Bigger Than This : The David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Channel Relay

I’m crying in my car because I can’t believe what just happened over 14 hours 24 minutes 24 seconds. I cried after the magnitude of my 12.4 mile swim from Anacapa Island to Oxnard swim last year finally sunk in and this is different. Relays are mechanically easy as you’re only swimming for an hour at a time in shifts and have your teammates for support. Yesterday that was no ordinary Catalina Channel relay out there. We had made David Yudovin’s dream of a Catalina Channel relay to raise money for the City of Hope Cancer Research Center a reality and in the process many of us honored the memory of those we lost to cancer. Some participants had never met David and here he was, continuing to inspire other swimmers to get into the water. Beth Yudovin was at our side all the way and in the kayak rotation to help support us even more. She threw rose petals in at each relay leg to make 23 miles of flowers across the channel in memory of her husband. The weather was absolutely perfect which I told Beth that it was like David had designed it himself.

22nd Street Landing

I love Captain Greg and Bottom Scratcher. I got to the dock first and bounced onboard to claim one of my favorite bunks in the stern. Captain Greg and his crew were already on board so I got to hang out with them for a bit before everyone else got there. I was excited to be back on the boat, in the channel, and seeing a bunch of my OakStreaker friends again, many who I hadn’t seen since September 2014. After Greg, Dan, and Jim gave their mandatory talks regarding boat safety/rules, relay info, and CCSF rules respectively, I slid into my bunk to get a guaranteed deep sleep. I proved to be no ray of sunshine when I was woken up right before the initial jump. I was so confused that I thought it was *my* turn to swim as I wasn’t counting on being awake before then. After watching Dan, Susanne, and Trevor start the swim, I went back to slumberland.

Team Photo

“Kelley! 9 minutes!”

Huh? What?

I leap out of my bunk and am thankful that I put all my swim stuff in one bag so I dig through that on deck and change into my suit. Paula Selby, Carol Sing, and I are swimming together and luckily watching Paula lube up reminds me that I have to do that also. We jump seconds after I’m ready. I find out later from my friend Russ that Jim had actually tried to wake me up several times beforehand and couldn’t which they were starting to wonder how they were going to actually wake me up. People ask a lot how I have the energy to do everything I do and I’m not really joking when I respond with “Have you tried waking me up?”

The original formation was supposed to be boat – me – Carol – Paula – kayak from left to right. There’s some bioluminescence going on and I can see a bunch of little sea creatures in the water. I’m getting stung from the tiny jellyfish which is okay as these little guys don’t really leave much of a mark. I’ve never swam with Paula or Carol before and we’re all over the place. I’m supposed to swap places with Paula and leave Carol in the middle but Carol ends up ahead, behind, on the other side of Paula, 5 feet from the kayak where I’m supposed to be, etc. Paula and I pretty much stick together and I can see her silhouette under water from the galley lights. Carol and the bottom of the kayak both have green glowsticks and I keep thinking that the one under the kayak is Carol. I’ve never done a tandem relay. It’s hard getting into a grove since I’m thinking about the locations of the boat, Carol, Paula, and the kayak in addition to thinking about my actual swimming technique and the purpose of this relay in the first place: honoring those who have lost, won, and continue to fight their battles with cancer.

My friend Brandon always says to treat every pedal stroke, swim stroke, run like it’s your last as there are people out there who would give anything to be able to be where you are right now. Somewhere there is someone taking their last breath. Growing old is a privilege that is denied to many. My Tía Cecilia told me that my Tío Ed was skin and bones before he died from cancer and the only thing keeping him alive was his sure will to live. He passed away 10 days before I was going down to Lima to visit him. I remember having lunch with them on my previous trip to Peru and how full of life he was. He was determined to beat cancer. In the end, it ended up getting the best of him though.

My childhood friend, Jen Nathan, passed away from cancer at the age of 36. This is a video her husband made after she passed away.

Just two days before, my cousin Sean’s wife completed her first half-marathon (bucketlist item). She was cancer-free for 6 years only to find out in January that it was back with a vengeance and had spread to her blood, brain, bone, and lymph nodes. Her oncologist said that she couldn’t run the half-marathon as the bone cancer was too advanced and gave permission for her to walk it. And she did…2 days after a chemo treatment! Her brother-in-law (an Ironman addict) informed the event organizers who made a special announcement at the finish for her along with having a human “Tunnel of Love” for her to walk through at the finish line with my cousin and their kids waiting for her on the other side. I hope she beats it this time too so she can watch her kids grow up.
My cousin Sean’s wife Julie finishing her first half-marathon 2 days after a chemo treatment.

Luckily Dan has a white light on the kayak that he shines when our time is up. Anyone who has ever kayaked for me knows that I can’t hear **** when swimming and respond immediately to visual cues. Our reliefs are jumping in. Thanks to our color-coded caps, it’s easy to find our teammates. I high-five Saffi so she can start her first channel swimming experience ever. I sit there for a second wondering what I’m supposed to do now…oh yeah, get back on the boat (an odd experience for me not involving hitting land first).

Craig, part of Captain Greg’s crew, starts making breakfast for all of us. I could get used to this on my swims. A bunch of us are hanging out in the galley munching on the plethora of snacks that people brought. Carol even brought a birthday cake for David as coincidentally, it was David’s birthday that day too. During the second rotation, Russ is saying something about sharks and I tell him to not worry since there are millions of sharks in the ocean. He’s such a great person and I’m grateful he still talks to me, especially after that prank I pulled on him around Seal Rock in Laguna last year. He didn’t know that I was behind him in the kelp and I reached out and grabbed his ankle with both hands fast. He screamed and curled up into a ball. 🙂 Yeah I’m going to swimmers’ hell sometime for that one.

