Saturday, 14 December 2013

The picture...

It was hard this summer not to have seen the furore surrounding Diana Nyad's 5th and final attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida - a venture that concluded with her walking triumphantly up the beach in Florida 50+ hours after jumping into the beautiful blue Cuban waters. A festival of interviews and publicity followed, and shortly on its tail, increasingly insistent questioning from the marathon swimming community, led by members of the Marathon Swimmers Forum. Several of these members went on to pose those questions in the international media and in an oddly-staged online 'meeting' in an effort to compel Nyad and her team to address a series of doubts - most specifically those relating to the rules under which the swim was conducted, an apparent claim to a 7 hour nighttime stretch without feeding, an unusually swift pace for several hours mid-swim and the absence of the kinds of systematic documentation that are conventionally seen as legitimising marathon swims. Others, and particularly MSF founders Evan Morrison and Donal Buckley  have written very eloquently, including from the media frontline, about these campaigns and counter-campaigns and at some personal cost in terms of exposure to venomous and anonymous online hate mail. Nyad is something of a lightning rod for both sides of the aisle, and the public discussion of these things can provoke weirdness in ways that are, in themselves, quite intriguing for a sociologist like myself in this polarised world of heroes and villains.

I generally stayed out of the debates at the time, although I also stored the accumulating posts up as data for a book chapter on narratives of 'purity' within the sport - whatever else I feel about the issue, I can't possibly pass up a thread of over 800 posts on the topic as a source to help me understand the boundary work around marathon swimming. This hopefully will enable me to build on earlier attempts to write on this topic, both here on the blog and as part of the research. But at the same time, as many within the community already know or suspect from previous posts, while I personally choose to swim only to 'Channel rules', I don't necessarily agree with the elevation of those rules as the gold standard against which all swimming is measured and I am uncomfortable with narratives of purity and the exclusions that they produce.

But I don't want to get in to the whole did she / didn't she Nyad debate - I don't think it can go anywhere helpful at this stage (although I think that it was useful to ask those questions at the time). Instead, I want to talk about this intriguing photo that popped up last week, taken from Nyad's Facebook pages (which I don't have direct access to so never saw in situ) but which was posted on the MSF and Twitter:



The photo is fascinating, firstly because it clearly shows practices during Nyad's swim that are not only in contravention of 'Channel rules' swimming (which we already knew very clearly were not being followed) but are also at odds with Nyad's own post-swim statements about not being held or supported by others during the swim (which was also already known from other photos issued during the swim, but still, this is a corking example... *see post-script below for revised view of this). But what I find particularly intriguing about this picture is that she (or her media team?) chose to use it as one of many photos from the swim this summer that form part of a campaign to win votes for the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year competition, for which she has been shortlisted. Indeed, like many of the photos currently recirculating, the image has been stamped with Nyad's new "Vote Diana Nyad" logo - the latest in a series of enthusiastically promoted self-branding strategies:


So after all the fuss and palaver about the legitimacy of her swim, my question was: why would she choose an image so blatantly displaying 'assistance' to support her campaign? 

I've been thinking about this a lot and have come up with a couple of possible explanations. Firstly, I suspect that there is an element of sticking two fingers up at those who challenged the legitimacy of the swim - a battle that I think she won in terms of public opinion, or at least in that she walked away with her reputation and associated financial interests intact. But I don't think that's really what the picture is for. Instead, I think that, as with all of her previous media campaigns, it shows an impressively strategic understanding of popular perceptions of marathon swimming / ultra endurance sport - one which she mobilises perfectly. The problem with still images of marathon swimming is that a shot of someone swimming in the first 30 mins of a swim, still fresh and strong, looks pretty much the same as still shots of someone 30 hours into a swim. So the photographer's task is to provide signifiers of suffering via the surrounding context. In this case, the two other people in the frame provide this context; through their acts of physically supporting Nyad both from the water and the boat, the collected trio connote her suffering, exhaustion and endurance to the very limits of capacity. Her apparent helplessness in the picture, prone and sipping water, infant-like, unable to even support her own body, invokes the extremity of the venture. It is melodramatic; on first glance, it is unclear whether she is receiving sustenance or medical treatment, adding to the sense of precariousness of her condition and the limits to which she has pushed herself. This is the message that matters in terms of the public perception of what she achieved (overcoming adversity), not which particular rules she followed. And she knows this well. 

