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Six miles across Utah Lake

                                      "I was inspired by the upcoming Winter Olympics,
                       but also wanted to reassure myself there could still be quality
                       to my life after the big 6-0 came with my 60th birthday on
                       Aug. 20,” said Pat Christian, about his epoch swim six miles
                       across Utah Lake Saturday Aug.18. 
                                     With his relatively sedentary profession as a reporter
                       for The Daily Herald, Pat has tried to offset that by choosing
                       rather physically demanding hobbies and sports that include
                       running, swimming and bicycling. 
                                     He's climbed the third highest mountain in North
                       America, 18,405-foot Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest
                       peak. And he's bicycled from Utah to California with his son
                       Christopher and competed in marathons and triathlons. 
                                     Most recently, he participated in the Provo River
                       Trail Half Marathon earlier this month as training run for his
                       entry next month in the Top of Utah Marathon in Logan when
                       he will run 26 miles with his son Christopher. They both ran
                       this same race last year. 
                                     But his typical triathlon swims were only a half mile
                       long, and Pat's training swims have only been at longest a mile
                       and a quarter. 
                                     "Several months ago, I set a goal of swimming
                       across Utah Lake starting from north of the dike at Utah Lake
                       State Park and swimming northwest to Pelican Point on my
                       birthday. The idea was a mile for every decade of my life," Pat
                                     His wife Sonia, who tried but couldn't talk Pat out of
                       his crazy idea, at least talked him into making the swim on the
                       Saturday two days before his birthday, so family members
                       and friends who wanted to support his swim could do it on
                       their day off. 
                                     "When I put this crazy plan together earlier this year,
                       I thought I might actually be able to pull it off. 
                                     "But on Saturday morning, I was confident I wasn't
                       going to make it across. 
                                     "More recently -- even as I trained hard at public
                       swimming pools in Orem and Provo putting in lap after lap -- I
                       would occasionally drive down to the east shore of Utah
                       Lake, look across to the west shore.
                                     "It looked impossibly too far across. 
                                     " . . . maybe for someone younger, yes. 
                                     "But for me out of reach." 


                                     Pat said with his job, and having to put in the
                       required miles running, needed to be in shape for the
                       upcoming marathon, he was not satisfied with his water
                                     "I would often swim a mile during a session, but
                       when I finished I felt trashed, with little left in me. A half mile
                       swimming session seemed easier, but the longer sessions
                       convinced me, I couldn't swim six miles," he said. 
                                     Pat calculated that on Wednesday, before the big
                       Saturday, that it would be the last day he could train. And it
                       needed to be his hardest workout. 
                                     "I drove to the pool in Orem just after 6 a.m. and
                       swam a mile and was beat. 
                                     "For lunch, I drove to the pool in Provo and swam a
                       half mile, and felt OK, afterward grabbing a quick veggie
                       Subway and eating it in the newsroom. 
                                     "After work, in the evening," I drove back to the
                       pool in Orem, and swam another half mile. 
                                     "I was totally spent, but I had swam a total of two
                       miles. Granted, it was a broken two miles, but my longest . . .
                       my hardest day. 
                                     "I went home, climbed in bed and went out like the
                       final bright flash of a dying light bulb. 
                                     "Next morning, it felt as if a train had rolled over my
                       shoulders and I hoped I could recover by Saturday morning."

