Fan is Inspired

October 3, 2012

Am speaking today in Detroit for the SportsTravel Annual Convention. Fun jobs these people have. They are the ones who organize, promote, and run the country’s biggest sporting events, from the World Series to the National Racquetball Championships.

Got talking with Laura Schneider who was evidently tuned in to my Cuba attempts.

Thanks for these beautiful words. Laura. In the end, what it’s all about for me, to hear that you were out there, experiencing my efforts, translating for your own life what you want to do with your time and focus.

2012 Global Open Water Conference

This past week-end’s 2012 Global Open Water Conference on the Queen Mary was, for us ocean swimmers, like an NFL Hall of Fame week-end.

Nobody understands, nobody can hold the respect, that we do for each other. I was out of the sport for 30 long years, from 1979 to 2009 and had no idea how the numbers of swimmers competing and doing solo swims had burgeoned over that time.

These individuals are flexing their bodies and their incredible will in outrageous swims in every corner of the globe, from the Arctic Circle to the Amazon River.

I came away, my chest beating with pride, to stand among these great champions, all of them having achieved Xtreme Dreams, indeed.

First, below, is the greatest woman ocean swimmer of all time. Shelly Taylor Smith of Australia commanded the seas around the world for 20 years. Shelly not only set records in the English Channel, Manhattan Island, Italy, Argentina, Australia….but she regularly beat ALL THE MEN in the pro races. I have heard of Shelly’s deep talents and iron determination for along while now. We have become email buddies over the past year. But I will tell you, in person, it wasn’t her elite status as a swimmer that moved me. Shelly works overtime on behalf of young people in Australia who have had very rocky starts in life. Her slogan is “Love the Skin You’re In”.

Another phrase Shelly lives by, one that she lived out loud her entire career as an athlete:“The only way you won’t finish is if you quit.”

Right on, Shells!!

Meet Craig Dietz. Craig was born with no limbs. Yet after literally 10 seconds with this guy, you feel no pity whatsoever. Craig lives a full life, is wholly independent, does 10-kilometer ocean swims with a flipper attached to his right vestigial foot, throws around a bounteous sense of humor and lives his life very, very large.

The next two photos are of legend Greta Anderson. (Check out her 1950 goggles in first image!) Greta was an Olympic gold champion for Sweden back in 1948 and then turned her talents to the sea. She swam the English Channel multiple times, as well as many crossings from California to Catalina Island.

Greta is now in her 80’s, teaches swimming at her famous school in Southern California, springs up onto the stage like a 20-year old, and has literally defied the aging process. We all remarked that the footage of her famous swims was in such good condition. It was a wonder to see her stroking powerfully here on her double crossing to Catalina.

This Jamie Patrick, this year’s winner of the Top Male Professional Ocean Swimmer. Jamie has done dozens of impressive swims but he pretty much “owns” Lake Tahoe. He has the record for the double crossing and is always putting his imagination into what he might accomplish next.

Jamie is also Mr. Nice Guy of the sport. He helps countless other swimmers chase their respective dreams. I’ve heard of Jamie for years and it was heart-warming to finally meet him.

Sorry the iphone photo a bit blurry but wanted to introduce you to Nejib Belhedi of Tunisia.

Nejib is organizing a 1,400km relay in the Mediterranean from the coast of his home country toward the Middle East. A swim for Peace. Also, Nejib fb’d and tweeted me all during my swim to wish me good luck. I realized there were many foreign fans rooting for me but I hadn’t known there was a cache of Tunisians sending good vibes as well. Thank you, Nejib!!!

Now this is Martin Strehl who 10 years ago swam the length of the Mississippi River. But his Xtreme Dream was the Amazon. And sure enough, Martin braved all 3,274 miles of that deadly river in 2007. There were areas where the force of converging tributaries formed caverns of very dangerous waters. There were guys out protecting their tribal areas with BIG GUNS. And there were dangerous pirrhana fish….note the huge bite on Martin’s back. And I thought jellyfish were demons.

Role Reversal

Xtreme Dream Ops Chief Mark Sollinger is climbing the 1,300 miles of steep ascents between Santa Barbara, CA, and Taos, NM, as we speak.