In the debates that followed Nyad's 2013 swim, it looked at first glance like a dispute about what counts as 'assistance', especially for a swim that may not be possible without some forms of technology - a stinger suit, for example. This led to the predictable and frustratingly circular debates about acceptable and unacceptable technologies in an attempt on both sides to solidify the boundaries of (un) assisted swimming. But my view is that the debates were never about whether particular technologies fall within accepted rules, but rather, whether such rules have any value in the first place. Those labelled within those debates as taking a 'purist' position lobbied for the importance of agreed rules as a means of protecting the sport from the encroaching threat of those trying to make swims easier; this argument was made primarily via nostalgic appeals (however arbitrarily adapted for contemporary times) to the conditions of Webb's Channel swim and the importance of the 'level playing field' in the keeping of records. But for most non-swimmers, no amount of technological assistance would render a marathon swim possible or even imaginable, in much that same way that no amount of bolts and ropes would enable me to climb a cliff face. From this outsider perspective, debates around what counts as 'assistance' are something of a moot point, appearing arcane and carping to an audience that is impressed by the arduousness of a long swim (or cliff climb), irrespective of the conditions under which it is performed. This was never a dispute about what forms of assistance matter, but rather, about whether that question matters at all. 

This, I think, explains Nyad's use of this extraordinary photo: it is a perfectly calculated appeal to her core constituency of supporters (and voters) for whom the 'rules' are less significant that an act of endurance / overcoming. 

I'm not really sure what all of this means. I have no idea (and can't really bring myself to care) what Diana Nyad did or didn't do in order to walk up the beach in Florida, although I suspect that it was something fairly impressive and certainly beyond my capacities, regardless of the specifics. But I'm still no fan. I find her relentless self-promotion tedious and rather absurd; I like a good long swim as much as the next person, but at the end of the day, it's only swimming, no matter how far it is. I find her ungenerous to other swimmers, hopelessly solipsistic and I greatly dislike the "anything is possible / never give up" message that she propagates, since it denies the palpably obvious truth that anything is not possible and that to say so shifts the blame for failure onto individual lack of will to the exclusion of other social / economic / physical constraints. 

But all this aside, I do think that her use of this photo says something quite interesting about the way that marathon swimming is publicly perceived and which aspects of it are valued within / outside of the specific social world of 'Channel rules' marathon swimming. And I think that her use of it is both audacious and perceptive in ways that are likely to be highly effective in terms of winning support for her campaign. It is an incredible image, replete with conflicting interpretations and skilfully mobilised; I can't help but feel a grudging respect. But I still won't be voting for her. 

Post-script (15/12/13)
Oh, how tricky images can be. So in an interesting twist, I realise now that I have both misread the image and jumped to conclusions (as have many others in relation to this picture). In the image, Nyad is not sipping water, but is actually taking in oxygen (I think) through some kind of medical mask; the image is the 'crisis' medical picture I had originally read it as before settling on the interpretation that she was feeding. This in turn suggests that the image is not in fact from the 2013 swim, but instead, is likely from the 2011 attempt when reactions to jellyfish stings caused breathing problems. It seems that the campaign for the award is looking to the wider context of her attempts to complete the swim, rather than just the 2013 swim. I think I was wrong to assume that this showed a particularly egregious case of receiving physical support in ways that contradicted her 2013 post-swim statements, for which I apologise, although it is important to note that receiving this level of in-water support in itself was not deemed grounds to pull the swim as it would be under Channel rules. Interestingly, then, I think that my overall analysis still holds true, in that that image highlights the limits to which she pushed herself and draws attention to her overcoming and endurance as the defining feature of her swims, rather than any questions about the rules governing the swims. I also think that the act of campaigning so publicly using these images and logo still can be seen as a gesture of defiance to detractors. 


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Part III: Rehab....this time with thumbs....

It is December 2013, just over 15 weeks post-MIMS. Last week, I was able to take my first pain-free freestyle stroke. I only did a very tentative 100m, but still.... progress at last.

Things began to change about 6 weeks ago, when I went to see a sports physio who is physically located within the University of Leeds and who tends to the sports scholars within the university as well as to stray university-based lame ducks like me. On our first meeting, Sophie gasped in horror at the extent to which my shoulders are pulled forwards, although she also noted that my shoulder and back muscles are strong and in good shape, with "nothing sticking out". I felt oddly, unjustifiably proud, trying not to dwell on the possibility of having things "sticking out". Sophie's approach to physiotherapy is very direct and thumb-oriented. In short, the goal was to "re-set" the joint by releasing the muscles across my chest and into the front of the shoulder, and then strengthening the muscles at the back of the shoulder to hold the joint properly in place. This, I was told, should release the impingement, allow the irritation to go down and get me back in the water in no time. Rather ominously, she also warned that if there wasn't any improvement within a few weeks, it was probably a sign that something more fundamental was awry and I would need referral for an MRI and specialist. And with this warning still hanging in the air, with me lying prone on the massage table, she dived in, thumbs first.

