One of their own: When the rapids took the life of Shannon Christy, local kayakers refused to leave her behind.

WILL SEEBER wasn’t worried at first.

The 24-year-old Bethesda kayaker had made his way down the Potomac River with fellow paddler Shannon Christy, so together they could run Great Falls, some of the most treacherous white water in the world.

As Seeber weaved through whirlpools and waves on the way to the falls in C&O Canal National Historical Park on that July afternoon last year, he could see Christy, a 23-year-old kayaker from South Carolina, paddling straight ahead. Seeber assumed she would stop to wait for him before attempting the difficult “line,” or path of descent, down the falls.

“I realized at the last second, ‘Oh, she’s not even stopping,’ ” Seeber says. “I wasn’t worried at that point. She paddled into it with purpose, and hit the line perfectly.”

Photo of Will Seeber by Skip Brown, courtesy of Bethesda Magazine.

Photo of Will Seeber by Skip Brown, courtesy of Bethesda Magazine.

Seeber paddled quickly to catch up, running the first waterfall right behind Christy, but found no sign of her. Assuming that Christy had continued down the falls, he kept paddling. He glimpsed Christy’s red boat above a section of the rapids known as the Five Fingers.

Then Seeber spotted the young woman.

She was trying to swim in full paddling gear, but the current was sweeping her downstream toward a dangerous death trap of water and rock called the Subway. As Seeber began sprinting toward her, Christy disappeared beneath the churning water.

By the end of that day, Christy’s disappearance had sparked a search involving dozens of kayakers and highly trained swift-water rescuers from Montgomery and Fairfax counties who took to the water in heavy-duty inflatable boats as news helicopters buzzed overhead, broadcasting the drama to the entire nation. For the elite local kayakers who would risk their lives to recover Christy’s body, the day would forever change the way they viewed the sport they loved.

But at first, it was just Seeber, furiously back-paddling away from the deadly channel in shock, trying to figure out how to save his friend.

To read more of this story, please visit Bethesda Magazine’s website.

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Race report: Fourth Annual Summer Super Splash Open Water Swim

A funny thing happened at the Fourth Annual Summer Super Splash Open Water Swim last Saturday.

As I started the 1-mile race in Thirteenth Lake, in North River, N.Y., I found myself in the lead. Not in the lead pack, but in the lead. I looked around for feet to draft behind, and found none. I laughed to myself as I thought about the half-joking advice that Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky’s mom used to give her: “Just go out and take the lead and try to keep it.”

Would you believe that I did just that?

First, a word about the location: Thirteenth Lake is stunningly beautiful, with crystal-clear water surrounded by green mountain peaks. Every breath made me feel grateful for my ability to experience the world from such an amazing front-row seat.

Beautiful Thirteenth Lake the day of the Fourth Annual Super Summer Splash 1-mile Open Water Swim.

Thirteenth Lake the day of the Fourth Annual Super Summer Splash 1-mile Open Water Swim.

And a word about the race itself: I was supposed to be backpacking last weekend, so I prepared for the race as I would for a casual hiking trip: By undertaking a (not easy) lifting and rowing workout the afternoon before the race and by drinking two (not weak) margaritas post-workout. I drove up to the race, located about an hour north of Saratoga Springs, with a swimmer-friend from Saratoga. When we arrived, we both wondered aloud whether the dozen or so hard-core-looking swimmers gathered on the beach were as fast as they looked.

Now. Where was I? Oh, yes—in the lead!

I decided almost immediately to not freak about about the fact that I was out in front. I did wonder, in some secret corner of the back of my head, when (not if, but when) one of the wetsuit swimmers was going to pass me. Every time that thought popped into my head, I swam a little faster. Every time I swam a little faster, I reminded myself to hold back a bit until the second loop of the two-loop course.

In what felt like an instant later, I was done with the first loop. I tried to peek behind me as I breathed to gauge how much of a lead I had. The fact that I couldn’t see anyone didn’t help me lose the feeling that a pack of wetsuit-clad swimmers was on my heels, in some sort of weird lake-borne blind spot. So I swam faster. I wondered: Is it possible that someone passed me without my noticing?

Here’s the cool thing, though: I mostly just swam, not thinking anything at all. The thoughts popped into my head and flowed right back out, trailing behind my as if with my wake. If I could manage this level of Zen out of the water, I would be the happiest, most peaceful woman alive.