After the second pod of the second leg jumps, I find out that we’re only about halfway across the channel. We’re going farther than your standard 21 mile Catalina swim to Cabrillo Beach because Dan wanted a sandy beach for the finish. Captain Greg usually lands at a rocky inaccessible beach. Dan has it in mind for a photo finish with some SAA folks at Cabrillo so convinced Greg to go there instead.

Perfect conditions in the middle of the Catalina Channel

I start getting read for my next jump about half an hour beforehand. I’m getting anxious with all the time to stand around waiting to start and almost wish I’d been asleep and waking up last minute instead. Since Sumner had said that we may end up having to do a third jump, I get into my still-wet swimsuit. He tells me right after that actually I won’t have to do a third hour which I swear he planned that. My second hour is easier this time since Paula, Carol, and I have already had some time together in the water. It’s hard still getting into a grove knowing that this is only going to be an hour long. Usually I just go from feed to feed and have a good guess on what 30 minutes feels like. Thanks to my multiple Alcatraz swims, I also know what about 45 – 50 minutes is like. I can see Paula checking her watch every so often and keep wondering if this is the time that it’s going to be over, especially after I feel like it’s been about the time length of an Alcatraz swim for me. She eventually stops and says that our time is up. It’s weird to think that the next time I jump in will be because we’re at the finish and going to join the last pod on Cabrillo Beach.

While the pod after mine is swimming, there’s some commotion as they see two fins pop up out of the water about 10 feet around the swimmers. Many think that it’s a shark, even a great white shark and it swims away. Later it’s identified by one of the swimmers who was in the water and saw it as being a harmless marlin.

Janel McArdle, Swim Across America’s president sees the names written on my arm “In Memory Of” and says “there are too many names there.” We bond over having loved ones who needed bone marrow transplants while fighting leukemia only to have donors back out at the last minute. She’s impressed that I donate platelets weekly. You become more selfless when you experience loved ones’ cancer struggles.

Russ, Eric, and Lynn jump in for a third time and they’ll be the ones to finish this relay as we’re only about half a mile from shore. I’m dressed and ready to go knowing that Captain Greg is going to go as close as he can and then the rest of us can jump in and join our teammates at the finish. I can’t believe this relay is almost over and we’ve made David’s dream come true. We get the call to jump so we quickly zip in to follow the last pod into the beach. Beth is in the kayak and I wish she’d have been joining us on land. As I swim in, I see what looks like Lynne Cox standing on the beach. I realize that it IS Lynne when I get out of the water! What a nice surprise! Recently I had discovered that my good friend Dusty and her are longtime close friends. Lynne brought some Mother’s Animal Cookies as they were David’s treat after he finished his swims. Dan takes them unopened back to the boat so we can feast on them there. What a nice thoughtful surprise and as Dusty says, Lynne is always a class act!

Finish at Cabrillo Beach

Our unofficial time was 14 hours 24 minutes 24 seconds. We had raised $35,838.00 for the City of Hope Cancer Research Center and made David’s dream a reality. We honored those who had lost their battles with cancer, those who were lucky to win their battles, and those who continue to fight it. We helped get one step closer to finding a cure.

I walk with Beth back to our cars and she asks me what my next swim is. I tell her that I’m swimming Catalina as a solo swim August 14 – 15. Her eyes light up and she gives me a big hug saying that she’ll track my progress that day. I get in my car and my eyes tear up thinking about what just transpired over the last 16 hours. What transpired was so much bigger than just another Catalina Channel relay and one that I was very deeply proud of participating in. I wish David could have been there to see it.

I need to recognize those who generously contributed to my fundraising for the City of Hope Cancer Research Center. Their support was incredible and I can’t thank them enough. This swim meant so much to me on many personal levels. Combined they donated a total of $2950 to my swim! They are:

Asha Allen
Lisa Amorao
Kathy Bailey
Kip Baumann
Michael and Melissa Black
Jim Bock
Ned Boynton
Eunice Chan
Rob Cox
Cynthia, Jamie, and CJ Drobile
Erika Dumaine
Morgan Empey
Maurice Evans
Mick Fingleton
Cathy Harrington
Phil Harrington
Carol Hayden
Alex Honor
Laura Hovden
Betty and Al Jaurique
Robert Kane
Jim and Rose Kasarda
Steve Kazakos & Ale Khachikian
Jane Koegel
Brooke Dougherty
Lynn Kubasek
Nan Luma
Linda Mandolini and Scott Geyer
Janet Manning
Kathy Monahan
Tim Mooney
Jay Myers
Ryan Nelson
Dusty Nicol
Ruthann O’Connor
George Prebil
Sue and Bill Prebil
Cecilia Raffo
Chris Rasmussen
Robin Rose
Mark and Elaine Scott
Virginia Scribner
Jesse and Bri Silver
Liz Steppe
Diana Theriault
Leslie Wall
Ben Wu
Shannon Yonker

If you still want to donate and have not or want to contribute more, you may do so still at All donations are 100% tax-deductible.

Dan said that there will be another David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Channel Relay in 2017. I told him to sign me up for all of them until we find a cure.

Next up: Catalina Channel Solo Swim – August 14 – 15. 22 days and counting.

Rose petals to scatter in the channel for David.

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1 Response to Bigger Than This : The David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Channel Relay

  1. timpmooney says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

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