As anyone who has subjected themselves to sports massage / physio will know, the pain associated with this particular "therapy" is exquisitely intense. In my mind, the pain is a kind of mustard green - not sharp or hot....just nauseatingly unpleasant. Unlike other treatments where pain might be a sign for a  practitioner to stop, pain is a green light to a sports physio - the successful location of a particularly painful spot is simply a prompt to dig deeper, to chase the pain along the particular muscle or tendon. In the days that followed each session, I developed green-brown bruises, my skin sore to the touch, healing just in time for the next round. To complement the thumbs, I was given daily exercises - simple, gentle stretches at first, then more pronounced stretches to build on my increasing shoulder mobility, and now strengthening exercise to build the muscles at the back of the shoulder to better support the joint. I do them every day, twice a day. It is training like any other, but a sorry substitute for the pleasures of swimming.

But there is no doubt - after each visit, my shoulder inches another step towards recovery. It is slow at first, and then suddenly, last week, I realise that I am throwing on a jacket without so much as a twinge, or reaching sideways to pick up a file without the slightest aggravation. I'd been doing kick-only sets in the pool for a few weeks, finally able to hold a kick board out in front of me, but with this realisation of unnoticed recovery, I head to the pool and do a session of gentle drills. I lie on my side, fins on, lead arm out in front in a streamlined position, switching sides at the end of the lane. After 10 painfree minutes of this, I try taking 6 kicks, then taking a single stroke, rotating into the streamlined position on the opposite side; 6 more kicks, and another stroke. I focus all my attention on getting my arm in the right position and am careful to avoid actively pulling or putting strain on the shoulder. But still, after lengths and lengths of this drill, there is still no pain. I switch to every three kicks, and still no pain. At the end of the session, I take off the fins and swim 100m full stroke, hypercautiously. It feels unbelievably weird - as if I had been taken apart and then not put back together properly; nothing seems to work in co-ordination with anything else. But if you take a 15 week break, I suppose that's inevitable. But it feels so amazingly good to be able to do even this small amount.

***

I had my final session with Sophie last Friday, and my shoulder was so transformed that she struggled to find anywhere really painful to dig into. Progress indeed. And with that, and a list of exercises to do, I was discharged and ordered to go forth and start swimming....but only very gently, building up slowly. I am determined to be disciplined about it, even though we're off to Lanzarote next week, where the temptations of the glorious clear-blue sea await. And in January, I have an appointment with Swimsmooth coach, Emma (Active Blu) to start fixing the stroke problems that almost certainly underlie all of this.

So in my wildest hopes, this is the conclusion to my rehab narrative - a shoulder restored through the painful but effective ministrations of Sophie and her thumbs. There are absolutely no guarantees, of course, and my shoulder still feels precarious and fallible, but for now at least, it's off to the pool I go.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Part II: Rehab...


Early October, 2013
It is 6 weeks post-MIMS, and I still can’t swim. I am beached both by my physiotherapist’s proscription against swimming for the foreseeable future, and and more definitively, by the inability to swim without pain. My shoulder still bites when I raise my arm above my head, make a forgetful lateral movement outwards to reach for something or swing on a jacket. It’s no longer the hot, fiery breath of pain that I felt during the swim, but a sharp tweak; a warning. On my first physio visit, I explain how the injury happened and how I'd kept swimming on it, and he responds with a weary laugh. He tests my range of motion in a variety of postures; I signal when a movement starts to cause pain with a small wince or declarative “There!”. He tests to see if I have lost any power in the arm, looking for tendon tears; he instructs me to resist the pressure he applies against different parts of my hand and arm. Everything is intact. He says that if he could put a camera inside my shoulder joint, it would probably be very red and angry; when I go home, I look up arthroscopic images online and visualize my irritated tendons, repeatedly snagging between bones. I have a diagnosis now: a shoulder impingement….or swimmer’s shoulder as it is also tellingly called. And I have a comfortingly mechanical account of my injury to work with; the narrowed space between the top of the humerus and the acromium traps the tendons, causing more swelling….and so on. The cure: rest, anti-inflammatories, and a programme of exercises so subtle that it’s hard to believe they are doing any good. I lie on the floor, lifting my shoulder up and back, holding for a count of ten. Ten repeats, twice a day. It is my ritual; an act of faith. It’s shockingly hard to do, which offers some comfort; there’s obviously something back there that’s not as strong as it should be. Each day, I think of my exercises as another step towards recovery; it’s training like any other, but nowhere near as much fun. I recall a friend of mine - a runner benched by injury- observing that when you feel fit and well, you think it’s going to last forever, and when you are injured, you think it will never end. Indeed.

