few small bags.  Then Robert would launch the kayak and wait for Marisa, Katie and Rob just beyond the surf break.  Ivan was further out beyond the swells.  As we prepared, we changed plans a little.  The surf was really large.  It made sense for all of us to stick together.  I was going to swim out to the boat with them.  I would tread water by the boat while they got everything situated.  Yes, I knew this would add time to my swim, but my intent was to have a “safe, relaxed, and successful swim.”  I didn’t want to be left behind on the beach wondering if my team made it ok.  I was asking a ton of my sister and Marisa to get into the inky black water of the Pacific through large shore break.  Neither had done night swims and my sister hasn’t been doing a ton of swim training.  I’m not going to lie…I was very nervous, but they assured me they were fine.  

We had the kayak loaded and now it was time to honor the Hawaiian traditions.  Rob is a very gifted spiritual guide and he lead the team in a beautiful pule, or prayer.  In my mind, it was asking the spirits of all our loved ones past and present to help us on our journey.  We then passed around Ti leaves and were asked to put into the ti leaves all of our worries and concerns because the ti leaves were going to be left behind on the beach where they would stay with our worries.  Now I had some trouble with this because I kept thinking “Keep us safe.  Wait that’s something I don’t want to leave behind.  Ok ok, may the boat be sound.  Wait again that is something I want.”  I finally got it right and left my worries on the beach.  Then came an amazing, moving and beautiful haka.  The energy really started to flow.

We put light sticks on Katie and Marisa.  Rob and Robert started to launch the kayak.  A wave came along snapped the kayak paddle strap and sent us all into darkness as the kayak was submerged and tossed by the wave.  The light on the kayak also had been snapped.  I started to get really nervous that the bad mojo was creeping in.  Marisa, Katie, Rob and Robert all ran to the water to catch the kayak.  It oddly enough got pushed up the beach and slammed into my ankle.  I wasn’t sure I cared as we had the kayak.  Rob was able to get the light rod from out of a wave.  I’m not sure what everyone was feeling at the moment, but everyone remained calm and said “it’s all fine.  we got that out of the way early.”  Robert was able to launch the kayak on the 2nd attempt.  He made it past the breakers and Marisa started the watch as we all walked down into the water.  

Rob stayed very close to Katie and Marisa guiding them the whole way.  I was yelling encouragement from a little bit ahead.  It should be noted that I wasn’t wearing any turned on lights at this time, so I was completely dark.  I was talking to Robert in front of me and Rob behind.  I got over to Robert in the kayak and stayed by him as we watched and waited for Marisa, Katie and Rob to reach us.  It was difficult because we couldn’t always see each other as we varied between troughs and crests of the waves.  In addition, there were the little stinging no see-ums.  I hoped that I was getting the most hits, but I knew that they had to be feeling it too.  Katie and Marisa made it out to the kayak and then it was time to make the way to the boat.  They assured me that they were just fine and safe.  We got to the boat and Katie, Rob and Marisa climbed aboard and got to work in setting up the boat.  I treaded water right beside.  After about 30 minutes, the boat was situated and we were set to go.  

Robert was in the kayak.  Katie, Marisa, Rob and Ivan were in the boat.  And me, well I’m where I always am…in the water. Feeding schedule was every 30 minutes.  I was going to swim wearing lights, but with them not on as I didn’t want to attract anything to the light.  Also I was going to swim mostly with my eyes closed.  I have a healthy respect for the ocean and the things in it.  And I also have a small sometimes highly irrational fear of sharks.  Ivan said, it’s going to be dark, so why don’t you just close your eyes if seeing the phosphorescence is going to freak you out.  Phosphorescence that I make doesn’t freak me out.  It is the stuff that is deeper in the water that I didn’t create that freaks me out because I begin to imagine just what had caused it.  So swimming with my eyes shut it was going to be.

After watching Patti’s swim and hearing Rob’s pule and haka, I had decided that I would spend 30 minutes thinking of one person and honor them through gratitude.  It would be these thoughts that I would get through this swim.  My first thoughts were of my crew and the courage and strength they showed by getting in the water.  It must have been terrifying for them, yet they didn’t offer one complaint.  If they could do that, I could swim for 30 minutes.  The feed came very quickly.  Plus swimming with my eyes closed, allowed me to really think and imagine those people.  Way easier and more relaxing than thinking about what might or might not be under me.

