“Good Morning!” I said softly to my roommates. “It’s four o’clock!” We were staying at the resort village in Kibbutz Ein Gev, which was to be the location for the start of the swim. My mom, Yael, the unofficial producer and chief logistical officer, booked two little cottages for us, so we could get a bit of sleep before the swim. I managed to sleep from 7pm to 2:30am, which made me very happy; my cousin, Tal Katvan, and my dear friend Lisa Galfand-Trudler slept much less. Nonetheless, they woke up and we all made last-minute arrangements. I was in particularly high spirits because I managed to poop at 2:30am. This sort of thing is seldom mentioned in race reports or in advice columns for endurance athletes, but it’s a real issue – and I was relieved I wouldn’t have to deal with it on the swim.
We took all of our gear, feed bottles, warm clothes and the like, to the car, and drove into the boat launching area, where we met Captain Lior Eliyahu, who was preparing his awesome red motorboat for departure. He helped us onto the comfy chairs. My dad, Haim, tied the end of the feeding line to his wrist, so the bottles wouldn’t be lost at sea; my cousin, Tal, was put in charge of the SPOT tracker. We sailed on the Kinneret toward our entry point, Amnon Beach in the north of the lake. Shit, this lake is huge, I thought, but mostly was entranced by the peace and quiet. The boat stopped about 50 metres from shore, unable to dock there. With my customary pre-race battle cry, “Towandaaaa!” I leaped into the water. It was cold, and dark, but I was mostly paying attention to the need to navigate between the slippery rocks and find a good place to clear the water for the start. I ended up climbing on some giant rocks and sitting on one of them. My grandiose plans to stand up and strike a pose were instantly thwarted: I slipped and fell into the water. Spectacular start, I thought; might as well start swimming.
The first hour and a half saw the sunrise from the water. Swimming in the dark was eerie and peaceful; no bioluminescence in freshwater, just the gentle sound of the waves. My goggles bothered me somewhat, until I figured that the glowsticks I stuck in them slipped forward and undid the seal. Once there was enough lighting, I got rid of the glowsticks and everything was well. I was thrilled I took an anti-inflammatory pill before starting the swim, because my shoulder only started bothering me a bit well into the swim. After two hours, I was joined by my pace swimmer, Lisa.
I should mention right now – Lisa is Queen of Everything. An Ironwoman and ultra athlete, she recently received the gold medal for a 100km run. Her presence is so calming and inspiring that every time she swam with me my spirits were immediately buoyed. We played it as follows: An hour of pace swimming followed by an hour by myself, which worked out just great; I swam nine hours, and the first two by myself, so I got four quality hours of swimming with Lisa.
At about Hour Four, my back started bothering me, and half an hour later, my groin. I was still going at a pretty decent pace; a bit of chop woke up the sleepy, clear lake, but the wind was blowing in a favorable direction so I didn’t mind. I am now told that, at that point, there was also some wind blowing to the side, but it was much better than the conditions I had in Tampa in April; truly, nothing to whine or write home about.
After Hour Five, as Lisa came out of the water, the nagging pain in my back and my groin was driving me nuts. I was shivering and grimacing and, mostly, mystified as to the groin thing. After all, I was using a 2-beat kick and hardly using my thighs.I stopped shortly before Hour Six and consulted with the crew. They all seemed to feel for me, and while my dad seemed to lean toward pulling me out, Lisa and Lior suggested that I continue. I thought to myself: if I come out of the water now, when sitting on the boat, will I be able to tell myself that this was the best I could do? The answer was no. I decided to keep swimming. Shortly after, Lisa went into the water for the third time. You could say that Lisa saved the swim. Upon her entering the water I felt a surge of optimism: I can really do this! By Hour Seven, when Lisa left the water, I was in good shape again, ignoring the pain and stroking along.
In the middle of Hour Eight I was told I still had a bit more than 4km to go. That’s not a lot, I thought; I’ve already done 17km. I started playing a soundtrack of ’80s and early ’90s songs in my head – my secret weapon for endurance races. By the time I finished with Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Mandy Moore, Lisa was back in the water. We could see the shore, but the sun was in our eyes and we didn’t seem to make it any closer. My dad and Lior announced we only had one km left, but that turned out to be a calculation error based on deceptive buoys. Aaaaargh, I thought, I’ll tell them off when I get out. Oh, shut up, another part of me thought; they’re here to help and doing a terrific job.
We kept swimming forward and the damn shore wasn’t getting any closer. Then, suddenly, there were bamboo shoots sticking out of the lake. Lior guided us toward the beach. At 100m to the end, I found my 6-beat kick and sprinted to shore. After approximately nine and a half hours, I couldn’t believe I was done! Lisa also cleared the water and we hugged and congratulated each other. After all, she swam 10k in one-hour increments; good for her, and fortunate for me!
On the boat, there was a very pleasant surprise: Lior hosed us down with a showerhead of hot water! I sat in a heated part of the boat, covered in blankets and towels, and gradually managed to get dressed. I then learned that the water temperature when we started was 18 degrees celsius, and it warmed to 20 celsius after we were done. This was significantly colder than I hoped for and I’m really proud of myself for pushing through. Lior also told me that the previous group to cross the lake (south to north) did so in the summer, under much better conditions, but we were faster than them (no thanks to my slow swimming; rather, thanks to my efficient feeding, which I practiced so I could avoid treading water and getting colder.) Which, I guess, makes me the unofficial world record holder for the lake (unless there’s a neglected Walter Poenisch type of whom I don’t know.) My family was waiting for us on shore in Ein Gev. After a much-needed shower, I joined them at a seafood restaurant and managed three-quarters of a St. Peter’s Fish, half a potato, and a few spoons of vegetable soup. Our table was located on the lakeshore, and I excused myself to go and see the sunset. Looking at the lake painted in sunset colors, the enormity of what I’d done sank in and I started weeping with joy and excitement.
We arrived at home at around 6:30, and after half an hour I fell asleep. Woke up at 10pm and spent three hours reading the amazingly supportive and warm messages I received by email, on Facebook, and on the Marathon Swimmer Federation website. Hundreds of people, many of whom I don’t know, were following our progress on the SPOT tracker page! I also got a nice greeting from the Israel Swimming Association and an invitation to interview with the country’s national online sports portal, Shvoong. I managed to sleep four or five hours more, and am now up and in good spirits. My shoulders and back are very tight, but I’m not miserable. My throat is still bothering me; I think the apple juice and ginger plan needs some rethinking.
Most importantly, here’s what we were able to accomplish: $2,640 in donations for the amazing kids at Beth Dror. Also, Lior, who runs a wakeboard and wakesurf business at Ein Gev, very generously offered to give the kids a free fun day in the summer. I am so moved by his generosity.
I am immensely proud and happy of what we did yesterday. I say “we” because no solo swim is truly solo. I am so grateful to my parents, Yael and Haim Aviram, without whom this could not have happened. Also, to my awesome cousin, Tal Katvan, who posted lots of great photos and updates on my Facebook wall (I’ll post some here when I’m near a Mac). And most of all – to the amazing Queen of Everything Lisa Galfand Trudler who paced me FOUR TIMES during the swim and is credited with encouraging me to continue when I was cold and in pain. And, to the incredible Lior Eliyahu, best pilot a swimmer can wish for. We managed to do an amazing thing and benefit a very worthy cause. I am so blessed to have such incredible people in my life, and without them, the swim would not have been possible.