As I rounded the corner of the last buoy of the rectangular-shaped course, I thought to myself: “Here’s where you sprint.” And I did, in one of those cathartic, all-out efforts that feels like it is about more than just swimming, as if I could outpace every insecurity and heartache I’d ever felt by kicking a little harder.

I noticed a kayaker keeping pace with me, like the motorcycle leading a road race. I felt like a celebrity. Then, I heard the kayaker whistle loudly. I stopped short. She motioned that I was about to turn left too soon.

“Do I go over there?” I panted, treading water and nodding toward another set of buoys. The kayaker nodded, smiling.

“Thanks!” I shouted, pausing to look around before making a beeline for those buoys.

I ran across the finish line with glee, but also with the disorientation that accompanies every open-water swim.

“I’m first-first?” I said to the guys standing at the timing mat. “Like first of EVERYONE?”

They nodded. “By a lot,” said one of them, smiling.

I sat on a rock to catch my breath and turned toward the water. He was right—the next swimmer was a minute and a half behind me.

I remember rejoicing about breaking 30 minutes in the 1-mile GCBS Bay Challenge in 2009. On Saturday, I clocked in at 26:55. Although it’s hard to compare any one open-water swim to any other, this still feels like a bit of a milestone. As I told Steve later to explain my win: “I think it wasn’t because other people were slow; I think it was because I was kind fast!”

There are a lot of reasons we swim (and run, and bike, and ski, and otherwise play outside): For fun, for adventure, for mental clarity and peace. Last weekend was a reminder that we also swim as a reminder that we always have the capacity to surprise ourselves.

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Another day, another lake: Open-water swimming in Lake Desolation

The invitation came at the end of a swim workout at the YMCA, from a random guy I’d been sharing a lane with. I told him I swim at Moreau Lake with the Saratoga Triathlon Club on Thursday nights. He said he swims with a group at Lake Desolation every Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. Did I want to join them?

I gave him my email address. Because when a man you don’t know invites you to a place called Lake Desolation, the right thing to do is accept. (Right?)

I was added to a distribution list of a couple dozen other swimmers, and on Saturday morning, I hopped in my car and drove to a lake house down a long dirt road for the swim.

I was relieved to arrive right after the woman who owns the lake house (I KNOW—women can be mass murderers, too). I felt even better when a gal I know from the ski patrol arrived shortly after. With my safety taken care of, I started thinking about warmth, and pulled my wetsuit out of its mesh storage bag. I asked the lake-house owner if she thought it was wetsuit weather.

“It’s whatever you’re comfortable with,” she said. “You’ll probably catch some flak for wearing one, but then, everyone will be jealous.”

Water temperature: 70 degrees. Air temperature: 50 degrees. How bad could this be? I put my wetsuit back in my bag, determined to fit in with the cool kids.

This action didn’t make me a cool kid so much as a freezing-cold kid. Note to self: The air temperature really is as important as the water temperature. I shivered my way through the first hundred yards or so, trying to will my muscles not to seize up. Making it bearable was the fact that this was one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Photo of Lake Desolation taken just before my morning swim.

Photo of Lake Desolation taken just before my morning swim.

I didn’t really warm up at any point; I also didn’t think much about the cold after the initial shock wore off. I think this is the purest definition of meditation: Being fully aware of your current reality; accepting that reality; and finding your bliss right then, right there.

And bliss it was: I could have stayed in for hours, swimming from dock to dock in that gorgeous, clear water. I got out with the rest of the group, and enjoyed coffee with them on a deck overlooking the lake. I joked about the cold (“I can’t feel my toes—but they’ll grow back, right?”). They joked about the sketchy way I found out about the group (“Honey, we need to have a conversation about stranger danger,” said one woman whose feet I followed throughout the swim). I told them I’d come back again and again, with a huge grin on my face.

“It never gets old, does it?” one guy said.

Nope. Never.

 

 

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Cool, green peace: First open-water swim of the season

A swimmer-friend once told me that every open-water swim begins in the same way: With confusion, crankiness and occasionally with a mad scramble of arms and legs during a pack start.