I continued with each 30 minutes focused on a person and something they had done to inspire me to move forward.  In each 30 minutes, I felt as if that person was there guiding me along.  I was soon at my dreaded 3rd hour.  I know I’ve explained this before, but I have an extreme dislike for the 3rd hour.  I’m not far enough in to be thinking “well you’re this far in you might as well keep going.”  and I’m close enough to the beginning to be like “we could scrap this now and all be on our way home without too much lost.”    I knew I would need something joyful to think about for the next 30 minutes.  The person that came to mind was Joy from Honolulu.  She is always warm, smiling and incredibly generous.  I knew she would provide good thoughts.  No sooner did I start to picture her sparkling eyes and smile I heard a “click, click” and then felt a strong whoosh.  

Something was in the water with me and it wasn’t small.  I stopped lifted my arms and legs out of the water and called out “There is something in the water.  I’m pretty sure it is a dolphin, but I’m not positive.  Give me a minute.”  I turned to Robert in the kayak and said something to the effect that I needed him to stay as close as possible without me touching the kayak.   Some of you may be thinking you pulled your arms and legs out of the water but kept your stomach exposed?  Yep, you do what you can when you are floating.  I’d like to see someone pull their stomach fully out of the water and float at the same time.

I slowly put my face back in the water with my eyes open.  Again I heard the clicking, but I also heard the squeaks.  Another quick whoosh past me and there they were DOLPHINS.  And they were very very close.  I tried to swim and get back into a rhythm, but I was freaked out.  It was dark.  The water was black.  The dolphins were even darker and fast.  As their bodies ripped by, they became lit up with phosphorescence.  And did I mention they were close.  I probably took maybe another 100 strokes before I stopped and yelled to my Hawaiian spiritual guide Rob “ROB, ROB.   OK IS THIS A GOOD THING?”  He calmly replied that yes this was a good thing.  They were here to guide and protect me.  I was afraid to ask from what.  My actual reply “OK, OK, OK, OK.  It is beautiful, but it is FREAKING me out too.”   Imagine that in a panting breath.  I put my face back down and tried to keep my eyes open as this was something that doesn’t happen often and while freaky it was a gift.  

There were moms with their babies and other dolphins.  They all seemed to be in a dance or playing and I was the play toy.  I began to take up the mantra “thank you for guiding and protecting me.”  I just repeated that over and over, as they didn’t seem to be going anywhere.  There began to be a little bit of a pattern.  If there was clicking, I knew that one of them was going to get close and very close.  I would hear the click click and prepare for the dolphin(s) to come right beneath me and blow bubbles up at me.  It was at these points that they were so close that they moved the water from underneath my pull.  They also would quickly flip their tail up and create an upwelling of water that pushed me upwards.  I’m sure in the daylight I may have had more appreciation for their antics as it was I was focused on the mantra.  

It was soon time for a feeding.  As my feeding pole came out, I stopped and started to tread water.  So did a dolphin, right between me and my feeding pole.  It looked at me as if to say “what we’re stopping? Ok, I’ll wait.”  It took me a bit to work up the courage to swim towards the dolphin and my feeding pole.  The team on the boat was ecstatic. I was told it was a good omen that they were here.  I again explained it was beautiful and freaky.  Marisa later explained that they looked like ghosts as they couldn’t really see the dolphins but could see the trail of phosphorescence that they left behind.  I asked if they could hear them as they were really chattering loudly.  They couldn’t really, but could hear the blow holes.  

After the feeding, it was back to swimming and honoring the dolphins.  They continued their playing and chattering.  I wondered how long they were going to stay.  They stayed almost through to the next feeding.  And apparently did some acrobatics between me and the boat for the crew to see.  It was a blessing to have them there.  And they did manage to get me through the dreaded 3rd hour, which wasn’t so dreaded this time.  It probably took another 30 minutes for my heart rate to go down though.  

It was soon after the dolphins that we were hit with a rain squall.  All of the sudden I started to hear and feel this pinging coming from on top.  I raised me head up and it was pouring.  This swim was going to be very interesting.  The blessing of the rain squall was that the top layer of water became cooler offering me a much needed reprieve from the warm Hawaiian waters.  I was already getting ice cold feeds, but it was great to have cooler water to swim in as well.  Robert in the kayak probably felt a little different.  Shortly after the rain squall left, Robert swapped out of the kayak to get changed and warm.  Rob entered the kayak to keep me company.  Oh I should mention that Robert had a needle fish fly out of the water and up his shorts.  And around the same time, I had a flying fish scramble up the side of my body.  The wildlife was putting on a show.

