2012 Manhattan Island Marathon: Part 1


Before I tell you of my adventure in New York City, let me tell you how I came to swim around Manhattan Island. To do so I have to look back to 1982. At that time I had just graduated law school having focused my studies on Natural Resources and Environmental Law. I was competing in Masters, and swimming the best of my life. Thinking if I was every going to take a shot at something like the English Channel, that was the time. After a bit of study I decided that if I wanted to take it on, I should first attempt swimming the Catalina Channel. I hoped it would help prepare me  for what I might face in the English Channel. In addition,I was living in Oregon at the time and the Catalina Channel was both logistically, easier and more financially feasible. So I began the process of trying to learn everything I could in that pre-internet world. 

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2012 International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee Drury Gallagher 

Photograph Courtesy of Open Water Source

Around the same time, I entered a Masters Swimming meet in New York while on a trip to visit family. As was common, those of us swimming the distance freestyle events gathered together and talked while we waited for our time to swim. In a conversation I mentioned my channel dreams and someone said that I should talk to one of the swimmers who had marathon swimming experience. It was then that I was introduced to Drury Gallagher. His friends had told me of his swim around Manhattan that summer, and in our conversation Drury invited me to join him the following year. (He went on to be a cofounder of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim.) I thanked him for the invitation, but explained that the channel swims would be all I could handle. What I didn’t say was that there wasn’t anyway you could get me to swim in the notoriously polluted rivers around Manhattan. I was brought up on Long Island and lifeguarded on the ocean in Nassau County. I had heard all the rumors about the Harlem River catching fire, the vast discharge of toxic chemicals into the Hudson River and the dead bodies in the East River (while I heard about these from TV and movies apparently it's true). That was more than enough to turn me off.


Hudson River Pollution

Photograph Courtesy of Vineus (Flickr CC)

So what has changed in those 30 years that would cause me to be willing to jump into the waste-pool waters around Manhattan? Well that question does have a simple answer. The story of cleaning up the waters around Manhattan is one of the greatest environmental successes of the last 30 years. The rebirth of the waters around Manhattan is a result of decades of environmental regulation and enforcement. Politically many of those regulations are now under attack, and there are threats of gutting the enforcement of many EPA regulations which have yielded so much success. Hopefully, through the expanded use of the waters around Manhattan by swimmers, kayakers and others, and the awareness of the importance of the resource that comes with that use, these attacks will be fended off.

 Let's be honest though, there is still much work to be done to further clean up the waters around Manhattan. So as I finished up my final preparations for MIMS I tried to see the glass half full, focusing on the progress that has been made in cleaning up the waters around Manhattan, and  tried not to envision the millions of people that call the area home. I mean how bad could it be? The race would begin with the incoming tide hopefully bringing clean(er) water in from the Atlantic as I swam up the East River. So as I took my flight east I tried to maintain a positive attitude and stay relaxed. As it turned out both came easy.

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