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#iSTANDfor: finding a way

 

By Christopher Swain

What do I stand for? That’s easy: I stand for my daughters. I stand for clean water. I stand for finding a way. 

It’s after you stand up that things get real.

During my swims, I have survived collisions with boats, 12-foot waves, lightning storms, Class V rapids, plunges over waterfalls, logjams, toxic blue-green algae, Lamprey Eel attacks, jellyfish stings, oil slicks, sewage spills, and waters laced with arsenic, cyanide, dioxin, radioactive waste, PCBs, and neuro-toxic pesticides.

I have learned to push myself forward, even when I'm tired, even when I am terrified, even when I’m sick, even when I'm awash in uncertainty, even when I don't know how things will turn out, even when people close to me don't stick with me, and even when I am surrounded—by police, by dangerous fish, by dreams of loss.

To do all this, I have become the animal that can do these things.

I still wrestle with isolation, loneliness, and doubt. I am still afraid of serious injury.  But I am not afraid to die anymore. That fear got too heavy to carry. It was exhausting trying to be armored, tough, hard, and manly all the time. To save energy, I had to let all that stuff go.

After being the first person in history to do a whole bunch of badass swims, I finally got to a place where I had nothing more to prove as an athlete, which was a relief, and a gift.

Now, in my greatest moments, I swim undefended. The biggest risk I take is allowing myself to be vulnerable: just me out there in the ocean with the jellyfish and the sharks and my fears.

Nearly every day, people ask me, Why do you do these swims? What drives you? 

Sometimes I say I don’t know. 

But I do know what drives me: Love.

I love my girls. I love the water. I love the way the sea slides past my skin. I love the roar of my own breath and blood, and the feeling of being connected to everything.
For decades now, people have told me that I’m crazy to do what I do.  I tell them, well, love makes people do crazy things.

I may be flawed, wounded, damaged, and even self-absorbed. But I am not crazy.  

I believe in the beating heart of this living world. And I gave myself to the waters that surround us long ago. 

I stood up.

And now I’m free. 

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