My incapacity makes me feel broken and old, and I start to feel an unexpected encroaching discomfort with my body - a bit fat, greying, peri-menopausal - that is ordinarily pushed out of sight by swimming. In the water, swimming for hours, my body feels absolutely perfect; beached, it’s so much harder to hold on to that feeling and I feel ashamed at the shallowness of my appreciation of this body of mine, and the precariousness of my d├ętente with it. But being laid up is not all bad, I remind myself; I’ve reclaimed 2-3 hours a day that I used to spend swimming, and my neglected book (this book) has leapt to life, the unexpected beneficiary of my injury.

But god…how I miss swimming.

I crave swimming. I long for it. When I think of swimming, I can feel my body reaching quietly for the movements; it imagines itself stroking cleanly through the water. Without the comforts of swimming and full of  anxiety about starting my new job, I’m unsure how to relax and can’t quite tire myself out physically. My sleep has lost the sumptuousness that long swimming delivers, and the stock of nuts and muesli bars that I keep in my desk drawer goes untouched, my appetite dulled by the sudden drop from 30+ km a week in the water to nothing. I join the gym at my new workplace and go every morning. I can (could) swim for hours, but my lower body fitness has been neglected over the long summer of swimming; after just a few minutes on the treadmill or cross-trainer, my legs are burning and my face scarlet. But I persist; it is a new body project to occupy me, inching the duration up weekly in minute increments. Progress, of sorts. I always choose one of the treadmills with a partial view over the swimming pool and I follow the swimmers travelling up and down the lanes with envious longing. I can’t stop watching, like constantly running my tongue over a mouth ulcer. I find myself compiling an uninvited critique of the swimmers below me: he’s crossing the centre line with his right hand; she’s scissoring her legs; that person’s over-reaching at the front of the stroke. I imagine myself swimming in a fantasy of liquid smoothness and technical perfection as I trudge away gracelessly on the treadmill.

And in the bottom of my gym bag -  a costume, cap and goggles. I know I can’t use them (yet?), but I like to have them there. Just in case. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Part I: Injury...

After a three month break, I thought it was time to check in with The Long Swim and give a bit of an update. It's been a bit of a whirlwind of a term, trying to get my head around my new job and the endless uncertainties of house moving / selling; I also had to take some time offline to deal with the intensifying attentions of an online troll who graduated from rude to threatening, but who, after some direct confrontation seems to have retreated quietly. So, in short, all is well, although as you'll see from what follows, things on the swimming front have been a bit frustrating. In between everything, I've been working away on my book - Immersion - and in particular, I've been writing the auto-ethnographic sections that punctuate the discussion. These sections use my own experience of training and swimming as a jumping off point for exploring the broader sociological questions, and most recently, I have been writing about my experience of injury and rehab in light of my ongoing post-MIMS shoulder problems. Drawing directly from these auto-ethnographic segments from the book, this first post - one of three - describes the experience of acquiring the injury; the second installment focuses on the early stages of rehab; and the third updates to the present.

****

I knew that I had hurt myself. In spite of my determined denial, in the weeks running up to the MIMS Quiet Swim, there had been niggly bite to my left shoulder the morning after long training swims; nothing serious, but a sense of not-rightness that I was guarding cautiously. It would be fine, I had told myself; just the lingering effects of a hard season of training. But somewhere around the top of the Harlem River, my shoulder started to grumble. It was easy to ignore at first, then swelling in imperceptible increments into something sharper and deeper than the previous warning nips. I tried to focus on holding my stroke, keeping my hand below my elbow and my elbow below my shoulder at the front of the stroke before the catch. I suspected that the problem lay in the pernicious stroke defect into which I habitually fold as fatigue sets in - a sinking left elbow at the front of the stroke followed by the slightest sweep outwards with my left hand before the catch and pull. Holding my stroke as it is supposed to be helped, boosted by a couple of ibuprofen to take the sharp edges off the pain. By hour 7, flying down the Hudson in the clutch of a generous current, the pain was becoming hard to ignore, but the water was flat and calm, making it easier to maintain an effective stroke. I focused on keeping my head in line with my body, rotating only along the long axis, a single goggle-lens and a popeye-mouthed breath out of the water; this helped me to avoid my bad habit of levering myself up slightly on my left arm when I breathe to the right, cocking my head up out of the water and placing strain on the left shoulder. The subtle flaws in my stroke, repeated tens of thousands of times, were being sharply illuminated by the unfolding injury; I let the pain correct me, and took a quiet vow of a winter drilling to fix my faults. It felt manageable still, and I was buoyed by the growing certainty that I was going to finish the swim.

