Swimming With the Iron Cowboy

Last Saturday I had the opportunity, along with about 100 other people, to swim with the Iron Cowboy on his final swim of the 50 / 50 / 50 challenge.  I was supposed to be at the SLOW Swim Camp, but we had just come home from a week long trip and my family wasn't up for another weekend away.  It was also my birthday, and I typically go for a swim somewhere to celebrate.

I got up early so that I could be at Deer Creek at 5:30am.  I was surprised by how many people were already there and had a hard time finding a place to park.  I happened to park right next to Jill and Erin and we walked down to where everyone else was waiting.  We also ran into Etsuko when we got over to the main group.

We hung around for a while until the door of the RV opened and James Lawrence (aka the Iron Cowboy) stepped into the doorway.  He had a couple guys help him down and then he was lost in the crowd, who were all taking pictures with him.

I don't know what was going on behind the scenes, but the event was not very well organized.  If there was a pre-swim meeting, I must have missed it.  Eventually everyone just started walking down towards the water, so I followed.  It was pretty chilly that morning and I was one of maybe four people who was going to be swimming without a wetsuit.  The water was cold right near the shore, but warmed up quite a bit once you got further out.  My watch read 71 degrees when I finished.

There wasn't really an official start and people just kind of started swimming down Wallsburg Bay.  There were supposed to have been several buoys in the water, marking various distances, but the only time I saw them was hanging over the side of a boat.  There was a State Parks boat in the water and a few people out on kayaks or paddleboards keeping an eye on people.

I swam out easy and just enjoyed myself.  I was following a couple of guys who were in the lead and kept stopping, trying to figure out where to go.  Eventually, we got to the white buoys near the opening of the bay, and several people turned around there.  I was just going to swim to the ramp and back, but noticed the two guys who were ahead of me were swimming towards a boat, so I followed them.  We got to the boat and were told that it was the turnaround.  Rory Duckworth and Rob Johnson were right behind me.  Rob told me he appreciated being able to draft on me.  After hanging out for a bit, we decided to head back.

The swim to the turnaround boat was an easy warm-up and I wanted to push myself on the way back.  It was a little choppy outside the bay, but not too bad, and it calmed down once I got back inside the "no wake" zone.  We were swimming into the sun and it was hard to tell where the finish was.  A few times I ran myself into some shallow water and had to move back into deeper water.  I was going at a decent pace and felt pretty good.

I noticed a group of about 5-6 people who had stopped and were standing on the shore.  I'm not sure if someone was having a problem or if they were just resting.

I finished and got dried off and talked to Mark Belnap a little bit.  He was one of the few other swimmers there without a wetsuit.  As I was getting dressed, Rob and Rory finished.

We all watched the Iron Cowboy come back in, surrounded by a big group of swimmers who were yelling at him and encouraging him to keep going.  They kept checking his watch to see how far he had gone, and he had to swim back and forth a little bit until he hit 2.4 miles.  At times it looked like some of the group was pushing or pulling him along.  When he got out, the crowd cheered and he was surrounded by more people taking pictures.  He was shaking pretty bad and was being bundled up in blankets, towels, and jackets.  Honestly, he looked like he was in rough shape.  But who wouldn't be after doing 49 Ironmans in 49 days in 49 states?

One of the guys who was with him was cheering that they didn't have to swim anymore and that they hated swimming.  I overheard some other people on the way back to the parking lot talking about how they disliked swimming too.  I understand that it can be hard for those who haven't grown up swimming and are new to the sport.  If anyone reading this is in the same boat that these swimmers are, come swim with me and the SLOW team and we'll try to help you enjoy it.

When we got back to the parking lot, there were already a ton of cyclists there waiting to ride with the Iron Cowboy.  It was pretty cool how much support he had.  I read on Facebook that some people were going to do the whole Ironman with him that day for the first time.

It's a pretty inspiring story and was being done for a great cause (to raise awareness of child obesity and eating well).  I can't imagine the pain and mental challenges he must have endured and it makes me think that I am capable of accomplishing more than I thought I could.

1 comment:

Erin said...

It was fun to see you at the event. I did it without a wetsuit and was cold the entire time, but I haven't done much open water swimming this year. I agree with you and about the event not being well planned out or organized. They had the buoys, but didn't put them in the water which was surprising. When I got to the end of the Bay, there wasn't even a boat! There was nothing to indicate where to turn around. I based it purely on time and where other people were turning around.

I also agree with you about the Iron Cowboy. He looked truly awful both at 5:30 a.m. and then at the end of the race. I can't even imagine how brutal that would be on your body.

Still, it was fun to see someone make history and I got a free swim out of it.