And it wasn’t just nice wildlife, the jellies and portuguese man-o-war were out as well.  When I was stung by a jelly or portuguese man-o-war, I would keep with my swimming goal of honoring.  I would think thank you for coming to say hello and providing me with your kiss.  I would repeat this until the sting/burn/fire would subside enough that I could begin to honor someone or something else.  It wasn’t easy when one came up to kiss me across the face. I was still able to manage some small gratitude as I pulled the tentacles from my face.  I explained to my crew that they were there but that I was fine.    

Now swimming in the dark is mostly fine, especially since I don’t have to guide anything.  If I did, we would have been swimming in circles for hours.  As it was Ivan kept us on track.  Crewing on a boat at night with no moon is tough.  There is no horizon line to watch and you feel every swell.  My crew was not immune to the rocking and Marisa and Robert both fell pretty ill.  I was mostly unaware of the situation as Ivan, Katie and Rob kept things moving smoothly.

The GINORMOUS crescent moon eventually creeped up into the sky at what I believe was around 3am (NOTE: quick check of my awesome tide calendar and moonrise was 4:00am).  It was beautiful.  Molokai was showing its blessings and its strengths during this swim.  And thus far the channel gods seemed ok that I was there, but they weren’t going to make it easy.  With the rise of the moon and the passing of the hours, I began to wonder just when I would hear that we were over halfway.  This is one of the first and only times that I really know where we are on a swim.  I really wanted to hear that we were halfway before the sun came up and I knew with the late moonrise we were getting close to the sunrise.  At about 7 hours, I asked if we were moving as we should.  I was told that everything was going really well. I wasn’t so sure.  My left shoulder had started to hurt and I was getting some pretty good stings.  I explained that I really wanted to hear that we were halfway as the stings were really acting up.  Katie gave me some encouragement to go for 30 minutes more.

It was about an hour later that the sky began to turn grey and yet I still hadn’t heard halfway.  I started to prepare myself for a 16-18 hour swim.  I knew that I would need to really focus on my 30 minute gratitude visualizations to get through this swim.  However, even though I was stung and my shoulder was hurting, I was still in pretty good spirits.  I wasn’t mad.  I wasn’t angry.  I was mostly enjoying myself, which thus far meant that my intent was coming true.  Just before the sun poked it’s head above the horizon I heard that we were over halfway.  It was approximately 8 hours.

As the sun started to rise, so did Marisa.  I think she was finally glad to have the horizon to look at.  Plus with the sun up, I was actually visible.  Apparently in the dark with no lights, they couldn’t really see me at all.  They saw the light on the kayak and knew that I would be close by.  With the sun up, the water began to show it’s beautiful emerald blue color.  It was like swimming in a painters palate.  However, even with the sun up, I decided to swim with my eyes closed.  Less to think about and more time to focus inward on my gratitude focus.

The daylight swimming was beautiful and it gave my crew the opportunity to show off their inspirational t-shirts.  I have to say that it wasn’t always easy to read, but at a feeding they did provide some laughs.  I highly recommend your crew dressing up, nothing says “I love you” like my sister getting into a german octoberfest outfit and doing a dance on a rocking boat to cheer you up.  

Now Molokai (Kaiwe) Channel offers one major known obstacle.  About 6 miles off Oahu, there is a shallow ledge.  Shallow is a relative term here.  The waters and currents can really get ripping along this edge especially at the changing of the tide, so a swimmers goal is to time it so that they can break the ledge barrier and still make progress towards Oahu.  Miss time the swim and you can end your swim there or have a really difficult time landing it.  I received word that we were over 3/4 of the way done.  I clarified if that meant we were over the ledge.  Ivan provided the word that yes, we were over and we had to work our way down into Sandy beach from Makapuu point. It was about 5.5 miles.

I’m did some quick calculations and assumed we would be about 1 mile from shore in about 2 hours.  I figured I’m sore, tired, but I can swim for two more hours.  I just again focused on 30 minute gratitude sessions.  The treats of coke at the feedings helped too. After 2 hours I asked how far.  Katie asked if I really wanted to know.  I explained that I needed to know because my shoulder really hurt and I needed to mentally prepare.  Ivan smiled and said your doing great 2.2 miles left.