We hit rougher water half way down, the wind blowing against the tide and churning the river. The kayak danced in the waves and I heard Jeff (a whitewater kayaker at heart) whoop with delight at the ride. After the predictable comforts of flat-water swimming, I struggled for balance, my whole body now actively in play to stabilise me in the water. The work of getting hold of the water in that mobile environment sent grinding pain down my arm. Relax. Don't fight the water. At some point, my recovering left hand clipped the top of a wave and was smacked backwards, pulling my arm with it; my shoulder flashed with white, hollow pain. It had a different quality now - bigger, hotter; every stroke a hot breath of ache from shoulder to elbow. More drugs....only two hours since the last pills, but I didn't care. I visualised them killing the pain; literally. I tried to focus on my stroke, on the kayak, on the piers of Manhattan flying past as the swift tide carried me down towards the finish.

But I knew that this time I'd really 'done' something, and that to carry on swimming was to entrench the injury. It is always a choice; to stop and prevent further damage, or to carry on swimming and pay the consequences later. But with only an hour to go and the towers of lower Manhattan clearly in sight, sharp and shining in the late summer sunshine, there was no decision to make. I knew that I had a year without long swimming ahead of me - I would fix it then. For now, I would swim, happily trading the pain and the inevitable rehab for the longed-for completion of this swim on the most beautiful of blue-skied days.


** this post was edited to position it as one of a series of three, rather than two as originally planned. 






Sunday, 1 September 2013

What's next? The Long Swim takes a break...

Lots of people have been asking what's next? In particular, there's been some speculation as to whether I'll be having an end-of-season crack at the Channel after my cancellation in July. Well, I can guarantee that the answer to this is a resounding NO. I'm done for the season and am happy to finish on a high. I'm tired from a long season of training and swimming, the swimming coffers have been scraped clean by the unplanned but utterly splendid return to New York and I need to turn my attention to other very pressing matters - new job, house move etc. In addition, my swimming book is still far from written (although I'm finally making some progress with this), and Peter and I are looking forward to spending some time together walking, cycling and generally getting to know our new home. There is, so I've heard, life outside of marathon swimming, so it's time for a break from long swims to focus on some other things for a couple of years.

Having said that ... at the moment, I do see this hopefully as a hiatus rather than an end to my long swimming career, and I still have a wish list tucked away (some or all of the 8 Bridges; the Arizona SCAR swim challenge; Lake Tahoe; Zurich....). But for now, these all get to stay on the 'maybe one day' list.

So instead, I'm going to focus on my swimming technique, trying to chip away at the many flaws and bad habits that are (a) slowing me down; and more importantly, (b) causing injury. I've been having niggles with my left shoulder this year, and this escalated significantly during the swim last week. It's fairly obviously a combination of a stroke defect compounded by overuse, so it should be easy to fix - both by not overusing it for a while, and by sorting out the problem that's causing it in the first place.

I set myself a similar challenge in the winter of 2011-12, focusing on stroke correction and determined drilling; the end result was a stroke that was greatly improved (in some key areas, but not others), and an increase in long-distance pace from around 2.95-3 km/h to 3.15-3.2 km/h. It's hardly earth-shattering as great leaps forward go, but it's something, especially without any significant increases in fitness. However, bodies really cling to their habits of movement; my flailing, elbow-sinking left arm was never really resolved and the rest of me tends to fold back into its comforting old ways over time and distance, especially given my tendency towards inattention when swimming. So now's the time for another go at sorting that out...and with any luck, I'll not only deal with the shoulder problem, but also pick up a bit of extra pace. For the 8 Bridges, for example, some of the stages demand a long distance 27-28 min/mile pace, which I'm still a good couple of minutes short of, so if I want to aim for that in the future, there's work to be done.

So, that's the core plan - to work on my stroke without the distraction of a pending long swim. It is  time-manageable goal and an investment for if / when I return to long swimming. I still need to find myself a stroke correction coach to work with, but at least I have a goal to focus on. And in the mean time, I've been watching the Swim Smooth Catch Masterclass DVD, which seems like a good place to start - the opening sequences might as well be entitled "all the stuff Karen needs to sort out". Mostly, though, I just watch it and fantasise about moving to wherever that pool they use is.

