This story starts with a comment on a previous article. Upon my completion of End Wet, and subsequent article, Daniela said something to the effect of: “Thanks, I always wanted to know what others are thinking when swimming.” I found that interesting because my reckoning of the 36 miles is barely coherent, so I turned that question back on her, to find out what she was thinking. The following is the maturation of her swimming, what she is thinking, and a story of someone who should be considered a role model to us all.
I believe it necessary to appropriately introduce Jake, in Daniela’s acknowledgements at the end of my question set she focuses in on Jake. “My kayaker/fiancé, Jake, was my biggest fan and supporter. He put up with a lot of long, cold training swims, waiting up for me after swim practices, and the smell of lakes/rivers. I would not have been able to pull any of this off without him.”
I’ve met Jake, he’s comedic, supportive, and kind, and that’s just my first impression. He also appears via description to be a cook, and cheerleader. Point being, Jake has a big part in Daniela’s success, as marathon swimming is a team sport.
Daniela started swimming due to a broken leg at the age of nine: “To start, I HATED swimming. I remember my coach coaxing me to do a 25 fly after warm up, and I was such a brat that I just closed my eyes (with goggles on), did something resembling a seizure, and managed to hit other swimmers, the wall, and the lane line many times, and my coach went so far as to question my commitment to swimming. I remember going home and telling my parents I wanted to quit, but they kept pushing me. Eventually, I made friends (several of whom I’m still close friends with) and began to love the competitive aspect of swimming and training.”
“I was burnt out after swimming Age Group and high school teams my senior year of high school, and I just wanted to have free time and be a “normal kid”. For 4 years, I barely exercised, and got into the pool only a handful of times. I ended up gaining 70 lbs. (well over the anticipated freshman 15) and even caught myself feeling guilty for not swimming. I convinced myself that my full workload, internships, and commitment to my studies were more important than swimming… but to this day, I wish I had swam in college.”
“My senior year of college, I finally got fed up with my weight and my extreme level of being out of shape. My last semester, I enrolled in ROTC and tried to keep up with military physical training, hoping for some yelling commanders to get my butt back into shape. Instead, I managed to get myself shin splints and further injure my knee, leaving me unwilling to do much exercising. Eventually, a friend and I got back into running towards the second half of the last semester, and I started teaching swim lessons at the apartment complex pool. When I moved back in with my parents, my mother started dragging me to various workout classes, helped me eat right, and introduced me to the Tri Tornadoes, the local YMCA triathlon training team. I swam with the Tri team, getting me back into better swimming shape, and even did cycling and running workouts with them. I eventually completed an Olympic distance triathlon and other running events, surprising my family and myself.”
With this success under her belt, the sky became Daniela’s only logical limit, and the gym her refuge. Work life balance became a struggle as Daniela worked in a roll where she was balancing the interests of two separate parties who found little reason to work together, leaving her feeling dejected, and burnt out. She turned to the gym to relieve the stresses of work, and this was good. The weight of this decision began to impact her friendships, and with the support of her parents she began to find balance.
I asked her how she prepared for END WET: If you are not familiar, END WET is a 36 mile down river swim that Daniela, and I swam together in 2017. It’s the longest open water swim in the United States. Might I add she came in much faster than I, her training was also more intense. Like I tell my little girls; do the work, reap the reward. As they age, I’ll point them towards Daniela, and women like her as role models.
”To prepare for End Wet, I swam through the winter. My average practice was about 10k yards, and, at one point, I did a “hell week” where I swam 7 days in a row, all at least 10k for yardage. I was lucky – the pool remained open and I got my own lane almost every day, sometimes even being invited to swim with the local swim team as motivation. I also swam SCAR earlier in the year. Somehow, I would lift in the mornings, go to work, then leave work and go directly to the pool, where I would swim for 3-4 hours. Then, I’d bike home, eat as much as I could, fall asleep, and get up at 5 am to do it all again.”
“I could be home by 9-9:30 PM most days. All through this, I rode my bike, only getting rides on days when it was pouring down rain. There were some weekends when my reward was getting to drive to the pool on Sundays, since parking was free those days.”
As you can see, Daniela put a lot of pressure on herself to succeed. When asked about how she dealt with this pressure, she again references friends, family, and Jake. “I think I got lucky. I ate a lot of food, and my coworkers, family, and friends were encouraging. My team even got me a card and all signed it before I left for the airport to go to SCAR. My fiancé, Jake, would make dinner (and sometimes leftovers for lunch) so I could eat immediately upon getting home from swim practice. If all these things hadn’t come together each day, somehow, I probably would have burst into tears and quit.” For those of you who are not marathon swimmers, it truly is a team effort. Familial support is paramount, and often there are little hours left to provide a proper thank you.
END Wet begins with a party bus: “We got to drive to the start line at 5 PM in a party bus. I think I was the only one dancing… Thankfully, I got to swim the last 2 miles of the race the day before, so I knew the water temp was perfect, the water was opaque, and the water was moving pretty swiftly. The prep swim the previous day really helped. I would have been a nervous wreck without it.” Upon standing on the shore: “The water is still gross. No change from the opaque water from the previous day’s warm up swim. I have lots of amazing swimmers all around me. 73-74 degree water, .5-1.0 mph current flowing with me.”
