Loved And Cared For Every Stroke Of The Way

My Catalina Channel crossing, by far my most challenging swim to date, would not have been successful without the right crew on the boat. I’m forever grateful to these guys who took care of me during my swim. It’s important to pick quality over quantity when it comes to your crew as having 10 clueless people on a boat can fail a swim compared to a crew of 2 rockstar marathon swimming experts. I knew that I was putting the fate of my swim into my crew’s hands and it helped me stay more relaxed going into the swim knowing that they’d take care of me. Three out of my 4 crew members had all crewed for several Catalina swims in the past. The feeling of love that I was surrounded by from them yesterday was much more than I could have ever imagined. They came together like a well-oiled machine and got me across the channel, just like I expected them to be able to do.


(left to right) Howard Burns, me, Cathy Harrington, Neil van der Byl, Peter Hayden before starting my Catalina Channel swim on Friday night.

My crew was:

Peter Hayden, Crew Chief – fellow Oakstreaker and someone I affectionately/playfully call my “swim dad.” Peter’s always been there for me in my time of need to just listen, given advice, calm my nerves, etc. I admire him. I originally asked him last November to be my Co-Crew Chief in the event that Gracie had to drop out given her busy schedule. He accepted immediately and said it’d be an honor to be part of my crew. He talked me off the ledge during my Anacapa Island to Oxnard swim (12.4-mile) training last year (and observed that swim for SBCSA) and knew I’d still be in great hands with him for Catalina. Peter successfully swam across the Catalina Channel in September 2013. In 2014, he became the first to circumnavigate Anacapa Island immediately followed by swimming straight to Oxnard afterwards for a total of a 25-mile swim.

Neil van der Byl – Gracie van der Byl’s awesome husband and together they arrange all Catalina crew requests. I met Neil originally on a Catalina swim last year that he was kayaking for and I was observing. I don’t think anyone has kayaked more Catalina swims than Neil. He just got back from a 2 week India trip when I contacted him about kayaking for my swim. Gracie was going to have to drop out of my crew due to contractual obligations to WTT (despite her best efforts to get out of that when they changed an event date to the same date as my swim). She replaced herself with Neil though, who she considers to be her sole crew and instructed him to treat me the same way he would treat her. He was a guardian angel to me during my swim as with the lack of a paddle needed with his Hobie, he and I could stay within a yard of each other so we had eye contact the entire time I was swimming with him on kayak.

Howard Burns – fellow OakStreaker and Dawn Patrol. I originally asked Howard to be part of my crew and he had other obligations. However when a last minute need came up due to Gracie’s absence, Howard made a huge sacrifice to be part of my crew which I can never begin to repay him for his kindness and generosity.

Cathy Harrington – fellow South Ender. Cathy did kayak support for all but one of my training swims back home in the Bay Area. She did kayak support for a lot of my Anacapa training swims last year. She is willing to kayak on any day at any time (seriously, I’ve tested this to no end) provided it doesn’t interfere with her work or family schedule. I was glad to be able to bring her with me to the main event swim this time around! I owe her about a gazillion kayaking hours and plan on getting her on some of the shorter marathon swims as she could totally do it. 🙂


(left to right) Neil van der Byl, me, Cathy Harrington, Peter Hayden, Howard Burns after successfully completing my Catalina Channel swim on Saturday.

Given how I was feeling about the swim, the smaller and tighter-knit I had with the group on board, the less stressed that I would feel.

Paula Selby, Primary Observer – Paula coordinates the CCSF swim schedule and finding observers for all the swims. I’ve observed with Paula in the past and asked her if she’d observe my swim also. She, Carol Sing, and I were part of the same pod rotation last month for the David Yudovin Memorial Relay. She’s also an avid photographer so I knew that I’d have plenty of photos from my swim with her on board. 🙂


(left to right) Paula Selby, Carol Sing, and me during the David Yudovin Memorial Catalina Relay in July 2015.

