This is probably going to be a long one and a little soul baring, I have debated on where to start and I originally planned to just jump in to the swimming and dogs but in a week in which mental health is in the news, it feels like a disservice to jump so far ahead.
Swimming has always been a source of consistency and safety in my life, I have never feared when in water, which I realize for a lot of people is the opposite to how they feel. So, let’s begin with why that probably is-
My childhood had a certain amount of chaos, my mother has bi-polar disorder which meant there were many periods of mania and depression, this ranged from days of her not sleeping, paranoia, inappropriate behaviors and hearing voices to large bouts of depression. This in turn led to many periods of committal and probably fears that a child should not have, throw in a father that it would not be unreasonable to describe as present but not “present” and this led to a need for security and consistency. Swimming provided that consistency, as no matter what was occurring in life, I was always taken to my swim lessons.
Water as such turned into a close friend and somewhere in which it was possible to hide. I do feel the need to add that my parents are good people, they did their best but like all of us they have their flaws and they were always just trying to make it through. I also do suggest for anyone who knows of people struggling with mental challenges, don’t forget about their kids, help them find something that provides stability in the chaos.
So, while I always had swimming, I never had dogs. No childhood dog for me, however I did have the neighbor’s dog “boomer” who features in my early memories as a “confidant”, I would whisper all my secrets through the fence to him and my imaginary friend (but that’s a story for a different day). But still no dog for me.
Year’s passed, I kind of grew up, I kept swimming, I took part in some events, I worked as a lifeguard for 5 years, I worked in the US for a summer as a lifeguard and met my now wife (Erin a lifeguard at that same pool) and swimming seemed to just keep giving. I have a lot to thank swimming for.
After meeting Erin I had 2 years left in college in Ireland, while she had a year of high school and then did a year in Penn state before she then made the decision to move to Ireland and go to college there (yep big moves for people so young).
So, after a year or so of living together in Ireland she said let’s get a dog…after she moved 3k miles it’s hard to say no. So, it was decided a “Chrismakah” gift would be a dog from a rescue. We went with my brothers to a rescue with the plan to get a slightly older dog (the harder to adopt dogs) and then this 6-week-old puppy came up to me and made eyes at me and followed me around and Erin’s Chrismukkah gift became my shadow. Though I readily admit I did not consider at 22 the fact that at 37 he would still be my shadow.
My little brother came up with the name Biscuit which basically and I am sad to admit, comes from the fact that Limp Biskit was popular at the time and that my little brother is more than a decade younger than me. But we went with it. Now Erin warned me we would have to be tough with rules, be consistent, teach him good behaviors and she succeeded, while I failed miserably. I gave in/give in, I am the reason for bad behaviors and this can be exemplified in Biscuits first night in our house in which we put him downstairs while we went to bed, but I could hear his little whimpers, so I said let’s just put him beside our bed, Erin warned me, he comes in the room he will never be leaving and so here we are 14.5 years later with a 50lb dog with some old age challenges who still sleeps in our room (and I will admit I dread the day he won’t be sleeping in our room). I could share lots and lots of stories (after all he is my boy and feel free to ask and I will send you reams of stories) but this long post will never end if I was to do that.
So, Biscuit (and the influence of Erin) led to some things, a few years after Biscuit arrived and as Erin was close to finishing college, she suggested Biscuit might need company if she was working after college, so Erin did her research and we decided on a greyhound and she smartly kept me away from rescue with puppies and instead Cricket the A.D.D. greyhound came home with us. Cricket was not what I would describe as a smart dog, however she was the sweetest and for a pretty big dog, the gentlest dog I have ever known.
A few years later we moved to the US obviously bringing our dogs with us (I am still surprised 10 years later when people act surprised that we brought our dogs, when the answer to me is obvious in that yes, they are family, do I ask if people leave their kids if they move states or countries)
Anyway, another couple of years later and Erin (in law school at this point) is working part time at a doggy day care that during non-busy periods, allows a rescue to use some of its rooms, comes across a scruffy little dog that she falls for, I refuse to foster for quite a while as I already know the eventual outcome of this “fostering”. However, I am eventually worn down and she brings home Feylan (F.K.A. Leroy), Feylan has some challenges, for one my gesticulations with my hands cause him to cower, pee and just avoid me. Cricket however takes him under her wing and gives him confidence and with time and effort we move away from a dog who would pee and poop on himself when strangers came over, from a dog who shook violently when I put snow boots on for the first time, to a dog who we have been able to take to events that literally have 100’s of people (though he would still prefer you not to make eye contact).
It is hard to get to Keely without discussing that Cricket got sick. We found some solutions working with our wonderful vet but after 3 years of medications, she eventually just said she was done. She had always been pleasant in taking medications etc. and she had a re-lapse and just told us she was done fighting.
Cricket went to sleep 2 weeks before my first open water swim “Big shoulders 2013”. I had basically quit swimming for 10 years prior to that spring, I focused on other things and put on a crap load of weight. However deciding to refocus outside of work, I lost weight and having lost sufficient weight, found the gumption to put on a swimsuit. But back to swimming shortly.
The day I completed Big Shoulders was also the day that Keely was brought over to our house to do a 2-week trial. Keely had/has challenges, she does not like men, she does not like rain, she does not like strangers, she did not want to walk if anyone in the neighborhood made a noise while on her walk (literally a window closing, would lead to sitting in the street, shaking violently). Of all these things the biggest issue for us was going to be the walking, even though we have a good yard, the dogs get walked every day, all seasons. So, we worked on it and worked on it and worked on it and I am glad to say we now take walks without issue, though we dislike people (but I understand not being a people person 😊) What I also appreciate is that the rescue never gave up on this girl, she was returned three times prior to meeting us but that was just so she could meet her right people eventually.
So anyway swimming, when I returned to swimming in 2013 after a lost decade, I got in a pool in early spring but would never have considered doing a pool race with anyone, those years were gone, however a friend suggested I join him at this open water event he knew of, a 5km in Lake Michigan, Erin’s family being from the area all thought I was nuts, who wants to swim in Lake Michigan (as it turns out me). But due to this surprise at anyone wanting to swim in Lake Michigan, I figured well maybe this can be used for some good and decided to raise some money for a dog rescue. My wife had learnt of the rescue One Tail at a Time from a law school classmate and they seemed to do good things (we would find out relatively quickly some more specifics on their work after Cricket passed).
On getting back in the water that spring, I did also discover a certain peace, stillness that maybe had been missing for a while, between laptops and blackberry’s, working for large global organizations, it seemed like I had always been connected for most of my short (10 year at that stage) career but there was never down time, always mails coming but in the water you can’t really get me and in lakes and rivers you definitely cannot find me. I believe as such that swimming has once again returned a certain balance comfort to my life. Yes, like with everything there are risks, they may be amplified a little by the risk of the unknown, slipping under water and out of view, the unseen animals etc. but I have decided you cant spend the time worrying about what you can not control or at least I tell myself this.
I also discovered in doing the first event, that I know some very generous people and that I could raise money and do some good by doing these swims.
Yes, they have grown in distance and the time they take up from life and sometimes finding the balance is difficult (Thanks Erin) and this year’s events with a successful completion will lead to probably, roughly a 14 hour swim but it has also led to over $16k in money being raised for dog rescue.
So how does all this rambling come back together, well, there are a few loves in my life, it starts with Erin but then there was also swimming and then dogs came in to my life through Erin and a certain circle seems to exist from this (at least to my view)
“swimming leads to meeting Erin, Erin introduces me to dog ownership and Biscuit, dog ownership leads me to dog rescue, life leads me back to water, water allows me to raise money for dog rescue”
As a final thought, though I am sure no one is reading at this point, there is a Jewish word I have learnt over the years “Mitzvah” basically meaning a good deed, I view Biscuit as a Mitzvah, though probably not in the way people think, we did not do a Mitzvah in rescuing Biscuit, Biscuit is the Mitzvah. He is the deed, he is directly responsible for the rescue of three other dogs, he is directly responsible for the raising of $16k for dog rescue. Biscuit is a Mitzvah and I hope to one day live up to his deeds and repay in my own way for everything he has done for our lives and through him for rescue.
“ I want to be the man my dog thinks I am when he looks at me”