The second element of "what's next?" is a cautious return to Masters swimming. By all accounts, the Leeds Masters Swimming Club is a thriving and welcoming training community, running multiple sessions each week. I must admit that the thought of going back to club swimming fills me with some trepidation after a good few years of training largely alone - I can hold my own when it comes to swimming a long way slowly on freestyle, but after that, it's not pretty. But it's a chance to learn, and perhaps to become a better all-round swimmer, as well as giving me a venue for keeping up my general fitness and the opportunity to make swimming friends in my new home town. Plus at some point I really need to learn to tumble turn without swirling my arms around in frantic windmills, so this might be my chance.

And the final part of "what's next?" is that I've been all take and not a lot of give with my swimming recently, benefitting hugely from the volunteerism of others without necessarily being in a position to reciprocate. I can't go on the boats for Channel swims and the like because....well, if you've ever seen me on a boat, you'll understand... but I do have a kayak and am hoping to offer myself services as a paddler next summer - perhaps for BLDSA events, since I know that a lot of people new to the sport want to try those but are stuck for kayak support. If anyone reading this finds themselves in that position, do get in touch and if I can help out, I will. 

So that's what's next. It doesn't have the spectacle or excitement of a long swim in the planning, but it's a way to keep a toe in the water while I'm busy with other bits of life. 

I've also decided to retire the blog for a while. I'm quite attached to my little blog, and it's fun to play with a different style of writing from my working life on a topic that I enjoy, but I think that it will be good to let it rest for a bit, for two reasons. Firstly, I doubt that the everyday reality of stroke correction and drilling in between writing new lectures is going to make for thrilling reading so I'd rather take a break than bore everyone to death; and secondly, a very tiny minority of visitors to the blog seem to have forgotten that it's just a bit of fun and it's only swimming. I've received a small number of extremely unpleasant anonymous messages recently - about my decision to cancel my Channel swim, and also following my return to New York for the MIMS "Quiet" Swim - and given that I'm not going to be up to much of interest anyway, I think it might be useful to step back and let everyone take a breath. Hopefully, both me and the blog will be back, refreshed, rejuvenated and with a much more disciplined left arm, at some point in the future. 

So it's been a great summer. And now, onto what's next... 

Saturday, 31 August 2013

No such thing as a quiet swim...

Having said in my previous post how much I preferred 'quiet' swimming....A quiet swim? I don't think so. One of the most common questions before the "quiet" MIMS swim was: "Is that Texan going to be on board again?" Happily, I was able to answer with a resounding "yes", and everyone braced themselves for a day of tweets courtesy of twitter-hacker-in-chief, Julie Farrell (@jgalswims). In real time, the Twitter feed offered a blow by blow account of how the swim was going with the kind of detail that a GPS tracker can only dream of; and as before, in retrospect, it has given me the most wonderful Twitter / photo essay of the day. And so, as I did last time, I've transcribed the tweets and pictures into a single post, comprised primarily of Julie's tweets via my account (@thelongswim), as well as a couple of interjections from others either following or also at the swim - a unique account of an amazing day.

****

Y'all? #mimsquiet

HELLO!!! It's @jgalswims and I cannot be quiet so here we go! Karen is on deck feeling spritely! #mimsquiet

I kid you not, y'all, when I tell you that this is our boat observer! #mimsquiet


Caitlin Rosen (@throwmein)
Look! @thelongswim and @jgalswims are real life people!! #mimsquiet



Ok we have boarded the boat. Here's a parting shot of Karen! Spirits high! 


This is our biggest obstacle today...It's hot, y'all, and I'm Texan! #mimsquiet


Just passed off our feed to Jeff our awesome positive kayaker! #mimsquiet


Another of Jeff! We gave him the wrong feeds already. I'm irresponsible, y'all. 


It's the swimmers! We are starting shortly. #mimsquiet


We're off!!!

Swim started at 9.39 Yankee time. We don't follow that in Texas. #mimsquiet

We're tryin to beat the Statue of Liberty ferry right now. We'll do it.


Tourists are like, is this for real? 


Karen bookin it like a bull outta the corral, y'all, all feisty n stuff. She wants this! #mimsquiet

Peter took the wheel for approximately 7 seconds. He started steering us toward England so we took it back off him.


We have all them bridges coming up ahead. The first is Brooklyn. I know my geography now y'all. I drew myself a map. #mimsquiet

This is the Brooklyn Bridge. It goes to Brooklyn. Karen just passed under it. #mimsquiet


Peter moved to the shotgun position.


Sarah Doody (@sarahdoody)
Eww, just watched some poeple doing some type of open water swim race in the East River. #NYC

@sarahdoody eww indeed. They're going to visit the Harlem river too! #mimsquiet

We're passing under the Manhattan Bridge. It goes to Manhattan. #TheMoreYouKnow


There's our Karen. Just flew under.