First impression has you dove in? “The water was opaque… a better way to describe it would be to say the water was a mixture of chocolate milk and coffee grounds mixed together. When I put my arm in the water, everything, including my shoulder, disappeared. It was extremely disorienting.”
I asked Daniela if she was comfortable at any point? She stated, the first twenty-six miles: “The water was the perfect temp, and I’d never swam with a current before. It was pretty exhilarating the first few miles. I skipped the first feed, waving off my kayaker. I fed every 40 minutes for the first 25-ish miles. Then, we switched to every 30 minutes for the remainder.
Then the watch debacle happened: my watch, at the 25-mile marker, said 26 miles. I was so excited to see my watch hit 26 miles, since I knew that I could swim 10 miles, no problem, and that was all that was left. Instead, Jake, my kayaker, pointed out I had 11 miles after I swam to the nearest mile marker to feed, and I screamed with frustration so loudly that I though rescue boats would come our way. After that, I felt a little psychologically broken. A few miles after that, my back’s throbbing got to me, and I had to take Advil for the first time ever during a swim.”
Something I didn’t realize, Daniela is a bit of a comedian, as proven by the following list:
• First, I had a serious problem getting my PB&J sandwich treats down. I’d try to chew, but the bread wouldn’t go down well… until I just went ahead and dipped the whole damn sandwich in the river. My kayaker thought that was the gross part of the swim. Not my bleeding skin where my suit, combined with the sediment and twigs that had gotten stuck in my swim suit liner, had started to chafe. Not the fact that the water was the most opaque thing I’ve ever encountered. Nope, he thought that me dipping my sammich in the water I was already swimming in was the gross part.
• Second, I swam by, and almost into, a bloated, dead beaver. Twice.
• Third, I grabbed a catfish and used it as a paddle.
• Fourth, I punched a catfish.
• Fifth, when it started raining, my kayaker made his spare t-shirt into a “doo-rag”, making an epic photo.
• Sixth, my mom telling me to get done, as if she was telling me to walk to the mailbox or finish chopping spinach.
Upon reading her responses to the questions, specifically the next comment I reached back out to Daniela to encourage her to begin writing. When I asked her about her Why: She said “Actually, I don’t really do anything else in my life well. I can swim long distances better than I can do office work, run, cycle, garden, etc. I just wanted to succeed at something.” In swimming, you leave no doubt, but I’m going to publicly encourage writing, because in this, you have talent. She went on to say: “The entire swim was remembering my why. But I especially remembered it at the halfway point when I grabbed a catfish and decided I wasn’t DNF-ing halfway through.”
She brought the story back around to love of family, and Jake. The last ten miles of this swim are grueling. “My kayaker was pretty much the only reason I finished. At one point, we chased the team in front of us. At another, we tried to stay ahead of the team behind us. My kayaker convinced me to swim by promising me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When I felt like I was done swimming 10 miles from the finish, Jake used his cell phone to call my parents, per my request. My mom asked me if I was finished swimming, and when I said that I was 10 miles out, she told me to get my ass in gear and finish. That was what I needed.”
Now that the mental side of things is in check, you have the physical: “I found a lot of comfort in Advil for the last 10 miles. I’d been dealing with shoulder and back pain, so a lot of my motivation was mental. A lot of it was seeing my kayaker stoically sitting next to me, checking in, and sometimes smiling. Some of it was the promise of PB&J. A lot of it was remembering the DNF at Apache (at SCAR in April) and never wanting to feel like that again.”
Great news: she made it!
“I was so, so, so tired. It was the longest I had ever swam, and the sun was setting. I had swam for 13 hours, and had expected to finish sooner. I had also sprinted, with all of my might, the last mile, knowing the finish was close and I’d get to address the chafing situation on my back. Everyone was so kind – Sandra and David, as well as the race organizers, were at the finish and helped with the kayak and our things. Everyone was really wonderful.”
Yeah, Sandra and David are the shit! The race organizers are wonderful! It’s a well-run event.
“I remember thinking that everyone would assume I was going to fall over because I kept rocking while I was on land. I continued to feel like I was in the water, swishing about, and my ears, which have always been sensitive to the point of almost guaranteed sea sickness in almost all bodies of water, kept thinking I was still swimming. My jaw was also very tired, so talking was very difficult. I remember noticing my neck was incredibly stiff.”
I asked what was the first thing that she said upon completion: “I think I said something about my chafing, how tired I was, or wanting a shower. Probably the shower bit.” I think she downplayed it a bit, but her learning was “Vaseline… and reapply diligently and lucratively.”
True story: my Mom and Dad ran into her at the hotel the next morning, they relayed the information about the chaffing. I immediately connected with Daniela, although she was not there with me. There is a camaraderie in the pain.
What I see in this story is grit, and determination to be successful. I see this as a heroic act, combined with a choice to survive that can carry a person through their life. Daniela, in this moment as proven that a person can tackle anything that their heart desires. If everything were approached with this same level of tenacity, a person will provide themselves the gift of probable success.
Daniela, you are an inspiration, and have talents beyond your knowledge. Stay strong and go forward, the lives you touch will be many, and the depth of which will be life changing. Well done friend! Well done!
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