It is officially 7:30 am, cloudy as always in the great north city that is Chicago, and I am awake. Not only awake but already working. Why? Gasp! Would a Swish girl be awake working at such an hour? Ok, maybe awake to surf or yoga but work? What is happening to me here at home?
Never fear friends! I am not afraid of turning into an overachiever. I think I will always be more partial to a laid back vibe than trying too hard at anything. Typical Swish beach bummage dies hard and all that. I am awake now (but will be taking a siesta shortly despite best efforts in an hour or so for sure) as I want to record my morning. What could you call it....experience? More like minor cardiac arrest, a state that I never thought about experiencing rocking through my body. The descriptive words are due to escape me, hence the 7:30 accounting.
So, I swam in Chicago's great Lake Michigan this morning at 5:30 am with the wild man, Jesse Levin. I know Jesse as he is the Senior Cultural Chameleon for Brooklyn Boulders. A rock climbing gym from obviously Brooklyn, NY that is opening in Chicago's West Loop that promises to "offer progressive climbing and fitness experiences while providing an unconventional platform to bring the arts, music, and entrepreneurial communities together." Anyone else excited? So BKB Chicago is still being built and Jesse has been sent here as a Chicago neophyte to break the trail for BKB Chicago. I am still not sure despite spending a tortuous and lovely (perhaps a Jesse specialty?) morning with this community master if his 5:30 am habit of swimming in Lake Michigan in temperatures that only this weekend he claims have gotten warm at a breezy tropical like temp of 17 degrees Celsius (or 63 degrees F for you true Americans), can be called normality for him or spawn from new city boredom. He mentioned over much needed coffee at pretty much the only place open at 6 am after our "swim" that he is pro-gun due to all his time spent running disaster relief programs in Haiti, so I think we can all come to the conclusion that swimming in a freezing lake is perhaps more on the normalcy scale than not for my new friend.
I got back to Chicago from Miami last week and had texted Jesse to see if he wanted to grab lunch to which he responded, "sure but how about a swim?" I had seen Jesse's "swims" on FB posts and dubbed them in my mind more as "polar soul sucking vortex half drownings." Crazy bastard I would laugh. Oh god, did he mean to ask me to join in one of those? Uff, my hands immediately started to sweat and I loudly announced to my father and sister in the throws of morning coffee Jesse's crazy idea for tropical me. My father told me to "not die" which I thought was ludicrous until I googled findings and indeed two swimmers had just died a couple Wednesdays earlier of hypothermia that takes only minutes to set in in water of this temperature. Now I was not just dreading this, I was actually a little afraid. To put this in perspective though, for those of you that know me, I have accumulated an easy 3,000 submerged hours in the water teaching and otherwise. But all in tropical waters. The coldest water I have experienced was during my brief stint in Egypt working on liveaboards with water about 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 F) and the Cenotes in Mexico get about 24 degrees (75.2 F). 17 C (62 F) was going to be a whole other journey...But I own a wetsuit company so how can one say no? So I said yes and then let it plague me my weekend forward.
The night before our jaunt I had not heard from Jesse and maybe saw glimmers of hope I might be freed of this death swim when I broke down and texted him at 10 pm. Shoot, we were on. I got a text within a few minutes telling me an insulated swimming cap is a good idea. Apparently Jesse swims in nothing else but a cap and swim trucks. Are you starting to get a picture of this man? Needless to say, I had some splotchy sleep and even my dog was not excited to wake up at 5 am. At 5 am this morning Chicago was already a nice balmy grey 54 degrees F so I was already cold coming from Miami and all. I hop into Jesse's car and the vibe is great, I am feeling better. We arrive after a winding trip as I am not sure where we are trying to get to and Jesse is unsure where we are going period. I put on my Swish Wetsuit (www.swishsuits.com) and I see the gorgeous downtown Chicago skyline, the cloudy morning rising over the Drake Hotel. I start feeling jazz music and cognac curse through my veins (I mean I am deep down from here after all). I start to actually get a little excited about this and then......
"I refuse to put my face in, I refuse to put my face in, I refuse to put my face in." I just could not feel my arms, like I know they were supposed to be moving but I couldn't see them move and believe me my face was above water water so I could see them. Then they pretty much stopped moving all on their own. Pinching, what is pinching me? I am getting pinched, put your face in the water Chelsea dammit, move your arms, pinching ouch pinching, I cannot breath, like wow I cannot breath. Is this the beginnings of hypothermia, it is, I know it is. The breathing, why is air not going into my lungs, because at this point I could actually feel my lungs. Every breath entering my lungs felt like getting your tongue frozen to ice. And brain freeze, I had the worst brain freeze of my life, but not in my brain (as I could not bring myself to put my head in the water) but in my heart. I had heart freeze. My heart so far from my Swish tropical waters had just given up. I felt it shrink up to a hard little ball and start moving up to my throat in efforts to escape the cold I can only imagine. And then I was doggie paddling....oh how the mighty have fallen. I actually pride myself on my aquatic abilities and though never have I been much of a swimmer, I can and have knocked out a mile of swimming a few times in my life with moderate effort. But this, this was the beginning of death I am sure. Poor Jesse, I am sorry my friend. After probably 2 minutes maximum I had made it from one lake ladder to the next and I was toast. I shame faced paddled over and got out of the death water. I could tell Jesse was a little disappointed the great Swish CEO and mermaid extraordinare had made it maybe 3 feet as he had a lot more death swimming in him but he was oh so very nice about my failure.
And you know what the truly astonishing and slightly sick part of this all is? I will be back. Maybe it is the mermaid in me that never fails in the water, but something in my death swim struck a cord and I want more. How? I do not know and I am already dreading it. But I will be back Lake Michigan my friend.....I will be back. So you said Saturday Jesse? Any takers?