by Andrew Malinak
I’m no good at painting, and my drawing is representative at best. I lack the steady hand and focus of a sculptor. Sometime I wonder what, if I could play an instrument, beautiful sounds and rhythms I might create. I dream of being an artist, but I’ve only found one medium I understand well enough to make anything worthwhile.
As this past winter approached, I went looking for a fight. With a map open like many times before, I looked at my beach, then the downtown waterfront to the right. To the left, I looked at my past swims, circling islands with my mouse, eyes darting from bay to point to pass. Farther out now, it’s just blue ocean green land with Puget Sound weaving in between. City names are overlain, like small advertisements asking for my attention. Seattle: home. Tacoma: a promising playground to the south. Olympia: the bottom of the Sound. Olympia: a place I consider too far to drive to. Olympia: the place beyond which there is no more water. Seattle: home. Olympia. Seattle. Shit.
I was looking for a fight. Not just a physical challenge, I’ve been there before and won enough times. Not just a tricky tide to beat, that’s become child’s play. I wasn’t just after something difficult. It was the moment that I thought this swim was impossible that I knew I was stuck with it. The next nine months would be not just filled with the usual training and all the baggage that it brings me, but there would be a nagging dread that I’d picked a swim which first made me think “that’s impossible.”
I started training and kept it a secret for a month until I had the courage to look at a map again. Its 53 miles between the two. That’s more than two tide cycles, so at least twice I would have to face off against the tides, and pray that I’d be rewarded when it was my turn to move forward. I’d face cold water. I’d face jellyfish and kelp and at then at night I’d swim past the place my dad and I once chased after a pod of orcas. I’d have four ferry lanes, one shipping channel, and a busy harbor to cross. I’d swim north, into the prevailing wind for a full day. It terrified me then, and it terrifies me now.
On Saturday mornings, I swim to the lighthouse at my beach. I’m a few yards past the edge of Seattle, with a fresh-rain-and-pine-tree breeze snapping my attention to the present. From there, I can see two and a half hours south to the top of Vashon Island, where on Sunday I’ll pop out at the end of the ebb and slowly turn east swimming to where I now tread water. Turning around, I can see the finish line, another two hours east with the Space Needle marking the beach I’ll aim for from the spot where I now tread water. Sometimes I hate this swim for the fears it makes me face, but something about this view tells me I’m on the right path.
This swim has been carefully sculpted, patiently crafted, and lovingly built. I am an artist. Swimming is my medium. This is my performance.