When astronaut Buzz Aldrin hopped onto the moon’s surface to join his fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, he said, “Beautiful, beautiful, magnificent desolation” as he looked back at the blue planet.

When open water swimmers are out in the dynamic oceans of Planet Earth, prying themselves from the safe confirms of shore, they could think similarly: “Beautiful, beautiful, magnificent minuteness“.

And like the astronauts who ventured to outer space, swimmers who cross between countries, around islands, or across lakes, their solitary efforts on the open water are the result of a community of individuals. A supportive family, coach, pilot, crew, governing body, volunteers, paddlers, kayakers, and safety personnel are vital parts of the total equation.

And like the 24 astronauts who flew to the moon in the 1960’s and 1970’s, many earth-bound swimmers who venture far from shore realize how small and infinitesimal humans are. The majesty of the larger and more powerful elements can lead to their humility. Mother Nature, whether in the form of waves or winds, often makes a mockery of individual human strength and size.

Swimmers, similar to the astronauts and the thousands of people behind the Apollo program, motivate themselves with ambitious, audacious goals. They wake and wonder if they can achieve their dreams. Beginners imagine swimming from pier to pier. Others strive to swim 5 kilometers. Veterans look towards swimming across channels.

Like the Apollo program, there is significant risk and uncertainty in many cases. Open water swims can be adventures into the unknown. But dreams of success are often more powerful drivers than worries of failure. Swimmers are wired to envision success as easily as they imagine the taste of failure. They know the effort will be difficult, time-consuming and occasionally filled with doubt, but they are optimistic. They forge on with high hopes and positive expectations.

President Kennedy partly explained why the space program was initiated. “…why…the moon? Why choose this as our goal?…Why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?…We choose to go to the moon in this decade…not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

While some individuals choose to fly or explore outer space, others of a different ilk choose to swim. Some swim short distances in lakes; others swim longer in oceans. Some swim in unbearably cold water; others swim in more comfortable venues. But once open water swimmers separate from terra firma, they instantaneously become contemporary adventurers, explorers of the 21st century. They are pioneering their own challenges, gambling with the unknown, experimenting with their own bodies and minds.

In a world where we can heat our food in a microwave, reach upper floors via elevators, travel across countries via airplanes, avoid stifling heat via air conditioning, open water swimming presents a striped-down, straightforward effort that pits man versus nature. The sport offers a practical, yet romantically heroic, attempt to extend ourselves physically as few others had the opportunity to in previous centuries.

Out in the open water, swimmers can find themselves in beautiful, beautiful magnificent isolation…and when they finish, the satisfaction is deep.

Photo shows Jennifer Figge in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source