That’s Mark in the lead

After Mark not only commanded our crew in our valiant attempts to cross from Cuba to Florida, but also oversaw all my many long training swims at his home base of St Maarten, now the roles are reversed.

How great it was to watch him train in the Caribbean heat, prepping for this mountainous ride. Mark had a bad, I mean bad to the point of could have been fatal, accident just two days before the Cuba attempt in August. A car hit him hard. He flew some 30 feet in the air, landed on his back on asphalt. Could have, should have, broken his neck or back. Could barely stand up and got the call to get to Cuba. No way? Not for this tough guy. Way.

Just as I’m always saying “ONWARD” to myself and anybody who teams up with me in my ventures, Mark’s saying is “ROCK STEADY”.

That’s Mark in the middle. His caption from the road that day: “It’s tough out here. Just the way I like it.”

After his seeing me off on so many swims, including from the shores of Havana, with that knowing look of friends, eye to eye, as if to say “Let’s seize this moment. Let’s do this thing”, now it was me watching him climb into the saddle last week-end and push off into the 103-degree day, and say to him: “ROCK STEADY, DOG”.

He’ll get to Taos. And next year the goal is cross-country. He’ll do that, too.

2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference

Steve Munatones, my good friend and the official observer on my swims, is hosting the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference onboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, September 21st through 23rd.

The Global Open Water Swimming Conference is part of a three-day open water swimming extravaganza will offer 2 award ceremonies, book signings, inspirational and educational presentations by luminaries of the sport, and open water swims that replicate the Olympic Games triathlon swim leg and the marathon swim course.

The Conference will kick-off with a Welcome Reception and film screening on Friday, September 21 from 6-8 pm on the Queen Mary. It will continue on Saturday, September 22 from 8 am – 8 pm on the Queen Mary.

The dramatic storytelling and courage shown by the attendees at the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference will make you laugh, cry and ponder your own potential. Open water swimming heroes and heroines from 19 countries will provide dozens of inspirational and educational presentations at the Conference.

Open water swimming luminaries and athletes of every ability will gather in Long Beach, California on the Queen Mary to participate in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and the Global Open Water Swimming Conference on September 21nd – 23rd.


The weekend culminates with the The Swim Across America – Long Beach Swim, which offers swimmers a chance to swim a replica of the 2012 Olympic Open Water Course, and support cancer research in Long Beach.

You can register to attend the event here.

September 11 Pain Fading?

So many painful memories of 9/11 were recounted today. And, understandably, one aspect of despair for quite a few individuals who experienced direct loss that horrific day eleven years ago is that the tributes to their loved ones seem to be smaller, fewer, less significant as time goes by.

I read one woman’s lament of the loss of her twin brother. She is disturbed that people seem to have forgotten the torture, seem to have moved beyond the grief, of 9/11. She simply cannot comprehend how people can get up, sip their morning coffee and head out to work with no deep pain in their hearts on this day.

I suppose it’s part and parcel of the human condition, that the brain heals from suffering by forcing painful memories to fade. But when the loss is too profound, too close to the intimate epicenter of one’s being, the pain persists. You can see survivors of the Holocaust, sitting quietly at their breakfasts, tears streaming down their now-old faces, no matter how many decades ago they somehow prevailed through those atrocities.

Each and every one of us knows loss. We have experienced the death of a loved one. But how many of us have experienced the shocking, unspeakable trauma of war? Of terrorism? I have not.

In deference to those who suffered casualties on 9/11/2001, who will all the days of their lives suffer from those monstrous acts, the very least I can do is continue to pay my respects each and every 9/11. I listen to the reading of all the thousands of names. Beautiful, noble names. And I wish their loved ones peace.

My Dear Friend Robin Roberts

My dear friend Robin Roberts is deep in my heart today.

Most of the world knows that Robin is on her way to a bone marrow transplant over the next few weeks, due to a syndrome that developed on the heels of her breast cancer treatment a while back.