The Lake

                                     Deadlines for the goals individuals set, finally have
                       their dawn, and Pat's big Saturday was finally here and Utah
                       Lake was waiting. 
                                     Pat felt mostly recovered from Wednesday, but
                       not fully. 
                                     His support crew were in the boat: His wife Sonia,
                       son Chris, daughter Heather, brother in law Carlos Moreno,
                       nephew Carlos Arturo Moreno, Amy Brierley, Chris'
                       girlfriend, and Chris's friend Ron Kelly who was graciously
                       using his boat and excellent navigation skills to help Pat's big
                                     "I'll be happy with two miles," Pat told everyone in
                       the boat. 
                                 "I'm pretty sure I can do two; I did a broken two
                                     Pat would be more than satisfied with making it half
                       way across, he said. 
                                     Jumping out of the boat near the north dike of the
                       harbor around 8:45 a.m., Pat began swimming. 
                                     "Under the murky green water, I felt the initial chill,
                       but it didn't seem that cold. 
                                     "I started to swim and already didn't feel comfortable
                       with the waves the morning breeze was churning up on Utah
                                     "This was different than the swimming pool or the
                       couple days I trained on the south side of the south dike
                       where Provo River enters Utah Lake. 
                                     "The waves spelled trouble. 
                                     "As I swam, my arm came up and I turned my head
                       for a breath. But the water was not the usual smooth air
                       pocket and I accidentally choked on water instead of getting
                       my expected breath of air. 
                                     "I had to stop every so often and cough out water,
                       and it was a bit frightening because I considered the possibility
                       I could choke too badly and go under. And in this murky
                       water maybe rescuers in the support boat wouldn't be able to
                       locate and save me." 
                                     Pat kept going and was already feeling taxed. In the
                       excitement and anxiety of the start of his swim, he was going
                       out to fast, but didn't realize it. 
                                     A half hour into the swimming, he signaled for a
                       rendezvous with his support boat for sips of Gatorade and
                       then continued swimming. 
                                     "The first hour of swimming in the rough water, just
                       reinforced my assessment that I couldn't make it. At an hour
                       and a half, I was on my second bottle of Gatorade and
                       someone ask, 'How's your breathing?' 
                                     "Weird," I said. "I really haven't found my pace." 
                                     "Your going to fast," Chris said. 
                                     "I sat at the back of the boat and Amy, a registered
                       nurse, took my blood pressure, pulse and listened to my
                                     "Everything was OK, but working overtime, so we
                       decided I should slow down. 
                                     "After two hours in the water, and slowing down a
                       bit, I was finally getting my pace, getting into a groove in my
                       head, and I was getting confident. I didn't know if I would
                       make it, but I knew I had a lot left in me. And the water was
                       calming down. 
                                     "Farther out in the lake, Amy took my vitals again,
                       and they were better. Slowing the pace seemed to have been
                       a good idea. 
                                     "My shoulders however were starting to burn with
                       pain, so I took and Advil, and decided to swim with my short
                       training fins to transfer more propulsion from my shoulders to
                       my legs." 
                                     Pat also figured he was drinking too much and
                       shifted to drinking more water than Gatorade, and told the
                       crew he would stop for a drink only every 20 minutes instead
                       of every 15. 
                                     He swam on, telling the crew that at the three hour
                       mark, where he thought he would be one side or the other of
                       midway, he would stop about a half hour for lunch -- a
                       sandwich, grapes and fluid. 
                                     After lunch he swam on with Chris and Carlos
                       Arturo swimming with him for about 15 minutes. 
                                     "Out here in the middle of the lake, the water was
                       smooth. Temperature seemed around 75 degrees, except for
                       the frequent pocket of cold water I swam through. The water
                       no longer seemed so green. It was still murky, but more like
                       swimming in milk than what had seemed green pea soup at the

End in sight 

                                     "I must have been about four miles into the swim,
                       and I had lost my confidence that I wouldn't make it. But was
                       not sure I wouldn't, and not sure I would. 
                                     "I was on my pace. I was enjoying my swim, in a
                       zone where there was really not much thought at all, more just
                       experiencing being part of the lake and feeling it and time slip
                       past me. 
                                     "But maybe at about a mile and a half from the other
                       shore, things became different. 
                                     "To me at least, it seems in any foot or bike event,
                       no matter how short or long I seem to arrive at a point where
                       the event is no longer so fun. At that point it becomes more of
                       a chore and challenge. But I even come to like that aspect,
                       because that's where I learn the most about myself by pushing
                       ahead even when I don't want to push ahead or almost can't
                       push on. 
                                     "By this point my shoulders were really hurting me,
                       but I was finally confident I could make it even if I turned over
                       on my back and just kicked with my feet. I actually did this a
                       few times now, just to give my shoulders a break from the
                                     Pat swam on, arm over arm, following the crew in
                       the boat and was overtaken by the surprise of meeting his
                                     From their higher perch on the water, the crew first
                       saw the large white patch of pelicans standing in shallow water
                       at Pelican Point, and motored toward it, getting so close the
                       big birds flew away. 
                                     Chris and Carlos Arturo got out near the shore and
                       were standing on the bottom up to their knees. 
                                     From his low position in the water, Pat thought he
                       still had about an hour to go before he might reach the shore,
                       but he would really reach it in about five minutes, Kelly
                                     "I swam on. 
                                     "I could see the big tree next to the pump house and
                       vaguely knew I would make the shore, but was too much in
                       the zone and my pace to be very excited about it. 
                                     "I was still more of the lake than of the shore." 
                                     "Up ahead, it seemed the boat had stopped, and I
                       assumed this was my 20 minute drink rendezvous. 
                                     "I swam closer, and became confused when I
                       noticed Carlos Arturo seemed to be standing in the water.
                       How could that be so far from the shore, I thought. 
                                     "Stand up someone yelled." 
                                     "Without complete understanding, I put my feet
                       down and my feet touched the shallow ground under the
                       water for a moment and I stood and raised both hands in
                       victory, and people cheered. 
                                     "I kept repeating, 'Amazing, absolutely amazing. Is
                       this an island or am I here?'" 
                                     It was around 2 p.m. 
                                   "Then I continued to swim until it became absolutely
                       too shallow to swim on and there were more cheers and high
                       fives and hugs. 
                                     "It was really starting to sink in that I had made it. 
                                     "I finally waded to dry shore, and got more cheers
                       from my crew. 
                                     "All right! That's six miles. 
                                     "I didn't think I could do it." 
                                     "My son Shaun who was working at Slate Canyon
                       Youth Detention Center called my on a cell phone and
                       congratulated me." 
                                     Sonia asked Pat, how he was feeling. 
                                     "I feel Ok actually." 
                                     "I didn't think I could do it." 
At the finish line on the western shore: Christopher Christian, Amy Brierley, Sonia Christian, Carlos Moreno, Pat Christian, Heather Christian and Carlos Arturo Moreno. (photograph by Ron Kelly)
Swim also mentioned in Daily Herald column
© 2001 Pat Christian
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