The MSMS expedition is complete. My goal was to swim 350km around the island and I failed. Even though I failed my intended goal, I am still filled with peace, joy and hope. I would embark on this journey again even if I had known the outcome ahead of time.
Though I trained really hard, I only had 1.5 years of swimming experience before starting this expedition. It was not a logical decision, but one I made with my heart and soul. I wanted to achieve the impossible and for this to be signpost to a world free from MS. Believing is the first step in achieving something and I believe in a world where no one suffers from this illness.
I believe that striving for this dream is worth it, even if we fail. Even if we do not find a cure, we may find ways to detect it earlier, to treat it more efficiently, to further delay or stop it's progression at an affordable cost. Isn't reducing this suffering worth the effort? What if, what if by striving for this impossible dream we actually achieve it. Would that not be worth all the hard work and financial costs?
All along this journey, I drew strength and inspiration from you who are suffering or have suffered from this illness, my aunt Claire in particular. The week before my swim I was terrified. I had many sleepless nights, panic attacks, nausea and even cried from overwhelm. I was venturing into the unknown and I was afraid.
I drew courage from you who are newly diagnosed with MS. What a scary feeling. MS can be a ruthless and unrelenting illness or it can be quite manageable but when you are diagnosed you have no idea how the illness will progress. I linked the terror I was feeling to the terror of you who I was swimming for. In spite of all of these feelings, I made the choice to enter the water because I hoped it would help you who are suffering from this illness, or you their loved ones be less afraid of the unknown and have hope for your future, in spite of the darkness. Your courage gave me courage, and I hope that I did the same for you. When you have a reason to be courageous, you will be amazed at how courageous you can be, you were my reason.
I sincerely believe it was within my capability to make it around the island, my entire team thought so as well. I failed because of something not within my control, the lake was simply too cold to safely proceed. That is the hard part of being human, some things are not within your control.
When I knew I was not making it around the island, I grieved for two days. I cried because I had poured so much of myself into this project and I knew I was not going to get the outcome I wanted. Once again I drew strength from the many individuals I met who struggled with this illness. They had a grieving period, where they grieved the life they wanted to have and the one this illness took away from them and yet many were joy filled happy individuals once they had processed the change. Though you do not control what happens to you, you do get to control how to respond. When I realized it was not safe to swim the whole island, I made the decision to swim the North Channel.
For me, quitting was never on the table. I told captain Christine Arsenault that she could pull me from the water if my safety or that of the crew was at stake but to never ask me if I wanted to stop. I never wanted to consider it. This is the mindset I put myself in and I did it because you who have MS do not have the option. The pain is there and you have no choice but to deal with it. My swim was an act of solidarity with you.
There were days I did not want to swim but I had already made the choice to swim no matter what. I overcame fear, doubt, anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, chaffing, joint pains, muscle aches, fire in my tendons, chaffing, the cold, the waves, mild hypothermia, sun burns, exhaustion, loneliness, sensory deprivation, boredom, grieving my expectations, the currents, and all the other numerous obstacles that stood in my way.
I did not achieve the 350km swim I set out to do but I still did amazing things. During the 2 phases of the MSMS expedition I swam approximately 150km including the entire northern side of Manitoulin island. I set many personal bests along the way and learned so much. I met many amazing people and lived according to the 5 values I set out for the expedition : Inspiration, Honor, Relationships, Community and Fitness.
The main lesson I took away from this expedition is sometimes life does not go the way you want it to and you need to grieve your loss. Once you have processed your painful experience, there is always more joy to be had. You can always make light come from your darkness.
I hope that in chasing my impossible dream, I inspired you to chase yours. I hope you share my dream of a world free from MS and you make it happen.
Believe, Get Moving, Keep Moving and you will Amaze Yourself
P.S. There is no way I could have achieved this on my own, I am currently working on an acknowledgement post of all the amazing people who helped make this happen.
You can still donate at :
www.msmanitoulinswim.com (Photo credit : Jessica McShane)