Open water swimmers have an interesting and personal number of habits, idiosyncrasies, eccentricities, tricks and superstitions before heading offshore to do a channel swim, ice swim, marathon swim or open water swimming race.
Some of them eat something special or drink something unique or do something personal or wear something meaningful regularly before their swims.
Channel swimmer and writer Elaine Howley [shown above with her husband Mark after her Catalina Channel crossing] always makes sure her white teddy bear named Mr. Bear is along for her aquatic adventures.
“The bear is significant because it was given to me by my kindergarten teacher, Miss Silver, just before my younger sister, Rachel underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat her leukemia in 1984. I was 8 years old and the donor in the transplant, and Rachel, who was 3, received a matching teddy bear from Miss Silver.
Mr. Bear was in the operating room with me during the surgery. I sought solace from him after Rachel relapsed and died a year after the transplant. I also have Rachel’s bear, which sits pristine and white in macabre contrast to my grubby and well-traveled version of the same toy.
Mr. Bear has been along for every major undertaking since the transplant. He’s been to Dover, Loch Ness, Lake Tahoe, and every other marathon swim I’ve done. He even came to the L Street Bathhouse with me the day I did my ice mile.
Mr. Bear is both a comfort and a reminder that when I swim, I’m not doing so alone. Rachel is still with me.”
Channel swimmer Ion Lazarenco Tiron explains his habit. “Before each swim I say a prayer and kiss my hand. This means my Mom as she left us young. Before she passed away, I asked her what will I do if I missed her. She said just kiss you hand; I’m in your body.”
Marathon butterflyer Dan Projansky brings along a lucky elephant with him on his swims. “This little guy gets stashed in my backpack and rides along side me inside my escort’s boat.”
Channel swimmer and firefighter/ paramedic Barbara Held used to “cuss like a sailor the first 30 minutes wondering how nuts I had to be to be doing the swim in the first place.”
Channel swimmer Anthony McCarley goes on a non-fish diet before his swims. “Since sharks have such a strong sense of smell, why would you want to smell like anything in their food chain? I never eat fish the week before a swim; I don’t want to smell anything like shark food.”
Alcatraz swimmer, writer and race director Gary Emich has two habits. “My idiosyncrasy is with my two rings. The first ring, my wedding band, I tie onto the drawstring of my swim suit.
If I wore it while swimming, it would fall off. I think that habit started years ago when I didn’t want to leave it in my locker at the South End Rowing Club and figured it would be safer in my swim suit than in my locker. Now it’s a habit and I would feel like something was wrong if it weren’t tied onto my suit.
The second ring, with two dolphins on it and picked up in Greece decades ago, is my good luck open water talisman. Somewhere in the non-rational, subconsciousness of my brain, I know it’s protecting me from whatever dangerous creatures and circumstances would otherwise be out to get me.”
Channel swimmer and a lifelong surfer Hank Wise from Southern California has a practical habit. “I check lots of ocean charts of the location I’ll be swimming in the days leading up to the swim.”
Transoceanic swimmer Jennifer Figge from Colorado has a unique habit. “My mother was a professional opera singer who moved to Italy in 1956. This Madonna [shown on left] traveled the world, with her as she performed on famous operatic stages.
It has protected me on my ocean stage swims. We simply hit different high Cs (seas).”
Coach and open water swimmer Ori Sela of Israel explains his approach to the sport. “When swimming in long distance, I like to put my legs in the water a day before, It’s like meditating, but more like connecting to the sea. If I have time, I can stay something like 30 minutes with my knees inside the water, thanking the sea or lake for the opportunity to pass and swim.
Being ONE with the sea before a big event relaxes me and lets me focus on the here and now and forget about the outside world.”
Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association