63-year-old Jamie Tout and his wife were watching a movie recently. The actor, playing the role of a sports psychologist, said that Sandy Koufax, the great American Hall of Fame baseball pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, knew that he had lost his focus when he could hear the crowd.
“I turned to [my wife] Tina and said, ‘That’s funny because that sounds like something I say when I doing a long swim.’
I know I’ve lost my focus when I notice the scenery. When I was swimming down Canyon Lake at S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge this year, I noticed the giant saguaro cactus standing majestically on the shore, a bald eagle soaring overhead, and a bighorn sheep drinking from the water’s edge. So I moved as close as possible to the kayak and all that went away.
When I started my Catalina Channel crossing at 10:55 pm, we were swimming in the dark for 7 hours 44 minutes before the sun came up. At first, I could make out the outline of the kayak and then the face of my kayaker. When the first rays of the morning sun became visible, then I could see more and more until the sun had risen beautifully. I was transfixed; gazing upon it through my tinted goggles as if I were noticing the sun for the first time. The sky was on fire, the placid sea was blood red, so I tucked myself back up next to the kayak and all that went away.
Thank God my wife was recording this miracle from the escort boat because all I wanted to do was go back into my dark little world.
I’ve been at this a long time. I made my first failed attempt to swim the English Channel four years before Michael Phelps was born and I’m still at it even after I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
I concentrate on two things when I do a marathon swim. The first one is that I concentrate on the kayak and not the scenery.
Secondly, I listen to the soft voices. In every swim at one time or another, I hear a loud voice screaming, ‘I want out. What are you doing here? What do think you are doing? I feel terrible.’ Those evil spirits have visited all of us at one time or another, right?
Then one of my beloved cats appears on my shoulder and speaks softly to me. He says things like, ‘What a wonderful job you’re doing’ or ‘You’re swimming so well.’ A loud voice returns and I hear, ‘I want to be in control of the sea, not the sea in control of me.’
When the chop picks up and it almost always does, and my stroke falls apart and it almost always does, I focus on the hull of the kayak and listen to the voices that speak softly to me. And not always, but most of the time, I end up getting it done.”
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