The story of how someone out there is walking around with a slightly used part of me starts back in 2011. I was driving home from work, listening to This American Life. The title/theme of that show was the “Ten Commandments.” That’s when I first heard Chaya Lipschutz’s story. I had been searching for something in my life, and I thought, “I can do this.” I was a single mom at the time with a 15-year-old daughter, Katie. I came home and talked to her about it. I was inspired and excited! Her response was less so. “You are the only parent I have. You have to wait until I turn 18.” So, I waited.
Fast forward to 2013. This is when I started swimming again. I swam competitively as a kid but hadn’t been super active since I graduated from high school. The masters swim group on Whidbey Island is the absolute best! There are many times in my life where I have encountered the right group of people to welcome and introduce me to something new. I think often that if it had been any other mix of people, somehow it would not have worked out, and I would have missed out on so much. I was swimming three days a week with the most encouraging group of mer-people and I was loving it.
I also started running. I discovered that running after swimming was the best thing ever because I could breathe whenever I wanted! My husband, Rob, and I ran our first half marathon together in October of 2013. We made the biggest Hollywood production we could out of it and traveled to Healdsburg, CA for a wine country-themed run. I remember a lady at mile 5 handing out cups of wine. I remember thinking that if I start drinking now, I’m never going to finish.
I did finish, and at the same time started the application process through the University of Washington to become a non-directed donor. Traveling from Whidbey to UW for all the tests to see if I would qualify was an endurance test in itself. Some call me stubborn, I prefer the words determined and persistent. Katie was set to turn 18 and graduate from high school the next year. Katie graduated in June and I donated my left kidney on July 8, 2014. She drove me to UW that morning and her teary beautiful face was the last thing I saw before surgery. She was also the first face I saw when I came out of surgery. I was part of a 6 person kidney chain.
We coordinated my recovery with my husband’s time off. Did I mention he is a radiologist? I remember complaining to him that the nurses at UW gave me my pain meds in a cup and always smiled at me. His totally unaffected response? “Yep, you lose the niceties when a doctor waits on you and not a nurse.” He was and is the most supportive human, but he could still work on his bedside manner. I was back in the pool after four weeks and started running again by the end of the summer. I took it slow and it felt good.
The Whidbey Island mer-people invited, and encouraged me to try open water swimming the next year. I was more scared of that than I was of donating my kidney! As I said before, they are an amazing group and soon I owned a wetsuit and was discussing which waterproof body glides work best. I swam in the Saratoga Passage for the first time in 2015 and was hooked on open water. 2015 was also the first year I swam the 2.5 miles to Camano Island.
I was soon traveling to swim in different locales. I swam the Tiki swim in Oceanside, CA that September and have participated in Swim Across America twice, swimming 2-3 miles each time. Every place we visit is an opportunity to swim with the local masters swim team which I’ve been lucky enough to do in four different states.
Last year my goal was to swim a 10K. I started training, researching races, and trying to figure out who would kayak for me. I had never swum for three straight hours and as many endurance athletes know, figuring out hydration and fueling during events is something that needs to be practiced, as you never know what will work and what won’t for you. I knew what worked for me while I ran but I didn’t know if it would be the same while swimming. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m lucky as they caught it early but it threw me and I couldn’t swim for 6 weeks. But then I was back in the pool, swimming again. There aren’t any open water swims in the PNW during the winter months so I decided that 2020 would be my year to swim a 10K. I turned 50 this year so it seemed appropriate. Then COVID hit. I’m discouraged, but I’m hopeful that pools will open and I’ll be able to swim again. Most open water races have been canceled but if I have to swim my 10K in the pool, then I will.
I’m still running and that helps keep me sane in times of no pool. We moved to Camas from Whidbey Island almost two years ago and I haven’t connected with the open water community here yet. Again, this was the summer to do that and I hope it will still happen.
Being both a kidney donor and an athlete has brought me in contact with some of the best humans on the planet. Both have pushed me mentally and physically in ways that, at the end of the day, make me grateful to be alive and part of this crazy planet.