The confusion and crankiness were in full effect as I began my first open-water swim of the season at Moreau Lake last night. Crankiness because it was cold, and because my wetsuit felt tight in all the wrong places (swimmer rule: Your wetsuit always fit better last year. These things shrink a little every winter). Confused because the first buoy was farther away than I remembered, and because I couldn’t remember why I was doing this to begin with.

My mental dialogue for the first 300 meters of the 900-meter loop sounded like this:

Cold. Swim faster to get warm. Still cold. Swim faster. Aaaack. Stupid wetsuit. Too tight. Too fat. Don’t say that to yourself! Too cold. Swim faster. Aaaaack. I can get out after two loops.

Moreau

Moreau Lake was beautiful last night, my first open-water swim of the year with Saratoga Triathlon Club.

There must be something magical about that first buoy, because every time I pass it—in any swim, anywhere—I feel a beautiful sense of peace come over me. The thoughts bouncing around in my head disappear as quickly as they came. It’s just the rhythm of my arms pulling and the cool, green-blue water.

The wind started to whip up the lake into frothy mini-whitecaps after I swam two loops of the course, but there was no way I was getting out. It was too much fun—not just in spite of the waves, but because of them. In fact, I swam four laps of our triathlon club’s course in the hour-long swim. This is something I’ve only done once before. I wasn’t looking to swim long—I was just having too much fun playing to get out.

“I felt like a hero,” my friend Lisa said after the swim, and I knew exactly what she meant.

 

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Adventures in mindfulness: links, guided meditations, inspirations

I started this blog to share my adventures in running, swimming, skiing and other forms of playing outside. I feel happiest and most comfortable when I’m active, so my latest adventure is admittedly a bit of a departure.

I first stumbled across one of the guided meditations that I now listen to daily a few years ago, while I was researching a story about self compassion. Curious, I bookmarked one of the mp3s on self-compassion expert Kristin Neff’s website, and vowed to listen to it before I went to sleep that night.

Let me be clear: I had no illusions before that night that I was some calm-minded Zen master. Still, listening to Neff’s compassionate body-scan recording as I lay in bed, I was shocked to learn that a crazy, free-for-all parade of thoughts marches through my head before I fall asleep. As I followed Neff’s cues to tune in to the sensations in my body—as simple as the feeling of the back of my head meeting my pillow—I felt myself relaxing, almost against my will. And then it was morning, and I’d enjoyed the best night of sleep in recent memory.

At first, I thought of meditation as a bit of a one-night stand—something I tried once, but was uncertain I wanted to commit to. Listen to a guided meditation late at night when I can’t fall asleep? Sure! Sit on a cushion and find a way to keep my mind empty for a whole 20 minutes? I am waaay too Type-A for that. (I KNOW—you’re going to tell me the thing about that being like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath. I clearly had a lot to learn.)

It wasn’t until I talked about meditation with a grief counselor I spoke to after my dad died in 2012 that I began to understand that meditation isn’t necessarily about totally emptying your mind for 20 minutes, but about being present enough to observe what’s happening in your mind for any amount of time at all, whether that’s a weeklong silent-retreat or two minutes of focusing on your breath. I also began to understand that even if you spend two minutes focusing on your breath and a third minute watching thoughts pop up in your head like rabbits popping in and out of burrows in the ground, that’s still super, and still counts as meditating.

Fast-forward two years. I have taken meditation classes in which the instructor talks about the third eye, and in which I have been unfazed by mentions of the third eye. I’ve read and re-read (and re-read) The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I don’t like falling asleep without a recorded body-scan meditation—a practice I have since learned is referred to as “beditation.” And rather than shying away from meditation because I’m “not good at it,” I’m accepting the challenge of admitting that I am not, and will never be, perfect at this—that perfection isn’t even the goal.

I’m posting this today for a few reasons:

1. To explain where I’ve been. I’m still swimming and running and hiking and biking and skiing; I’m also just doing a lot more BEing, which isn’t such great blog-post fodder.

2. To set a public goal that I will meditate once a day in May. Since “beditating” is already part of my daily routine, my goal is to branch out and actually “sit” for at least five minutes daily.

3. To share what’s helped me in case any of you are looking to get started in mindfulness meditation. My two favorite sources of guided meditations are Self-Compassion.org, where you’ll find several wonderful guided meditations from Kristin Neff, the aforementioned self-compassion expert; and UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center.

