Shark Attack? Oh, Please… You’re Already Interesting.

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 continuous improvement.

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 most proud?
  • 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.

22 Replies to “Shark Attack? Oh, Please… You’re Already Interesting.”

    1. Thank you, Ortho Joe. You and Andy planning an underground tri of your own this spring/summer? It’s been a couple years, let’s bring it back. -Ben

  1. Wow, Ben, this is a great story. It’s an inspiring reminder that we’re more than our shark attacks. This is a great conversation starter and I appreciate that you shared it with me. Hope that you and your family are well.

    1. Leslie! Your story is one that remains a cliff hanger, at least for me. Your big leap from State College, both career-wise and geographically, has me wondering how you’re making out. Still spinning? Thanks for the comment and thanks for staying in touch. -Ben

  2. Ben,
    Thanks for sharing this story, and more importantly the lesson of understanding that all lives have stories and it is important to share those stories, at least with those who are close to you.
    Be well, my friend.

    1. Chuck, You’ve taught me a lot over the years about remaining genuinely interested in other people, and I know that’s what fuels you to come to work every day. Thanks for the comment, and come pay the Lawrence family a visit sometime. -Ben

  3. Thanks for sharing this Ben – it’s really coincidental, because just the other day I was pondering writing my story. Onward! Very inspiring blog – I’m going to share it with others. Thanks again.

    1. Bridget, Just came across your kind words and appreciate them very much. Speaking of strong swimmers, you are squarely among them and YES – Your story is one I’m excited to follow. See you soon at our Happy Valley Summer Paradise 🙂 -Ben

  4. Thank you for being a light of encouragement and supportive to the human race, Ben inspires me and continues to lift up those around him.

    1. Hammer, Thank you for making the time to read this blog! I know you’re running fast and doing important work. Pinching myself as I reflect upon the team we represent and the value you bring to it. -Ben

  5. i loved the article! I’m a friend and fan of Eric’s, I was on the boat with him that day and the days afterwards. I was glad to see you give him credit for so much of his life’s work that he doesn’t give himself. He’s humble almost to a fault, so its nice to see him be celebrated! And the thought that we all lead extrodinary lives in some way and that we should share – to inspire, to show others it can be done. I often say about marathon swimming that its ordinary people doing an extrodinary thing.

    1. Janine, Eric enthusiastically raves about you and the rest of the crew that joined him for the Molokai swim. Thank you for generously giving your time to Eric and others who chase these life goals, and a special thanks for saving my good friend’s life. Good karma is coming your way, I know it. -Ben

  6. Poignant, direct and spot-on. Thank you Ben for the reminder that we all have a story that can reach, lead and help others.

  7. Ben,
    This is a great article! Your writing continues to be terrific – compelling and inspirational! I will take it to heart! Keep the words flowing. It may be about time for you to publish your own book(s).
    My best to you and everyone there!

    1. Jen, Yours is a story that our family is always fascinated to hear. What an interesting perspective you bring to your sister, the girls, and me. You inspire us by staying true to your artistic calling. Excited to see you soon. XOXO -Ben

  8. Great post, Ben. How fortunate you are that this amazing man has been a part of your life. As for the questions, I won’t answer them all here – except for one. The life achievement I’m most proud of is beating Type II Diabetes. Not once, but twice.

    Thanks for sharing this amazing story.

    1. Jim! My #1 barefoot runner. How nice to hear from you. You recently had a birthday if I remember correctly? Thinking of you and smiling as I reflect upon our DC runs 🙂 Keep moving. -Ben

  9. Fantastic story, Eric is my kind of guy, believing in himself and not giving up, thanks for sharing Ben. Let me know when Eric is completely recovered.

    1. Jeff, As a legendary triathlete going all the way back to the ’80’s you’ll be happy to know that Eric is not only recovering, but just completed a short swim in Harvey’s Lake. Not a typo, despite the fact it’s only April and the water is freezing, Eric is making his comeback. I’ll keep you updated on his recovery. -Ben

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