Saturday, January 10, 2015
OPEN WATER SWIMMING: A BATTLE OF SURVIVAL
The story of Rob Konrad swimming nine miles to shore has drawn a lot of skepticism and
traffic on all the social media networks. Some of us believe the former NFL player channeled
his inner Louis Zamperini and didn't break during his 10-12 hour swim through cold, rough,
choppy, and shark-infested waters, while others believe Konrad made the entire thing up.
The story piqued my interest because of my experience as an open water swimmer which
brings a myriad of mental and physical challenges during the course of an event. I have crossed
the Hudson River (3.1 miles) several times and completed a 5-mile event at the age of 45 in
a river just outside of Maryland.
One of the reasons I enjoy open water swimming is because I see it as a battle of survival. No,
it's not falling off a boat like Konrad allegedly did, but completing a five-mile race in cloudy,
choppy waters is an adrenaline rush that leaves you with an incredible natural high. To know
you swam that far in the elements with virtually no support leaves you feeling as though you
really accomplished something and if you ever did fell into a situation like Konrad, you'd have
confidence knowing that you can swim rather than sink.
I see open water swimming as more of a test of will more than a demonstration of skill. Most
people can swim reasonably well, but open water endurance swimming tests your mind and
You can spend hours doing laps in a pool, but it doesn't come close to swimming in a body
of open water. There are no lanes to guide you, lines to hold onto, and in many cases, the
nearest volunteer you see is about a mile away. You don't know what lurks below you and
every twig or branch you swim into causes your heart to race even more.
If you run into trouble, pass out, or start to drown, there isn't anybody around who will
be able to save you in time. It's all you against the elements of the open water. All you hear
are the sounds of the rushing, choppy water and the noises you make trying to find
the energy to barrel through the water that is sometimes so dirty, you can't see your hand
a foot in front of your face.
A million things go through your mind in a five-mile swim, I'm sure that number doubled
during Konrad's nine-mile journey. I often said, "What the hell am I doing?" which was
soon followed by "If I drown, I wonder how long it will take for somebody to find me?"
Konrad spent nearly his entire life as an elite athlete in the most demanding of sports. He
is wired differently than most of us. He endured tremendous pain and challenges to excel
at Syracuse and survive in the NFL for six years. I don't know Konrad personally, but I
it's reasonably to assume that he was mentally tough and someone who possessed a high-
pain threshold. Anybody who can be a stud player at the Division I-level and become
a second-round draft pick isn't the type of guy to wilt in the face of danger.
Kornad was an elite athlete just like Zamperini who survived 47 days on a small raft
in the ocean then endured two years of mental and physical abuse in a Japanese POW camp.
Zamperini and Kornad could've been wired just the same.
In a battle of survival, we've seen people do amazing things and overcome tremendous odds.
I'm hoping Konrad's story rings true and he is a man of incredible will and strength, not
another fraud in this world looking for another 15-minutes of fame.
I'm keeping an open mind about Konrad's open water swim. I'm hoping he does all of us