Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.

Rikki Rogers

Out of the entire 1,500 miles we had planned for our journey, these 1.6 miles were the ones I was most anxious to complete.

The funny thing is, I LOVE TO SWIM! It’s my absolute favorite. I’m like a fish in the water and I’m 100% confident in my swimming ability.

But jumping off a ferry into the ocean was totally out of my comfort zone. A fear of the unknown. I’d grown up swimming in beautiful, crystal blue lakes in Michigan. This would be my first time ever swimming in the ocean.

The race was also called the “Sharkfest” swim which added to my trepidation.

We had just arrived in San Francisco the day before on our bikes and were on a total high of realizing we were more than halfway down the coast. Riding across the Golden Gate Bridge, I had looked down at the water and thought to myself, “Holy moly, I’m going to be swimming this entire thing.” Now from that high up, I can tell you, the water did look a little ominous. 

The morning of the race, I was surrounded by my teammates cheering me on, which gave me immense confidence I could do it. Even though I’d be swimming it alone, I knew they were there with me in spirit. I thought back to all my open water swims I led with my friends in Northern Michigan and how much fun it was, and reminded myself of how much fun this swim was going to be, even with the extra logistical complications of being an amputee.

As an amputee, transitioning in and out of an open water swim adds a layer of complexity.

Where do you put your leg? And how do you safely hop or crawl out at the end? Since my leg is not waterproof (insurance believes this feature is a convenience item and not “medically necessary,” and will therefore not pay for it), I take it off and swim without it. I have to trust it will be there at the end.

For this swim, anything left on the ferry would be thrown away and the exit out of the water was going to be rocky. Luckily, we were able to coordinate a solution ahead of time.

Before boarding the ferry I gave my good leg to my friends for safekeeping and put on an old leg that barely fit to hobble my way on the ferry. Our camera crew agreed to bring the old leg back with them after they caught a Lyft at Fisherman’s Wharf (where the ferry was headed next). I knew that if it did get lost, or thrown away, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. My friends were also prepared to help me out of the water at the end if I felt it was too rocky to crawl or hop out. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! And there are always friends, and even strangers, to help.

As I took my leg off, in preparation to jump off the ferry for the start of the swim, my thoughts drifted to my mom, Nat, and Kathleen. They had each taken on unique fears for this trip to make Forrest Stump possible. My mom, driving the camper down the 101. Kathleen, learning how to bike. Nat, crashing her bike and working up the courage to get back on again.

It was my turn to face my fears. I was ready.

With this decision made up in my mind, the higher powers decided to grant me a gift. It was time for a little humor to put my fears into perspective.

One last swimmer remained on the boat with me. Another woman I had seen on the ferry with a towel wrapped around her. As I made my way to the edge to jump off, I looked back to say goodbye to my film crew. As I did, the woman ripped off her towel. Underneath, she was butt naked with only a string of pearls wrapped around her neck!

And with that, I thought “How bad could this really be? She’s doing it naked!” And so I jumped off into the deep!

I was also so distracted in that moment that I forgot my goggles were still on my swim cap. With the force of jumping in the water, they sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

At first, I’ll have to admit, I was a little freaked out. I treaded water and looked up at Chris, the director of our documentary, who was still on the ferry to see if he could see them, but realized quickly I need to swim away from the boat for safety. I then asked the police officer nearby if he had any extras. He didn’t. At this point, the gun had already gone off and I was at least 200 yards behind the start of the pack. So I started busting my butt to catch up. A fellow kayak volunteer nicknamed me “no goggles,” and told me I had a strong stroke and to keep it up. I finally caught up to the pack and then made it a goal to start passing people.

I thought, “If I can swim this without a leg, then I sure as heck can swim this without goggles!”

With this new mindset, I got in a rhythm and kept one eye open for sighting. The saltwater fogged up my contacts and I had to wipe my eyes off every now and then, but I was doing it.

I didn’t finish first. I also didn’t finish last. And without my goggles, I didn’t see any sharks. And for that I was happy.

My thanks go out to the naked Pearl Lady. Thank you for giving me the gift of laughter to face my fears. And showing us that we can all take life a little less seriously. 

Asked if I would do it again, I said “Yes! In a heartbeat.” Proof that strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.

Green Cap Girl

I had a blast waiting on the ferry with the other swimmers for our jump into 60 degree water! I stood out like a sore thumb with my green cap, which I wore so that our documentary crew could spot me in the water. Being the only person missing a leg also made me stick out, a little. When I picked up my registration I was asked if I wanted to compete in the “Physically Challenged” category. I asked if there was anyone else in the category besides myself. They said no. So, I said no. I’m fine with competing against myself, but I also wanted to see how I stacked up to everyone else.

No Fin to Fear

While doing the Sharkfest Swim, I met actor Paul Blackthorne, from Arrow. Incredible guy. Who also happens to be afraid of sharks and deep water. Why was he doing the swim? To raise awareness and funds for Ocean Conservancy, and just perhaps conquer his own fears in pursuit of something bigger than himself. Given my own passion for sustainability, had to give a shout out to his #NoFinToFear and #WereAllInThisTogether T-shirt campaign. He did a great job on the swim.