On the food front I've eaten: cereal and milk, a chocolate gold coin, a clif bar. Already cravin a sandwich. Could use a bag of chips. Ugh.

Just saw like, a French flag on a boat. Thanks or the statue and all, but y'all ain't welcome here. #Merica

The field. We're mostly all partying together today. #mimsquiet


Williamsburg bridge. This connects hipsters to Manhattan. The toll back is skinny jeans and obscurity. #mimsquiet


First feed. As we say in Ireland, no faffing around. She was back swimming in 15 seconds. #mimsquiet


Speaking of food, I'm so hungry I'd eat a 'dillo of the side of the road. #roadkill #fixins

That big building is the Empire State Building. Which is controversial, given that Texas is far more of an empire. 


Approaching the Chrysler Building. I don't know a thing about it.

I've just learned this is international territory!?!? Huh?!? I dunno why we surrendered that to y'all foreigners. 


Just about to pass over a feed to Jeff. This is an awesome current we're on! 


Just passing under the Queensborough bridge. It's named after the queen's borough, which we never got off the Brits. 


This current is 6.3 y'all! We're talkin near 7mph for you data nerds. Hook em!!!#mimsquiet

My anxiety is still high, but I think this is going to be a great moment for the field. #mimsquiet

We're going so fast we had to reverse the boat. Oh and FYI our boat pilot is hysterical. We love Phil!

Approaching Gracie mansion. Hellsgate ahead. Let's do this!!!

I'm no geography expert, but I believe we just passed the point where we were pulled last time. HURRAY.

Second feed. She gave us a wave! She looks fabulous and happy!

Approaching 96th Street. Footbridge ahead and then we are in the Harlem River!!!#mimsquiet #CmonKaren

Ok y'all I made it to almost 12. It's time for a SANDWICH!!! :D

No current here, but no backwards swimming so all is peachy. Nearly to the footbridge. It's used for buses because Americans don't walk.

Look it's Karen and @ThrowMeIn! They've been close by for a while. Getting it done stroke by stroke. 


We are in the Harlem people! :D #mimsquiet

Third feed! We're doing 30 min increments now. Increments...That's a word, right? Hmmmmm

In my personal news, I just peed below deck. Onboard loos a must on these things! #mimsquiet

Nothin like workin on your Peter Pan while cruising down the Harlem! #mimsquiet


Looking amazing. Water super calm. Air super hot.


Look! Karen just waved at us! Kayaker Jeff reports she is delighted right now! #mimsquiet


Feed time! jeff is basically the best kayaker ever. He feeds on the exact minute. A true gem for us!

Onlookers are taking pictures of our heroes Karen and @ThrowMeIn. 

Look where we are!! Karen has done the rest of the swim now. Repeat action commencing.  #mimsquiet


Just got an absolutely exquisite smell of a combination of trash, manure and vom. YUMMY for Karen.

In honor ('merican spelling) of this sign, I'm gonna give you some useful facts. #mimsquiet


Back when Texas was its own country (well it still is but whatever) it had a consulate in London. #Empire

Likewise, Britain had a consulate in Houston. #RespectThe Yall #ImperialistTwinsies

Unlike its less informed neighbors, your Britain realized the beauty of doing bizness with Texans. We shipped y'all supplies n stuff.

But then America stole us from our country and you were like, Americans are not to be messed with, so you ignored us for a bit. #history

But then America was like, Engliand isn't all that bad. they gave us One Direction and Boots products in Target. So we became friends.

So today in NYC, we let people like Karen come over and swim around our gorgeous island of freedom and prosperity. And trash.

So that's your history lesson today, people. Rich. Like us. #Empire

Oh and for the record, Peter has a PhD in history. He's going to really appreciate learning my knowledge.

More fun facts. There are 3 PhDs on the swim effort here today. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. Karen't wicked smart. Me? Not so much. [KT

Our Karen just lovin it out here. All smiles #mimsquiet


Just truckin along, almost time for a feed! I'm running out of food. UGH. #mimsquiet


Hey y'all. I'm on my back-up phone now. Phone #1 is charging due to Apple's splendidly horrid batteries. 


Boat captain Phil goes "first words you said to me today were 'do you have a phone charger?'" #PRIORITIES

Y'all it's hotter than a $2 pistol. #mimsquiet

Karen is the epitome of consistent. She's doin just fine. 

Ugh. It smells like BBQ. You can't wave BBQ under my nose and expect to get away with it! #mmmmfood..

We don't fly this in Texas. 


On a serious note, the big challenges today (other than swimming around Manhattan) are dehydration and the sun. It is HOT.

Here's where we are! Making amazing progress. Karen's a hero. Swimming around #NYC with class! 


