Vision Through The Fog

catalina_mapHer hand came up out of the water and quietly went back in under the wave. Then the other hand came out on the other side as Florence Chadwick continued to swim in the cold pacific waters between Catalina Island and the California coastline near Los Angeles. She had been swimming for 14 hours already in an attempt to do what no other woman had done before today, July 4, 1952. The 26 miles she was trying to cross was similar to the distance she had already crossed a couple of years earlier as she beat the women’s record for swimming the English Channel.

Stroke, pull, kick, stroke, pull, kick; Florence continued to swim.

The water between England and France is around 60 degrees, just like the water she was in now. The English Channel is 21 miles wide as the crow flies, but the strong currents and tides made her swim closer to 25 miles. So the distance and cold water on this day in July wasn’t a new challenge.

Stroke, pull, kick, stroke, pull, kick; Florence continued swimming into her 15th hour but started to weaken. Even though she had conquered many long distance swims around the world, today she was losing her resolve. It wasn’t the sharks that had been warded off by rifle shot many times. It wasn’t hunger, physical or psychological, because she would get food and drink every 40 minutes along the way and she was chasing a record. So what was causing her to struggle now?

A heavy fog had rolled over the bay that day, making it hard for the support boats to see her. She had a hard time seeing them, and had no idea where the coast was or how far away it was.

“I’m done,” Florence said, as she slowed her strokes and picked her head up out of the water. “I want to get out.”

“You are so close, dear,” her mother told her from the support boat leading the way. “Don’t give up now.”

Florence continued to paddle for a while longer, but ultimately got out of the water after nearly 16 hours of swimming. Florence soon discovered that she was half a mile away from the shore. Disheartened and frustrated, Florence had to talk to the media when she  made it to land.

One of the reporters asked her, “What went wrong? Why didn’t you complete the swim today?

“Look, I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen land I know I could have made it,” Florence said.

Two months later, on September 4, she did make it. She had continued to work out and stay conditioned. The swim started much the same as it had two months before. And as before a heavy fog set in. This time, however; the fog wouldn’t deter her. She not only finished the 26 miles, a feat never accomplished by another woman to that point, but she did it in 13 hours, 47 minutes, and 55 seconds, breaking a 27-year-old record by more than two hours.

So what was the difference?

Tasting defeat may have given her new grit and determination to finish the swim again. Maybe the water was a little warmer. But when asked about her swim after arriving on the California beach, she said, “I kept a mental image of the shoreline in my mind while I swam.”

Florence Chadwick would make that crossing two more times in her career and would set multiple world records as she swam long distances in open waters around the world.

For you:

The difference between success and failure for a world-class swimmer was being able to see the shore. While you may never find yourself in shark-infested, 60-degree water for  more than 13 hours, you will undoubtedly find yourself struggling at some point, just hoping you can tread water long enough to survive another day.

In those moments, you need to remember your goal.

If you are struggling against something that doesn’t help you reach your goal (perhaps an addiction or distraction), then you should quit and get back on track. But if you are finding the path to a worthy goal harder than you imagined, take a moment to remember what the goal is. Keep it fixed in your mind and imagine what it will feel like when you accomplish it. Try to remember why it was so important to you. Then focus on the next step, stroke, or action that needs to happen. Never lose focus on what’s important to you, especially when it gets hard. It could be the difference between stopping half a mile short, and shattering a world record by two hours.


I started writing short stories in elementary school, starting with a short story about twin track athletes. In college, I wrote for the college newspaper and studied communications. My first job out of college was with a magazine as an assistant editor, where I started a comic strip called City Boy. My first published work, was a short essay entitled, Dream with Me, published in “The Art of Service” booklet put out by the Thayne Center for Service and Learning. I also published a three part series for families called “Family Parables – Wise Man Foolish Man.” This set is designed to be used by families to create discussion and learning as a family. I soon will publish my first novel, Love Like Alzheimer’s, a story of a family that is learning to love deeper as their beloved grandmother struggles with Alzheimer’s disease.

4 thoughts on “Vision Through The Fog
  1. Brad says:

    What a great reminder about the how small the difference between success and failure can be. Often just making one more call, knocking on one more door or enduring through one more hardship can change a failure into success. Evaluating your failures is a good way to build determination to reach future success. You can learn from both failure and success. Great story, thank you! I felt like I was in the water with her.

    • Ryan says:

      True, Brad. And the motivation to make that call, knock that door or endure can come through remembering what you are fighting for. Keep that vision front and center so you can go back to it again and again as needed.
      When I was running my last marathon, I was cramped up and the past 26 miles had been torture on my body, but I managed a brisk jog ? because I knew my kids would be watching at the end of the race. My vision is to be strong for my family, and that was enough motivation to get me through the awful cramping to finish strong (and then collapse in the medic tent, but that’s another story. ? )

  2. Catie says:

    I think you wrote this just for me. Lately, I have lost sight of our end goal or why we are doing this. Thanks for the reminder to keep going!

  3. Barbara says:

    I used this story and your comments today when talking to my kids. We were talking about receiving peace and inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

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