Most of the world also knows that Robin makes her family the center of her universe. Her relationship with her mother, Lucimarian, is as tight as mother/daughter gets.

As if the upcoming transplant weren’t enough, Robin’s mom has been very ill of late. Matter of fact, Robin had some instinct and decided to start her medical leave from Good Morning America just one day early, yesterday instead of today, so that she could travel down to Mississippi and visit her mom before prep for the transplant starts back in New York.

Right off the air yesterday, Robin and her sister Sally-Ann, flew to Mississippi and wound their way through the post hurricane floods, just in time to sit with their beloved Lucimarian for a few minutes before she passed from this world.

Be well, hear heart, Robin. Be at peace. Lucimarian not only lived a long, beautiful 88 years. But she lived with the ever-present, ever-strong love of a daughter in her heart.

Cuba: Shoot For The Stars Or Settle?

photo Christi Barli
I joined a HuffPost live chat yesterday. The discussion centered around our disappointment when we don’t quite fully succeed in a quest.

It helped me immensely to hear from three people who threw their best selves into their respective projects over the last few years….and yet came up short of the original mark.

Donna had the beauty salon of her wildest dreams in mind. An impressive 7,000 sq foot operation. But life happened on the way. Her son took his life. A myriad of starts and starts later, she did open her shop, but she had to back off her dream concept and come to peace with a much more modest business.

Seth and his team were busting with ideas for a new Social Network. Smart, young Internet minds with forward-thinking steam on their side. Two years of pushing, investing, researching, designing…..and yet in the end it was not to be. Back to the drawing board.

Paul and his gang pressed hard on a start-up in San Francisco. Typical ‘round the clock energy went toward funding and all the back-end work that a start-up requires. They believed they had something special but one thing came after another and they could no longer move forward.

So we all got talking. We’re all allowed to feel disappointment. We’re human. It’s such a shock to the system, to not get there, when by the inherent nature of pushing toward something ambitious, you simply must believe with every corner of your being that you will get there.

Every stroke of training I took over these past three years, every bowl of soup and concoction of electrolytes I drank, I had no shadow of doubt that I was going to swim the entire 103 miles between Cuba and Florida. And for the 51 hrs, 5 mns, I was in the water, from the plunge into the sea off Havana, I still believed, stroke by stroke, that I was going to get there.

Donna, Seth and Paul similarly were 100% confident that they were marching boldly toward their vision of succeeding in their particular endeavors.

So where are we all now? I was saying to Seth, many years my junior, that I can just picture him as an old man, rocking on the proverbial front porch, telling another old guy about this time in his life that he and his pals worked their butts off for a couple of years, intending to launch a state-of-the-art new Social Network. And, as life goes, the other old guy wouldn’t ask him if it wound up a rousing success. No, he’d ask him what they all did to get it together. And Seth would regale this old guy with their all-nighters, their wacky schemes, their laughs, their wild machinations in coming up with stuff nobody had ever thought of before.

Why is it that when we end a long-term relationship, we can’t seem to find the positives, to remember the joy of all those years? We dwell on the negatives and throw out typical salvage lines: “Well, we produced two beautiful children together.”

Every single one of us knows heartache. It’s the human condition. So do we settle for small dreams to make sure we can achieve them? Do we never test our will, our potential, for fear of failing?

photo Christi Barli
I may not have reached Florida but I wouldn’t trade these past three years for anything. And I applaud Donna and Seth and Paul for reaching for their respective stars. They are each one the better for their ambitions.

As Browning put it: A man’s reach should exceed his grasp….or what’s a Heaven for?

Way out there under those Florida Straits skies, our Team was indeed reaching for the stars….and I do believe we had the good fortune to see a bit of Heaven on our journey.

Official: Total Number Of Hours Swum

photo Christi Barli

Friday August 24, 2012 – Key West, Florida

Open Water Swimming authority Steve Munatones has issued a correction on Diana’s total number of hours swum in her Cuba attempt.

Diana spent a total of 51hrs, 5mins in her Herculean effort to survive deadly jellyfish, large sharks, life-threatening storms.

At age 62, this was the longest time she ever spent in the water.

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