I get to the Hudson River near Battery Park City at, like, 8:00 AM on Saturday morning for the Manhattan Island Foundation’s “Cove to Cove” swim in the Hudson River (read the background here and here). It’s freezing. Well, not freezing, but you know, if you’re going to swim in some of the same water that New York City annually dumps 40 billion gallons of untreated wastewater into, you want a little warmth. You feel you deserve a little warmth.
Anyway, I walk up to one of the organizers, and joke with her that my strategy for distinguishing myself in the swim is to come in last place. She points to a rather rotund man, already walking around in a bathing suit with his sweatshirt unzipped, proudly displaying a belly that looks not unlike the full moon. “See him,” the organizer reassures me, “you’ll never be able to swim slower than him. He always comes in last place.”
Meanwhile, I look around at the other swimmers. Most of them are doing the swim as part of a triathlon. There are a 150 swimmers altogether, 148 of them with the bodies of people who can run a gazillion miles before breakfast, plus me, plus Mr Full Moon Belly, who, pathetically, I’ve zeroed in on as my nemesis, the one I’m going to beat.
Someone says on the bullhorn that we need to strip off our clothes and walk in our bathing suits and our shoes the half a mile down to the start line. My tummy and I, self-conscious and white, looking like a manatee, lumber along with what seem to be 148 gorgeous male and female underwear models to the start, where I become friendly with this woman named Peggy.
We jump in the water and wait for the starting pistol. It’s much warmer than I thought it would be. Quite pleasant, actually. Peggy says, “Let’s swim over here, away from the crowd.” Little do I realize she is nudging me 50 yards further away from the finish line. Making my prospective swim longer, she might as well be trying to drown me.
Anyway, the start sounds, Peggy disappears like a shark through the water, and I am left looking at the back of a 148 yellow-swimming-capped heads. I swim straight into a floating log. Then some orange piece of trash. Then a lot of salty-tasting water from God knows where goes in my mouth. Then I find myself drifting away from the sea wall and out further towards the middle of the river, thinking how much I used to love being alive, when the fear of embarrassment injects me with a new-found energy.
I swim, I swim, I swim (though some people might call it drifting in the same direction as the current). I’m having a lot of fun looking at Manhattan from this perspective (what I call fun, by the way, my doctor the next day called time to have a tetanus shot). I’m swimming and I’m thinking how grateful I am to all you readers for sponsoring me—more than $2300 for charity, thank you, thank you—and I’m thinking Mr. Full Moon Belly is nowhere in sight. Him, at least, I’m going to beat. Sucker!
Suddenly, I’m climbing out of the water and it’s over. Someone puts a medal on a ribbon over my head that says “Finisher” (as opposed, I guess, to quitter). I look behind me for Mr. Full Moon Belly, but he’s nowhere in sight. I guess I really whopped his butt. Then, I turn around and there he is, already dressed (cheater!).
What’re you gonna do? It was a hell of a lot of fun. And as I said, to those of you who sponsored me, thank you. Thank you.
Photo by David Nager / Courtesy of the Manhattan Island Foundation