Ignore our boat for a bit. We gotta book it to get past the spitten devil. Cuz that's what it's called, y'all.

[KT edit: for those who aren't familiar with the Manhattan bridges, Spuyten Duyvil is the point where the Harlem meets the Hudson at the top of Manhattan Island. When the low-clearance railway bridge there closes for a train to pass, boats can't get through. The boats all flew off to try to get through before it closed, but still all got caught in the Harlem for the best part of an hour. Swimmers and kayaks can pass easily under the closed bridge - hence the period of separation.]

Karen is well taken care of with Jeff. We will regroup in the Hudson!

YEE HAW!! Our boat's like a horse on roids!!!

C. For cookies, and chips, and crisps, and cheeseburgers, and corona, and cheddar, and corndogs, and cake.


And catfish. And crackers. And chocolate. And candy. Ok. I'll stop.

We're idling at the spittin devil. We don't speak Dutch here. 

Me and Phil the boat captain are blue bandits!!! 


Omg Karen already caught us!! Into the Hudson she goes soon! #mimsquiet


There she goes! our karen has conquered the East and Harlem. Hudson River time! #mimsquiet 


Y'all it looks like our boat could be stuck at the spittin devil for an hour. But kayaker Jeff has 3 feeds. Not ideal, but we'll be quiet.

The safety boat got through but no-one else. So here we wait. 

So y'all watching on the tracker. We are stuck until 4pm while swimmers and kayakers head on. Not good. But all swimmers are doing grand.

I'm goin swimming!!! My own MIMS.


Look at this tropical oasis!!!


Ok y'all we're about the HAWL IT down the Hudson to catch em.

Bridge is opening! Off we go.

Bye spitten devil. Off to see Karen!

So the GWB was a short photo op. We're still bookin it down to her.


LOOK WHO WE FOUND!! #mimsquiet


We just gave the yanks their first jelly babies. Spreading the good news, one baby at a time.

Karen had to get her 2 black jelly babies 30 mins late. I don't think she'll mind. Or know. :)

I am going to TEAR INTO some food when this is over. Y'all don't even know.

Can you get a happier swimmer out here?! I don't think so. I just told her the whole field is going to finish it. 


On board, we are debating the best places for pizza. I'm all for grimaldis, y'all.

See the blue dot? That's us!


Yours truly has moved to the front of the boat. I'm ready for a nap. My 10 minute swim has me wrecked. 


Karen is feeding on LEMON FLAVOUR drink. She's mixing it up! #mimsquiet

Moving back toward civilisation. I can see the (second best) Empire State Building peeking out.


The Chop is here! Nothing our Karen can't handle.

Just got an impromptu yee haw from Jeff! These waves are bullridin style.

Food on board so far: sandwich, chocolate, on large bag chips, 2 clif bars, cucumber, red pepper. For when I get off: THE WORLD

The Status of Liberty! Did you know there's a replica in France? It's tiny. They knew better than to give us theirs. 


Here's our current location. Karen is staying Hell's Kitchen. We could drop her off.


Karen is parallel to the Empire State Building.

It's so choppy we lost a gel on the handoff. #YeeHaw

"You're kind of half in this life and half in the twittersphere" - Peter.

Boat observer reckons 2 miles to go. :) let's give some twitter shoutouts to OUR HERO KAREN!!! #mimsquiet

SEE OUR DOT? WE'RE GETTING CLOSE!!!


We're just over 8 hours as Karen enters the final part of her swim. :)

This is Hoboken, where I work. it's the home of baseball which basically can be blamed for making all Americans lazy.


Within a mile. I'M SO EXCITED!!!!!! GO KAREN!!!!!

Back to where we started. Yessssss. #mimsquiet


She'll be sub-9 hours :) Nearly there!!! GO KAREN!

She's going for it! Our Karen is MINUTES  from her TRIPLE CROWN!!!!!!! #hero #mimsquiet

FINAL WALL!!! GO KAREN!!!!!


HERE WE GO!!!! Final bend!!!!!

1 min!!!!


FINISHED!!!!!

Finished swimmers just clapped the others in. True class!

KAREN THROSBY, TRIPLE CROWN HERO!!!!!

Y'all I'm tearing up over here!!! She's done it!!!

HERO!!!


We are on dry land! :) Karen is having a snack and I'm about it steal her food. 

Alright y'all it's @jgalswims signing off. I didn't want to do so until I got my burger. It's in me and I'm happy now. So BYE Y'ALL!!!!!

****

Many thanks to Julie for her Twitter marathon and a wonderfully noisy record of the "quiet" swim.