by Andrew Malinak

Upon my return to Seattle, surprisingly high on the list of questions posed to me was this: did you get anything?

8 Bridges was not an insignificant event in my swimming life. I learned a lot, and ended up with a few new things to add to my nektonic resume. Of all the things people could and did ask me, this is that most puzzling. What did you get?

You mean, like a ribbon? I’d have been insulted. A free tee shirt? Please, don’t.

Now I’ve never been a big fan of swag. My life is littered with event ribbons and medals, the ones that didn’t get left behind or end up in the trash. They show up under car seats, at the bottom of swim bags, under my desk at work. And gift bags? Anti-chlorine shampoo and a discounted wetsuit rental aren’t really up my alley. At the end of 8 Bridges, I’d collected four pint glasses, but nothing else. And it didn’t matter. Swimming: I’m in it for the free junk like I’m in it for the money.

So what did I get?

I got to spend a week on the Hudson with Rondi and John, some of my favorite swim people. I got to watch Dave and Greg coordinate seven marathon swims, learning things that I’m sure will come in handy in my future. I even got to spend two weeks with my dad, two mostly painless weeks. This last one is something that greatly surprised me and, someday, I’ll probably admit that it was quite pleasant.

I got some great experience on pushing myself. I learned more about personal nutrition and muscle recovery than I’ll ever learn anywhere else. I got practice at breaking in a new kayaker, and I’ll be able to do it even better next time. I learned how to slow down, and how to speed up. I learned what it really means to lose track of time.

I got a new personal record for longest swim, nine hours twenty-two minutes. I think I set a few men’s course records. I did not break any of Grace’s records. In the end, I got my name at the bottom of a very short list; a list I inhabit with only two other names, very respectable names: Rondi and Grace.

I got a memento for completing Stage 5, a framed picture. It is the only thing hanging on the walls of my home, and it means more to me than I care to say.

Et cetera et cetera.

Did I get a finisher’s medal, or win a gift card in a post-swim raffle?  No. That would have ruined everything.