The Hospitalitos

This translates as:  “those who went to the hospital after a marathon swim”.

Common wisdom about marathon swimming attributes perhaps 80% to the mind and 20% to the body.  Marathoners possess a great ability to suppress cold, pain, fatigue, cramp and sea water in their stomach and even lungs.  This often after swimming following an explosive puke which in normal life would leave one crying and curled in the foetal position on your bathroom floor for hours.

Three local swimmers joined this exclusive group in part because their mental strength won out over physical reality.  Perhaps not the smartest thing – but each guarded closely by support swimmers and crews judging the fine line between insanity and real danger.

2010 Robert Bohane Dover:  Water in his lungs

Robert’s English Channel crossing proved a long, nasty, rough affair.  After missing the first tide window in Dover, he returned to Cork for more training. Then the phone call: a second chance and Robert and his crew returned quickly toDover. More poor conditions and the starting time postponed due to a delayed relay in the front of the queue.  When he finally got the chance he grabbed it – fearing another delay would cost a year.

Robert suffered wind (10-15 knots from the WW) against the tide.  After about an hour the pilot (Hall of Famer Mike Oram) commented on slower than expected progress and guessed Robert took in (lungs and stomach) a fair bit of water.  At around half way, he crossed the Varne Ridge (shallow water over the sand bank) with very steep chop. A brutal two hours followed: Rob beaten up badly, two of the crew very sick and another slipped due to the rough seas and just avoided serious injury.

After about 10 hours the chop backed off but the wind remained.  The support swimmer entered to give Robert a boost, but the battle affected his power and hence pace.  The crew tried every motivation possible but nothing worked.  He started making groaning noises when breathing at the stops because of the tightening of the larynx which is a reflex reaction to fluid in the lungs (laryngospasm). Then the sickness started and the crew heard horrible vomiting sounds for all of the last 5 hours as he puked every feed thereafter into the water (it is not possible to digest when the body is low in oxygen). Robert never complained and never looked like stopping.

Darkness fell and the swimmer nicknamed “The Bull” had pounded the water for 13 hours, winning as he neared France.  A mile off the shore the crew could see the lights and the support swimmer started to escort Robert to the beach.  Nearly an hour later, tantalising close, he started to fade quickly.  Robert slowed, wandered off course, but still closed the gap toFrance. The crew sensing success screamed encouragement.  Suddenly Robert’s stroke rate dropped rapidly and his arms failed to clear the water and could not keep his eyes open.  Within five minutes, after a brief discussion with Robert, the Pilot instructed the crew to pull him.  Robert, now hypothermic, just coherent enough to know how close he was to passing out completely did not resist the physical man-handling by the crew and came aboard 15 hours and 30 minutes after starting the swim.  Blue, clammy, shivering, confused, still vomiting but safe – it was over.

The next day, Robert had only shallow breathing with symptoms like you’d imagine Emphysema to be so he checked into hospital and was diagnosed with Pulmonary Oedema caused by salt water in the lungs. In all he spent 3 days in hospital and endured a long ferry journey home because the doctors refused to leave him fly.

Robert is still swimming – stronger than ever and don’t be surprised if you see him heading back again sometime!

2009 Lisa Cummins Dover:  Arm falling off

Lisa had signed up for an English Channel solo swim with no distance experience to her name.  After a year of intense training and a summer of local distance swims, she upped her planned solo to an over-and-back.  In the world of marathon swimming this is just not done and she was under some pressure from the sport “elders” to stop being silly.  She continued to train, hitting 60 hours a week in the sea.

She waited in poor weather nearly two weeks in Dover in September, unsure if she would actually get to swim that year.  Her swim to France was tougher and longer than expected and Lisa convinced herself and her crew/pilot that she was having the time of her life and headed back towards England.  Thirty-five hours of swimming was new territory – even after the most gruelling local training ever witnessed.

Her left arm began hurting about 8 hours into the swim and got worse as the swim went on.  On the way back to England it started to seize up on each feed stop, and, while she made it to shore, there was substantial damage. Later that night, unable to sleep with the pain, she ended up in the A&E department of the local hospital. She was given strong painkillers (along with some strange looks from the nurse when she told her why her shoulder was sore!) and was told to visit her own doctor when she got home to Ireland the following day.

It took about a year of physio to get her shoulder back strong again.

Lisa is still swimming – with even more audacious goals!

 2006 Ned Denison Santa Barbara California:  Hypothermia

Ned’s Santa Barbara plan went out the window after the long boat trip to Santa Cruz Island.  The seas were rough and he could not continue hydrating on the boat for fear of being sick before the swim started.  The hours dragged on waiting for the wind to abate and eventually he started on an unplanned course (19 miles East instead of 24 miles North).

Two miles from the coast the temperature dropped and Ned suffered a face on current.  His wife Anne yelled that he had “one lap of Sandycove to go” – but the current only allowed 300 meters progress in 30 minutes.

He passed the stage of mild hypothermia: core body temperature drops from a normal 37C to 30-35, shivering, blue skin, slower stroke rate and a slight case of the “umbles” (mumbles, stumbles, grumbles, fumbles).

By the time Ned cleared the water he experienced severe hypothermia:  body temperature below 30C, no shivering, no pain and big time “mumbles” (Is your name Ned? Hello? Ned?).

Ned went directly to the hospital and spent the next five hours recovering from hypothermia and starvation ketosis – poor feeding it seems. With all the delays in starting (and Ned’s fear of sickness on the boat) – it was 15 hours from his last real meal to the start of the swim.

Of interest, Ned’s support swimmer, David Yudovin, experienced a similar (but worse) fate coming out on the same beach 20 years earlier:  He suffered cardiac arrest while in severe hypothermia.  At the same hospital in Ventura, doctors shot adrenalin directly into David’s heart and repeatedly shocked him with a defibrillator.  An hour and a half after his initial cardiac arrest, the medical team revived David.

Ned is still swimming – and has taken on several colder marathon swims since!