Mindful.org is a also fabulous clearinghouse for all things mindfulness.

What role, if any, does meditation play in your life? Any links to guided meditations to share? Let me know by posting a comment below.

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Copycat KIND Oats & Honey Clusters granola

I can’t say for sure when I first discovered KIND Oat and Honey Clusters, otherwise known as the most delicious granola on the face of the planet. I can tell you that my life—or at least my breakfasts—haven’t been the same since. The weird, nutty quinoa-crunch of it is the perfect complement to homemade yogurt and blueberries (is it blueberry season in Upstate New York yet? No? Darn.). oat_honey_517x681With unconventional granola ingredients such as quinoa, amaranth and millet, I somehow assumed this style of granola would be too tricky to make at home. A book called The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making and a couple of recipes on Glutenfreeonashoestring.com changed my mind.

From the book, I got the best tip ever about baking granola: That you should do so at 250 degrees in the top two-thirds of your oven for multiple hours, and that you should leave the granola in the cool oven for several more hours once it’s done cooking, so it will harden and crisp more. Cookbook author Alana Chernila is a genius for this suggestion, in addition to the inclusion of sea salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract.

From the recipes—one for peanut-butter granola and another for maple-quinoa clusters—I learned to stop worrying and love my buckwheat groats. So last weekend, I purchased those and several other grains (amaranth, millet, brown-rice flour, brown-rice cereal) from the bulk section of Healthy Living Market in Saratoga, our local natural-foods store, and got busy baking with a goal of imitating my own favorite KIND flavor, Oats & Honey Clusters with Toasted Coconut.

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First, I mixed the dry ingredients (rolled oats, quinoa, buckwheat groats, flax seeds, rice flour, almonds, cinnamon, sea salt and other stuff shown above and listed below) together in a large pot.

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I then combined the wet ingredients (vanilla, plus a surprisingly small amount of maple syrup, honey and canola or safflower oil) and mixed the whole mess together. Then, I poured the whole mess onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. That’s it for your prep work!

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I cooked my first batch at 250 degrees for an hour and a half, mixing the granola and shuffling the trays once every 30 minutes. I think I left the second batch in there for four hours without any shuffling at all, and it was just as good, if not better. In both cases, it filled the house with an amazing nutty-cinnamony-vanilla aroma, like a fancy candle. (Yankee Candle Co.: “Maple-quinoa granola” is trademark Amy Reinink 2014, got it?).

In both cases, I let the granola sit in the cool oven overnight, which I’m convinced made it extra-crispy.

This stuff is so amazing, I’ve had to make extra yogurt to keep up with my consumption.

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The details:

6 tablespoons brown rice flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1/4 cup whole grain millet and/or amaranth

1/4 cup buckwheat groats

1/4 cup quinoa

1/4 cup shredded coconut

5 cups rolled oats

3 cup crispy brown rice cereal (I used Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal)

1/2 cup safflower oil (KIND uses canola oil, but I had safflower on hand)

1/4 c maple syrup

1/4 c honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Follow instructions above. Devour. And be sure to let me know which variations you tried!

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First day of spring: Getting through the slush with dreams of lake swims

Saratoga Springs rang in the first day of spring today with everyone’s favorite weather: a “wintery mix,” otherwise known as wet, heavy slush.

No matter—I’m thinking about a time in the near future when all that slush will melt into cool, clear lake water.

For the record: I wouldn't complain if we could fast-forward to the part of the year when I swim in this.

For the record: I wouldn’t complain if we could fast-forward to the part of the year when I swim in Moreau Lake every Thursday evening.

I’m not the only swimmer dreaming of summer. I got an email alert this week letting me know that I can now register for one of my favorite events, the Lake George Open Water Swim,  held on Aug. 23 this year.

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Other swim news this week includes registration opening for the 2-Mile Cable Open Water National Championship in Lake Placid on Aug. 16. I’ve been dreaming about swimming in Mirror Lake again ever since my brief visit there last August.

I'm coming back for you, Mirror Lake.

I’m coming back for you, Mirror Lake.

Knowing these swims are on the docket doesn’t make the slush any less wet or cold. But having them on my calendar does give me an extra boost to ignore the slush and head to the pool, with thoughts of calming, refreshing lake swims dancing in my head.

Which open-water swims are on your calendar for this summer?

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