Sunday, July 1, 2012

Swimming Aquatic Park, San Francisco

I couldn't help but stop for this bumper sticker.  I've been struggling with the ups and downs of life lately, and knew it would be hard to get back in the water, and knew I needed to.  Here I am, just before 8 am Sunday morning with a couple of my swim gang headed over to the South End Rowing Club for a splash in Aquatic Park.  Where's that?  It's directly in front of Ghiradelli Square, looking towards Alcatraz.  It's just on the end of Fisherman's Wharf, at Hyde St Pier, down the block from the famous Buena Vista bar, where you can get the most famous irish coffee in the world.

Here's Aquatic Park, and just behind the tall ship, you can see Alcatraz.  What you can't see to the left is some low concrete bleachers and to the right, in front of the tall ship is the South End Rowing Club next to Hyde St Pier.
Here's my gang today.  A special bunch of guys.  Bunk, in the middle is one of our mid-western boys, about 75, and for the life of me, I can not catch him in the water.  That's my coach, Mike, to the right, and Fernando to the left.  Mike is an amazing fount of coincidences.  He knows everybody.  He remembers everyone.  He connects people.  It seems like he hardly talks, but is so easy to approach and chat with.  Simply, he enriches lives.  Lots of them.  Almost secretly helping us get closer to the people we want to be.  That's Fernando on the left.  A happy young man, who took up swimming and has lost I don't know.  I'll say 50 pounds?  That's our white van.  Mike makes coffee.  We meet at PCC in Redwood City at 7am.  Jump in, and away we go.  No muss, no fuss.

There's history for ya.  Oozing out of every corner of the SERC est 1873.  Imagine San Fran in 1873.  A couple decades after the gold rush.  A couple decades before the great earthquake of '06.  And here we are.  Using the same frigging club those early San Franciscans did.  Obviously, a lot of rowing goes on, as well as boat building, and quite a bit of swimming.  That glow in the back is looking out the back to Aquatic Park.
That's the locker room upstairs.  It's pure history.  You can almost feel the bodies from a century ago, meandering around telling jokes, and getting ready for a swim in the bay.
Post swim.  On the pier in front of SERC.  The blue and white building is the Dolphin Club.  I've never been in there.  It looks like it's got similar history.  These are the two I swam with.  Karen and Bunk, both swam my a*@ off.  At least Karen waited for me!  It was a great day.  Water temp was the warmest I've ever run into in the Bay at 63 degrees, totally flat, with a pretty strong flood current.  We did the big loop, inside the park, I would say about a mile.  I should have added to it, but Karen got out, and so did I, and I just couldn't quite get myself back in.

Jib Jab with Tim

I'll point out a couple things in this picture.  You can see a zodiac out there watching swimmers come in.  Between the dock and the Zodiac, you can see a neon orange swim cap of a swimmer in there.  In the middle of the picture is a new friend, I just met after the swim, sort of by accident.  I'd heard a terrible story about a local swimmer who did this amazing 9 mile swim from island to island in Hawaii. There was an organized relay event to swim across, and this guy swam the whole thing himself.  The horrible part of the story happened after 6 hours plus of swimming, he's about 200 yards from the shore, now able to see the sand on the bottom of the ocean, and some guy wasn't paying attention and had his boat in the finish area.  After much prompting to move, the boater finally gassed his engine, and John got pulled in by the prop, taking off his right arm and half his left hand.

Karen (on his left) knows him from Half Moon Bay.  She started telling me who he was, as I was asking him to take the picture above this one(see his coat sleeve bottom left?).  I saw his thumb bandaged, but didn't think my instant camera would be a problem, and less than a second later, as I reached out with my camera, I realized he didn't have a right hand and not much of an arm.  Before I could feel completely uncomfortable, he says, in the most positive way; I think I can do this, but if not, you can try someone else.  He's got two fingers that work on his non-dominant remaining hand.  His 'thumb' is actually built from a chunk of bone from his hip, that's still healing.  He takes a second picture because he notices he has his sleeve in the picture.  Boom.   Done.  Perfect pic.  So, instantly, the uncomfortable is gone.  He's talking like we're old friends, and all the tragedy he's lived through, that's changed his life dramatically, and so many others, is, well, just a part of life.  He's talking about his bone is infected.  He's working on getting some really cool prosthetics, if he can work with the insurance company.  All like it's just a part of life.  Wow.  I'm in awe of his spirit.  Feeling blessed to be standing next to him, and having a conversation.  He's inspiring.  

It wasn't 4 sentences in until he got to talking about how it all works swimming.  He's back in the pool. He says he doesn't have any catch with his hand, and he's talking about fixing his hand so he can swim.  I'm thinking, and trying to stay in the conversation, wait, what?  You swim?  You've got no arms, dude.  That does not compute!

And then I'm reminded of the bumper sticker above.

He calls it life after 615.  The 615 is 6hours 15 minutes, which is how long he swam before he hit the boat, and changed his life forever.  Everyone says he was an awesome guy before.  I didn't know him then, but I wonder if he's even more awesome now.