Danger Always Lurks In The Ocean

Danger Always Lurks In The Ocean

As the number of swimmers increases in the world of open water swimming, especially in marathon swimming, we are always reminded how risky and dangerous the sport can be – and how wonderfully valuable is a competent support team.

Marathon swimmers can never be too safe.

English Channel, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and Tampa Bay Marathon Swim pioneer Ron Collins and his experienced team proved that important point once again during Ron’s recent Catalina Channel attempt.

Trying to become the 41st person on the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming club, Ron barely remembers the events that unfolded during the last part of his swim from Catalina Island to the California mainland.

I’d love to share my story, but truth is, I wasn’t there. I barely remember Captain Greg playing the bagpipes about 30 minutes before I was pulled. The only thing I remember is about two hours later at the dock when the paramedics were attending to me. They were speaking to me, but I couldn’t understand them. I looked down at my arm and it looked white and doughy. And I was cold.”

Ron, one of the most fit 48-year-olds you will ever meet, a fearless competitor with decades of experience in rough seas, was as surprised as everyone else with the historically cold Pacific Ocean temperatures. “My pace dropped from 58 to 48 [strokes per minute]. Then to 41. That is when they decided to jump in the water and tell me that my swim was over. The fireboat came along side and one of the paramedics boarded and attended to me on the trip back to the dock. I asked for a warm shower, but they didn’t because that may have put me into cardiac arrest.”

Ron didn’t describe his crew as merely professional or simply competent. “They were heroic.”

This was a very close call. It was several hours before I returned to this world fully. That water temperature was well under 60°F (15.5°C) by the end and I was not able to prepare for that type of condition. I owe my life to Beth Barnes, Lynn Kubasek, Don Van Cleve, Bruce Newell and Captain Greg Elliot.”

The ubiquitous Forrest Nelson was with Ron’s wife at the finish and later stayed with Ron and his wife in the hospital until Ron recovered. “I barely remember being put onto the ambulance and being taken to St. Mary’s Trauma Center where they took my temperature: 91°F (32.7°C) about three hours after leaving the water. It took about 12 hours to get my body temperature back up to 98.6°F (37°C).”

As Ron told Terry Tomalin, he trained up to 30 miles a week, but had dropped 20 pounds in three months. “I thought that if I were a little leaner, I would go faster.”

He did hold a nice steady pace throughout the night in the 59-61°F water, but a few miles from shore where the water temperature takes another dip downwards, Ron’s stroke count similarly dropped – and he refused a feeding. First, he swam into his kayak on one side, then the support boat on the other. His support team then knew to pull the plug.

A paramedic confirmed Ron’s severe case of hypothermia and his team rushed him to a nearby hospital.

But Ron’s inner drive – even after just being released from the hospital – never ceases.

Honestly, I’m not crushed that my swim ended two miles before the finish. The Triple Crown will just have to wait. I know I’ll be back to do it again, and will finish it when the conditions permit.”

But the overriding lesson in this was his crew who recognized problems and immediately jumped in to halt the swim and pull Ron to safety.

Everyone should have such excellent crew, good friends and emergency contingency plans.

For more photos, visit here.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones