I want to be a part of it…

“I want to be a part of it…New York, New York”~Theme song from the film New York, New York

A “part of it” I sure was on July 1st as I swam a lap around Manhattan!  My heart had been set on this swim for quite some time. I had been training and thinking about this swim since January putting in 376 miles (661,000 yards) and over 182 hours of swimming, mostly in a pool.

20 Bridges is a 28.5 miles swim hosted by the New York Open Water organization. It was an epic way to kick off a 4th of July week.  The swim was early on Monday so we got to New York Sunday morning. The weather was gorgeous, a good omen, for the next day and the City was hopping with activity as the World Pride parade kicked off in the afternoon. A perfect day to be a tourist and to rest and taper.

(Freedom Tower lit up for World Pride Day)

My crew consisted of my ever patient wife and my good friend Andy from Westport, Connecticut.  We clandestinely buried the ceremonially good luck, nip of vodka, a knife and piece of memorabilia (mini Statue of Liberty) at the tip of the Battery in a flower bed. I will take whatever good juju I can get.

(Andy & I with the good luck talismans)

(The burial)

We had an early Italian dinner did prep work for my feeds the next day and then early to bed as it was going to be an early wake up call. We woke to a beautiful morning, the sky was blue and looking at the Hudson River it was calm-it was going to be a great day!  It was a quick turnaround at our meeting spot at Pier 40 to load up the boats and kayaks and we were off to Pier A at the tip of the Battery for a 6:50am start.

Surreal would be a good word to describe the feeling at the start in a small boat at the tip of the Battery.  I looked left and saw the skyscrapers of downtown. I looked right and saw Lady Liberty. I looked straight ahead and saw the Staten Island Ferry pulling into the dock. I jumped in the water, the whistle blew and we were off.

Within a short few minutes I was swimming behind the docked ferry and into some turbulent waters at the mouth of the East River.  Shortly, thereafter I swam under the first of twenty bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge. I did a few strokes backstroke under the iconic bridge-why not?  It was then up the East River with sea planes and ferries crossing back and forth from Brooklyn and Queens.

The trip up the East River felt fairly swift likely because I was fresh and there was a nice current assist. Checking out the New York’s skyline and passing the Empire State and Chrysler Building’s from a swimmers perspective was pretty cool. There were two other stand out memories on the Eastside. First, passing the United Nations Building where I wished for world peace and prosperity.

The other was approaching and swimming backstroke under the 59th Street Bridge. I must say I was Feeling Groovy (get it-Simon & Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge song).

We hit the Harlem River and that is where I fully recognized that I had A NYPD police escort. My crew said they picked me up at the Williamsburg Bridge and they stayed with me all day to the bitter end. It’s quite comforting to have New York’s Finest by your side.

The river narrowed and I could see cars on the Harlem River Drive, construction crews working on bridges and Yankee Stadium where I thought it was appropriate to yell, “Go Sox’s” when I took a breath.

The trip up the Harlem was a long slog mentally and physically. A majority of the 20 bridges around Manhattan are there so it was just bridge after bridge after bridge. My crew was great keeping my spirits up in this stretch.

(My mighty crew-Captain Sean, Observer Chris, Shannon & Andy, Luis kayaker extraordinaire)

When the Harlem took a turn and meandered west and I could see the Henry Hudson Bridge (bridge 18) and Columbia’s big C painted on the rock cliffs it was with great relief as the Hudson River was near.

At bridge 19, Spuyten Duyvil (Spitting Devil), the waters got a bit turbulent for a spell as the Harlem River dumped into the mighty Hudson.  As I battled through the final chop I looked ahead and spotted the George Washington Bridge and then all of a sudden to my left was a yellow swim cap approaching. I was a bit confused but then I realized it was Andy coming to keep me company~I needed it.  His buddy swim came at the right time as kayaker extraordinaire Luis put us in the channel in the middle of the river to catch the optimal current.

Despite the distance, with the solid current behind us the GWB came up pretty quickly.  Andy and I did backstroke and chatted under the bridge to capture the memory.  We swam a bit longer together and then it was time for him to get out.  Andy and I have had some crazy fun swim memories but to be in the middle of the Hudson with him takes the cake.

Way, way in the distance you could see the skyscrapers downtown marking the finish.  When I saw the tower of Riverside Church and knew the Battery was still quite aways down river I felt daunted and just put my head down and swam.  I resorted to counting strokes to keep my brain occupied.  I would get to 2,000 or maybe it was 1,800 or 2,200 who knows,  and then I would start over again.  I also started reciting the poem Invictus more frequently in my mind.  It did the trick!

I finally looked up (I actually looked up a lot) and the Freedom Tower was finally within spitting distance.  I had my final feed, did 25 strokes of backstroke, to loosen the shoulders and then it was full steam ahead to Pier A.

The current was strong or maybe I was swimming strong likely,  the former as I passed the Freedom Tower and the World Financial Center. It was sooo awesome to see that huge beautiful tower from the water~a once in a lifetime feeling!

I rounded the Battery and saw on the walkway above my friend Carlos and Josh that had left work to see me finish. How nice is that?  It wasn’t but a couple hundred yards later that Luis blew a whistle as I crossed Pier A where we started… 7:37.54 hours before.

Wow, it was a long, fun and memorable day! The crew at NYOW modeled my swim to come in at 7:38.0~I beat that by 6 seconds. How crazy is that? I tried to capture in words all 1534 of them, in this blogpost the experiences and feelings I had throughout the day-not an easy task. They ranged from; am I really going to do this, I am really doing this, to this is really sucks at the moment to finally~ I really did this!  Bottom line I am happy and proud.

(Apologies for the crotch shot but its the only way I could get the Statue of Liberty in the background)

I may be the one plodding along stroke after stroke by myself but the more and more you do this type of stuff it is evident that this is truly a team effort.  A huge shout out goes to the crew at New York Open Water for their organization, communication and professionalism throughout the process-thank you for the “quiet swim” slot! I had an awesome crew of five.  Captain Sean guiding us safely around the island and official observer Chris’s big smile radiating positive vibes from the boat.  Luis, my support kayaker, whose chill vibe and guidance was so reassuring.  Shannon (patient wife) and Andy prepping my feeds, lending encouragement, insight and humor that only people that know you well can offer. Thank you all!!!

None of this would be possible without my aquatic family that keeps me motivated everyday to get my butt out of bed in the morning to the pool.  Coach Jen, a big thank you!  Yes, Jen I thought about my “big toe”.  The entire crew at Wayland Masters and Pam’s Pond, thanks for all your humor, positive comments and doing extra credit with me.  My longtime lane mates and Coach Bill at MIT you’ve been there since the beginning supporting this nuttiness~thank you!  It’s so much more than just the swimming, it’s about friendships.

I said this post English Channel too but it’s the best way to sum up it up.  I have two overwhelming feelings. First, an overall sense of feeling “accomplished” and knowing that if you put the time in and do the work you can accomplish great things.  Second, a feeling of gratitude that I am healthy and have the ability to explore and pursue new adventures.  Also being very grateful for family and friends that love and support me along the way .

Life, I love you, all is groovy~last stanza of the 59th Street Bridge song





  1. Wow Bob, totally awesome and “groovy”! When Carol shares your blogs it makes me feel my Doug is super proud of you too. You are right, swimming is great but friendships, deeply satisfying. Family and friends are there when you need them. What an accomplishment to share.

    XO Sue Chisholm


  2. Very impressive Bob. You are going to have to come up with more challenges that are tougher. Maybe Vancouver Island next.


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