November 24, 2016

The road to completing the Oceans Seven has had several hurdles to cross: wind, currents, very high waves, stinging jellyfish, sharks, snakes and very, very cold water.

Last year, taking advantage of our visit to Stanford to celebrate Thanksgiving with Itzi and David, I went swimming at the South End Rowing Club. Founded in 1873 primarily as a rowing club, the club has diversified over time. Now they feature swimming, handball and running, too. Like the Dolphin Club, which is literally next to it, the SERC has a schedule for visitors. The only requirements are a $10 deposit and a signed liability waiver. Entering is quite easy if a friend who is a member can open the door for you; otherwise you have to wait. Over the course of a year I learned the flow times and cut down my waiting time.

One of the pleasures of swimming in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay is taking a sauna at the club after swimming. Without exception you end up talking with whoever is in the sauna with you and listening from swimming trivia or interesting stories. On my last visit, as I recovered my body temperature, I engaged in conversation with one of the SERC officials who suggested that I become an out-of-town member, a category for members who don’t live in the Bay Area.

I immediately went to the trouble of sending my application. Like a small child looking for a toy, I chased after the documentation and nagged Joe Butler, the contact listed on the page, until I think he was about to resign. With the exception of an attempt by DHL to deliver the package without opening the door—apparently I’m not the only one to whom that happens— things went my way. Yesterday, after arriving from Mexico, I went to the club and Joe received me to formally welcome me into the South End Rowing Club. We met with Alex, the administrator, and I received my key to enter.

My first swim was horrible.

The water temperature 14.5 degrees (58ºF) and, as hadn’t happened in a very long time, my teeth froze. I completed the 80 minutes mandated by my training schedule with great difficulty.

Today morning I woke up to an air temperature of 3 degrees—37ºF. I have not felt so cold in a long time. But I went to the club with the confidence that at my arrival I would not have to ring the bell or go hunting for members who would let me in. A few meters from the entrance, I saw a group of people ringing the bell. When I approached, they asked me if I could open them. “With pleasure,” I told them. “Today is my first day with the key.”

Excited, I went down to the beach to swim my 90 minutes. Imagine my surprise when I met Kimberly Chambers, Billy—Kimberly’s boyfriend—and Simon Dominguez. We got in the water, talked for a while and then had to say goodbye. They are on vacation while I have several swims ahead of me. I do not know if it was the pleasure of finally entering the club without difficulty, being part of this great community of swimmers, or because my body has already adjusted to the cold water, but the swim hurt significantly less.

Tomorrow I will know if I have really advanced in my acclimatization to cold water.