Kevin Colleran, Secondary Observer – I met Kevin when he was kayaking and I was crewing for a Catalina swim last year. He flies down from Idaho to support Catalina swims. In return for observing my swim, I said that I would crew for his Catalina swim when he does it next year. How badass is that though when you’ve got observers willing to fly in for your swims? BTW, we don’t get any of that reimbursed and it’s a small stipend to observe swims so really we observe because we love it.


Kevin Colleran kayaking for Michael Ventre’s Catalina swim in 2014.

There were also the people I consider to be my “ground crew” who helped me get to the point of getting on that boat on Friday night to start my swim. Without these people, I’d have been a complete basketcase going into the swim.

Gracie van der Byl – my original pick for Crew Chief who served that role until a week before my swim when an event that she’s contractually obligated to was moved from the 22nd to the 15th of August. She was a very last minute addition to my Anacapa crew that I’m still shocked she was on. I asked her the day after my Anacapa swim in September 2014 if she could be my Catalina crew chief and she said “yes” immediately. When Gracie had to drop out a week ago, she tiredlessly worked with Peter and Carol Hayden to find worth replacements that would serve me at the same level that she would have. She sent me the next best thing…her husband Neil and Howard. I’ve got nothing but love for this girl.


Gracie van der Byl and me in November 2014.

Evan Morrison – fellow South Ender. We continued working on my stroke in about January of this year to take care of some kinks (usually on my left side and/or when I’m breathing) and got me to start bilateral breathing. We did some speed work also. In general, Evan owned me on Mondays at 7:30 AM to work on my stroke. I cannot recommend anyone higher for working on stroke technique with as he really is the best on this.

Joe Locke – fellow South Ender. Joe made many of my feeds during my training swim and even hand-delivered it to me the day before my Catalina swim. I’ve been happy to be his guinea pig for a feed he’s developing as it’s based on whole foods (no preservatives or chemicals so short shelf life) that processes cleanly in my body along with tasting good. 🙂 His vast experience of open water swimming (successful Catalina, English Channel, Molokai, Gibraltar, Farallones solo swims) helped him give me some solid advice during my training. I made adjustments to my training plan based on his feedback as it all came together.

South End Rowing Club – my main swim family these days. There are too many to individually thank really for helping me along my journey. I spend more time at the club than anywhere else, including the place I actually pay a mortgage on. I’ve been amazed at the outpouring of support for me and my swim over the last several months and how many of them actually tracked my progress during the swim. I was a bit nervous of anyone knowing that I was attempting a Catalina crossing as I didn’t know what I’d do if I failed. Jim Bock reassured me that they’ll still love me no matter what the outcome was and he took as much pressure off of me as possible during the week of my swim. When I lost my clear goggles in the locker room (I can’t see s*** with tinted goggles in less than full sunlight) 5 days before my swim, Karina Marwan replaced them for me. Michael Heffernan kayaked for me when Cathy wasn’t available. Amy Gubser loaned me her Spot Gen 3 so people could track my swim. Several offered to crew for me if I still needed more crew members. My email inbox was flooded with emails of support and love from fellow South Enders the day I jumped (Friday). I read every single one before I jumped even though I didn’t get to respond to most of them. The club has felt like home from the very first day that I walked into it in January 2014. (btw thank Evan for recruiting me as he was always saying that I should come swim in the bay and I thought he was freakin’ nuts..then randomly took him up on the offer and haven’t looked back since).

The club is also where my beloved Nadadores Locos train from also which is a subset part of my South End family. A lot of under-the-radar crazy swims that we just go out and do. Ideas usually created with the assistance of alcohol, foolish enough to say “yes” to even while sober, and never met a swim route or condition that we said “er…no” to. You need a swim to get done, you get the Locos to do it since Locos don’t quit. I carried that mentality all the way through my Catalina swim. Many of my training swims were also Locos swims as all involved some long swim somewhere in the Bay and usually at what many consider to be unholy hours. Some of us were training for big swims this year or just like doing a 4+ hour swim for the hell of it (that’s totally normal, right?).


Sunset view from the club in July 2015.

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