Swim like a cannibal pioneer

Throughout my journey of recovery from spinal cord injury, as I’ve maintained my focus and commitment on reaching my ultimate goal of getting back on my feet and walking, I’ve learned the value of setting and working towards smaller goals. The proverbial mountain I’m trying to climb is bigger than anything I’ve ever experienced and I have been, and continue to be, in it for the long haul. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and the accomplishments that I’ve achieved (all of which I was told I wouldn’t do) but I would be lying if I said that my journey has been anything but arduous, full of challenges, breakthroughs, moments of immense frustration and moments of unparalleled hopefulness.

Because of the immensity of my goal, I have found focus and comfort in setting smaller, more attainable objectives and working towards those. The best example of this was the months and months of hard work I did that was dedicated to the moment I would be able to finally stand up on my own and ask Brita to marry me.

I’ve previously shared my newfound love of being in the water and swimming largely because of the freedom I feel from the weightlessness and the relief of pain from not having to deal with gravity and its impact on my body. Last summer, I set a goal to complete a 2.4 mile open water swim and I thoroughly enjoyed the process of training as well as actually completing the swim. But I remember that the moment it was over, I was already looking ahead to the next challenge. A couple months later, during a trip to visit friends, Brita and I swam in Lake Tahoe’s smaller, slightly warmer, less sexy and well-known but still gorgeous neighbor: Donner Lake.

Since I was seeking a new swimming challenge and wasn’t quite able to find an existing event that could serve the purpose (the swims weren’t long enough or they were relays with too much distance or the water temperature and other conditions were too challenging), I decided I would make up my own event and the answer couldn’t be more obvious.

Though I toyed with the idea for quite some time, it’s only recently that I finally put the pieces together and decided that my new challenge would be to circumnavigate the perimeter of Donner Lake, which by my best Google Earth estimates, comes out to 5.8 miles.

Yes it’s more than double what I did last summer, yes it will be at 6000 feet of altitude, and yes with my steady but very slow pace of swimming it will likely take me the equivalent of a cross-country flight, but I couldn’t be more excited about it. I want the swim to be about so much more than just my personal commitment to work towards this goal (I’m going to do that no matter what) so I’m inviting friends and others to join me in this endeavor. Whether swimming is completely new or a familiar activity, working towards a personal goal, whatever that may be, is what I want to encourage.

The non-profit that a few friends and I recently established (more to come on that on a future post) will be organizing the swim and raising money for our mission. If you’re interested in participating, you can join as a swimmer or non-swimmer (there are options to kayak, paddleboard, or just simply hang out, cheer and support), just comment on the post or contact me individually.

Because it’s in Donner Lake, near Donner Pass and everything else named Donner, the swim is the Donner Party Swim. For those of you not from Northern California who didn’t hear the story of the Donner Party pioneers (yes there was cannibalism involved) a thousand times as a child, educate yourselves here.

Before my injury, with a fully functional body, I could barely swim a quarter of a mile in the pool before gasping for air and calling it quits. Two years ago, I could swim no more than a couple hundred meters but only with a snorkel and many rest breaks. A year ago, I thought it would be nearly impossible to swim 2.4 miles in open water. Now, it’s time to work towards something much bigger and more challenging, to prove that I can do it, but also to remind myself that this will be just another step in my larger journey of recovery and reaching my ultimate goal.

17 thoughts on “Swim like a cannibal pioneer

  1. Small steps form a journey (just as much as huge steps).

    The important thing is to have the courage to begin.

    This post reminds me of 2 of my favourite quotes…
    …………You’ll never know unless you try.
    …………Man cannot discover new oceans until he has courage to lose sight of the shore.

    I wish you well in your training and vision.

  2. Hell there! Amazing journey. Very inspirational. I found your blog by accident. I was looking on line for ANYTHING that referenced nerve regeneraration (not just the text book studies which are alarmingly depressing). I wanted true to form accounts of sensations that I may be feeling to give me perspective and hope. Although I do not have a spinal injury, I have had a “non-disability” since birth which prevented my knees from bending. This was never a real issue and did not prevent me from at least trying everything I wanted or set out to do. It wasn’t until a recent surgery on my knee that there were complications and…voila, I am trying my hardest to recover from nerve damage and gain muscle control. Before reading your blog, I was pretty low. My “flight or fight” was conflicted. Especially when medical professionals (not all) insist on providing negative prognosis. After reading, I am now back. I was never to walk at birth…proved everyone wrong years ago. Determination is a wonderful thing. Thank you for sharing your story and reminding me of that. As for Donner…you are crazy! That lake is cold! Went there a couple years ago in July and it was still cold. However, we can throw the kayaks in. 🙂 Keep me posted.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your story. Good to hear you too have already proven the doctors wrong and have gained so much function. That lake is cold but that’s what the wetsuit and months of training and getting my body used to cold water is for! I hope I can make it without freezing… 🙂 -AB

      • You’ll make it…no doubt. Let us know when this event goes down. If at all possible, would love to participate and support. SB

  3. I spent my teenage years in Reno, at the base of the Sierra Nevada’s – 30 min from town and 30 min from Lake Tahoe – so pretty much Donner Party was required learning! And playing the computer game on those really, really old computers!
    Congratulations on setting, killing and setting more goals! I was just telling someone today that my goal to start training for a 10k by June was coming up and I was starting to really freak out in my head (I only started running just over a year ago), but what it the point of a goal if it doesn’t scare you and push you a bit?
    Sending you good energy as you continue on the journey!

    • Yeah I think the scary part of the goal is one of the most valuable aspects of working towards something like that. If it doesn’t scare you a bit and make you think there’s no way to do that, then it’s not as useful in my mind. Good luck with your 10k training -AB

  4. Hello Arash!

    I’ve been swimming 4 days a week, to get flexibility in my knees after dual knee replacement surgery last year. While I’m not up for a 5+ miler in a cold lake 🙂 I’d love to support you. Please send info!

  5. Good job Arash! Growing up, Donnor Lake and the lodge to which we belong(Naturefriend/Tourist Club) on the summit is our home away from home. Knowing that Donner can get very cold, your endeavor is all the more impressive! Kudos to you for challenging yourself ! I am so very impressed! Good luck! XXOO Denise

    • Thank you so much Denise. Luckily, Donner is warmer than Tahoe so at least it will be a bit more pleasant than the iciness of its bigger sister lake. Would love to have you out there if you guys wanna come up for the weekend. Let me know. -AB

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