Swimming Against Time, Ignoring the Finish Line

My friend Cameron and I gave our escorts a quick thumbs up and jumped into the black water.

The first 30 minutes was like swimming freestyle in outer space. I saw the light from a glow stick attached to Cameron’s swimsuit, but couldn’t tell if he was 500 meters away or a foot. Once, stroking hard to catch him as he appeared to pull away, I accidentally swam on top of him. OK, I’ll give him some room, I thought. But then the light disappeared. Panic began to creep in; would I make it?

A few miles later, I stopped swimming and projectile-vomited — while treading water. I was nauseated, my head spinning, and I knew I still had a long way to swim. But I didn’t look across the lake. I looked at Cameron; he looked doubtful. I vomited again. At that moment, my mind began to quit.

I didn’t transform into Aquaman. I made like Dory from “Finding Nemo” and just kept swimming — very slowly. As the hours passed, the nausea eased, leaving behind a quiet confidence that nothing would stop us. I resisted the siren call of the horizon, instead looking into the clear blue depths, or at my best friend swimming beside me in the daylight, or at my arm entering the water.

Not many complex thoughts floated through my waterlogged brain. My attention was focused solely on mirroring Cameron stroke for stroke and ensuring I got enough oxygen with each breath. Looking back, a few moments of emotion stand out: utter relief when I felt the sun rise. The surrealism of eating baby food while treading water and realizing with Cameron that our pilot boat was named Dynamic Duo. Immense gratitude when Cameron, a better swimmer, drastically slowed his pace for me. And exasperation when 100 meters from shore our shameless guides told me to pick up the pace — as if I could at that point.

Six hours and 51 minutes after we began, we crawled onto the sand.

Focus on the task at hand and trust that the rest will follow. Because, after all, if you keep looking at how far away you are, you will never get there.

Alexander Carlisle is studying for a master’s degree in business administration at Stanford University.

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