If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter you know there’s no
caffeine more powerful than the dawn of a new day. Something about the sight of the rising sun
triggers our body to jolt upright and reawaken.
Navy SEAL candidates write about this phenomenon and how it inspires
them to push through Hell Week. Years
ago I sometimes felt this instinctual surge after all-night snow removal
shifts. And I can only imagine the
euphoria my friend, Eric, must have experienced when he sensed that rising sun
lifting him and carrying him home.
Eric’s all-nighter, however, had nothing to do with a
military exercise or a marathon work shift.
It was the final chapter in a quest that only 63 people have ever
accomplished, the Molokai Channel swim.
Listed among the World’s Most Difficult Ocean Swims (above the English
Channel, by the way), this jaunt between a couple Hawaiian islands has a
reputation for strong currents, water depths exceeding 2,000 feet, and
“aggressive marine life”. It spans 26
miles – if you swim in a perfectly straight line, that is – and per Swimming
Federation rules, prohibits the use of wetsuits or any protective gear save a
swimsuit, goggles, and swim cap.
Eric planned this swim for months. On second thought, he’s been planning this
swim for years. Eric and I first met
nearly 25 years ago, back when he was already an elite cyclist and triathlete
and I was just getting into those sports.
Neither of us was an outstanding swimmer but over the years Eric, always
the continuous improvement freak, was constantly seeking tips in the form of
videos, books, and coaching programs that helped us both improve. He became my friend and swim mentor and has
remained so ever since.
Over the years I’ve watched Eric raise a family, lead a
family business, maintain incredibly high fitness levels, and eventually leave
me is his world class distance swimming wake.
While I remain happy swimming a couple miles at a time, Eric transformed
into a marathon swimmer taking on Herculean events exceeding 20 miles, often in
numbingly cold waters, without a wetsuit.
This dude is not your run of the mill weekend warrior; he’s a lifelong
disciple to extreme health and fitness.
The Molokai swim was to be his capstone event, a challenge
guaranteed to test his mettle and elevate his standing in the distance swimming
community. And boy, did it. But not in the way he envisioned.
High seas delayed his start to the event. Instead of beginning at dawn he and a swim
partner, Steve Gruenwald, another world class swimmer, entered the channel
around 7pm. Translation: The first half
to two thirds of their swim would be in the dark of night. Bright lights attract predator fish so Eric
and Steve embarked on this World’s Toughest Swim in the dark, in rough seas,
guided only by a faint red light on their guide boat and a couple of glow
sticks. I don’t know about you but I’m
already scratching my entry under those conditions.
Six hours into their swim, both Steve and Eric had been
stung by man o’ wars (incredibly painful, by the way) and Steve pulled out from
seasickness. Eric kept chugging
along. In Eric’s words:
“Nine hours into the swim I sensed the sun was soon rising, which gave me an
extra boost. A wave of calm swept over
me and I knew I was gonna finish this thing.”
Imagine! Nine hours
of swimming through rough seas, in the dark, stung by man o’ wars… and his primary feelings are elation and
calm. No that’s preparation.
But as Mike Tyson likes to say, Eric’s lifetime of perfect
planning and preparation took a punch to the face. Well, not a punch to the face, exactly, but
rather a shark attack to the gut.
You can read about the attack here. In short, a cookie cutter shark ripped a four inch chunk out of his abdomen. Eric got pulled from the swim, rushed to the hospital where he spent days in serious condition, and he now faces several weeks of surgery and recovery.
Since the attack Eric has been showered with
encouragement. The prevailing message
he’s hearing from supporters? “Now you
gotta write a book and go on a speaking tour!”
I’m sure that positive encouragement comes from a good place
but as I’ve told Eric, the idea that he’s earned the right to write a book or
preach from a stage because of one random, shitty moment irks me. Yes, Eric, please write a book and go on a
speaking tour but do so based on your life’s experiences and extraordinary
choices, not because a shark bit you.
Eric, perhaps like you, doesn’t see himself as
exceptional. Yet you can bet your last
dollar he has a story worth sharing. How
over 30 years ago he embraced alternative training methods that are just now
coming to light. How he and his wife
raised two exceptional sons who are now grown and forging their own paths. How he’s maintained a health and fitness
lifestyle his entire adult life – fueled by alternative medicine – that rivals
Jack Lalanne’s. How he’s successfully
reeled a third generation business back from the brink of ruin and kept it
growing. How he’s instilled in others,
me included, an appreciation for Kaizen that drives us to enjoy the struggle of
The point for Eric and the rest of us: Don’t wait until some
random, unfortunate event bites you in the ass (or stomach) to tell your
story. Granted, your fight back from
that unfortunate event can shape your story but don’t wait for a rock falling
on your head or a bus weaving into your path to serve as the catalyst for
telling it. Whether you’re a world class
athlete or stay at home mom or struggling addict or starving artist or
insurance salesman makes little difference.
You, like Eric, are already interesting and there are people in your
life who want to know more about you.
How many of us wish our ancestors, friends, and mentors,
especially those no longer with us, had documented their story? Not in the form of superficial Facebook posts
but rather in the form of a self effacing book, interview, or recordings. Imagine for a moment you’re browsing your
local bookstore, the shelves lined with all the best sellers, and suddenly you
come across an old, dusty book written by your grandparent entitled, “My Life”.
Which of those books are you gonna buy? No brainer, right?
What are the questions you wish you could go back and ask
the people who’ve been most influential in your life? How about:
- What’s the life accomplishment of which you’re
- Your biggest regret?
- Your best family memories?
- Your happiest memory?
- Advice you’d offer the younger you?
- The biggest setback you ever faced?
- Your most exciting adventure?
You, like Eric, have a terrific story to tell and as much as
answering that next email or posting that next selfie seems important, it
isn’t. Sharing your life story, on the
other hand, is one of the most important and valued gifts you’ll ever create.
So yes, my good friend Eric, please tell us about your shark
attack. Challenge us to overcome
obstacles, embrace hardship, and aim high.
But the next time someone encourages you to write a book or go on a
speaking tour, please remember that long before you met a shark in Hawaii your
story was already a best seller to the ones in your life who matter most. Your body is healing; your story is forming;
your sun is rising.
Be like Eric – LIVE your dream, CHASE a lofty goal, and most
of all, SHARE your story.