“NOW WAIT A DANG minute.  I had 5.5 miles left 2 hours ago and I was traveling 2.2 miles an hour.  I’m no math wiz but I should be 1.1 miles from shore.”  This was a small snap in my swim of gratitude.  Ivan mentioned that we had discussed this and I was swimming more along the shore rather than into shore because of where the landing spot was and the currents.  “Fine, but I’ll need to know where we are at each feeding.”  I turned to Rob in the kayak and mentioned that I was a little frustrated.  He said he understood but that we were doing really well and were going to make it.  I replied I’m not so sure…if it is going to take us 3 more hours to get there.  

I pushed through the next 30 minutes.  And we were making headway in towards land.  My little temper tantrum wasn’t necessary and I should have just let it go.  Besides the sun was shining.  I had a snapper fish underneath me looking up occasionally as if to say “Where are we going huh?”  It was funny because I felt as if I was in the Finding Nemo movie and this fish was my sidekick.  It left momentarily and came back with a friend.  Then I had two fish looking up “whatcha doing?”  It made me laugh.  And no I wasn’t delirious.

As we reached Sandy beach, Ivan pulled up and said that he couldn’t go in further.  I was to swim with Rob.  Rob then handed me off to a surfer, John, who had come out to help escort me in.  NOTE: Sandy’s is a surfing and body boarding beach.  The waves break pretty much right on shore and it isn’t really known as a place to go swimming.   I was grateful to the surfer for guiding me in.  However I was jealous of how easily he guided on his board over the waves and current.  I “sprinted” to try to keep up.  Soon enough I could see the bottom begin to rise up and I slowly made progress towards shore.  John pointed to the 2nd lifeguard tower and said aim for that and you should be fine, but watch for the waves.  I tried to time my exit with the waves, but I missed and took one good roll.  Thankfully I was able to stand up and run into shore while hearing the lifeguard announce to the beach that I had just swum from Molokai.  

I was met on the beach as I stated earlier by the Hawaii Now news crew, which was really unexpected, as I was doing this swim honoring the Hawaiian way.  But along with the news crew, were my Hawaiian friends all smiling and taking photos and presenting me with leis.  It was all I could do to not cry.  Plus I wanted to make sure that I thanked all the people who had helped me get through the swim.  It must have been a long list because it was cut from the news reel.  Not nearly as exciting as me talking about how I wanted to stuff my face with Guava Chiffon pancakes from Cinnamon’s in Kailua, which shocking did make the news cut.

I showered off and Linda drove me to meet the boat where the crew could celebrate together.  The swim was done and I had done it my way.  14 hours 12 minutes and 11 seconds is the official time including the 30 minutes of treading water.  I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

A huge thank you goes out to: Linda, Ivan, Rob, Robert, Marisa, Katie, Joy, Bob, Mike, Bill, Tom, , the AM coffee bunch, the Oahu Masters Team, Patti, Forrest, Luke, ML and all the others who I thought about during the swim.  I couldn’t have done it without all of you.

And in case you missed it the Hawaii News Now video:  Hawaii News Now

 And the nice article posted by Daily news of Open Water Swimming (Thank you Steven):  Michelle Macy Makes Molokai 

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6 Responses to “Molokai Channel – A swim of gratitude”

  1. Judi says:

    AWESOME to get to share the experience through your telling of it!
    And I LOVE that dolphins came to you in your hard third hour and at the same time you were thinking of your Hawaiin friend Joy! So appropriate!
    Dolphins, like you, are amazing! Their joy and sense of community was a perfect honor to your effort!

  2. Rob says:

    beautiful Michelle! This is why I always volunteer for these kinds of things. I learn so much from incredibly inspiration people like yourself. Like a good friend of mine likes to say: ” Ordinary people doing extra ordinary things!”.

    Hoping for the best for you as you continue on your journey.

    Happy Thanksgiving,


  3. LINDA says:


  4. Francisca says:

    Way to go Starfish!!!!!!!
    I got goosebumps and a little teary eyed reading the part about the dolphins.
    You were truly blessed with their guidance. There is nothing like swimming with them.
    Congrats for doing it your way.

  5. John says:

    What a wonderful posting to read on Thanksgiving weekend! Thank you for a lovely, detailed report on a remarkable swim.

  6. Rebecca says:

    What a beautiful write up of your experience. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. Aloha

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