by Jim Humphrey
When training for competitive activities, we are often coached to visualize the goal and drive toward it. It was no different within the military environment, that being, visualize the objective and the successful execution of the activity. And of course, practice - practice - practice.
But what happens when our bodies become fatigued, pain begins to creep in, and our minds begin to doubt? What happens when we begin to think to ourselves, “Can I make it?” Frequently, in our lives, we can no longer see the objective. The fog and friction of daily living and the trials begin to weigh on our mind. We begin to doubt the course we have chosen and the commitments we have made.
Florence Chadwick (1918-1995) was a long-distance swimmer who became the first woman to swim 23 miles across the English Channel in both directions (not the same day). She was well-known for her ability to endure long swims in rough water.
She began competing as a swimmer at the age of six. Chadwick swam competitively for the next 19 years and in 1936 she even attempted to qualify for the Olympic team. Interestingly, she failed to qualify because each event was a relatively short distance swim and dependent more on speed and less on endurance.
Chadwick studied at San Diego State College, Southwestern University of Law, and Balboa Law School. During World War II, she produced and directed aquatic shows to entertain the troops and, in 1945, she even appeared in a movie titled, Bathing Beauty with legendary swimmer and actress Esther Williams.
Chadwick knew she was an excellent endurance swimmer, especially in open water. This drove her to set greater goals and push her skills and endurance to the limit. Open-water swims are uniquely hazardous. Pat Besford , a writer for the Encyclopedia of World Sport noted, “long-distance swims require courage…to go through a pitch black night, fog, weed, flotsam, occasional oil fuel patches, swarms of jellyfish and maritime traffic."
Kari Lydersen pointed out in an article published in Just Sports for Women, "Open-water swimmers have to constantly change their strategy as the race goes on, evaluating their position, the weather and water conditions while also dealing with obstacles such as stingrays and kelp beds. The result of countless hours of training can be ruined by a navigational error, and competitors usually come out of the water swollen and scarred from jellyfish stings, sunburn and swimsuit chafing."
In June 1950, Florence Chadwick left her job and entered a contest hosted by the London paper, Daily Mail. The paper sponsored applicants who wanted to swim across the English Channel. Unfortunately, no one had heard of Chadwick, so they rejected her application.
Determined not to be held back from her goal, she performed a practice swim in the Channel in July at her own expense. Then, on August 8, 1950, Chadwick not only realized her goal but also set a world record for the crossing. She entered the water at Cape Gris-Nez, France and exited at Dover, England in 13 hours and 20 minutes. "I feel fine," Chadwick stated after the swim. "I am quite prepared to swim back." On September 11, 1951, Chadwick did just that, despite dense fog and strong headwinds. She managed to finish in record time, 16 hours and 22 minutes.
Chadwick’s toughest challenge came on July 4, 1952, at the age of 34. Chadwick attempted to become the first woman to swim 21 miles across the Catalina Channel, from Catalina Island to Palos Verde, California. The weather that day was typical of the area; the water was ice cold, the fog was so thick that she could barely see the support boats that followed her, and sharks were always present. On several occasions, her support crew had to drive away the sharks with rifles.
Thousands of Americans watched the events unfold on television, as she swam for hours. Her mother had come along in one of the support boats to encourage her. 14 hours into the swim Chadwick expressed to her crew that she wasn’t sure she could go much further. At 15 hours and 55 minutes, only a half mile from the shore, she asked to be taken out of the water.
How could a world record holder, this elite distance swimmer, not push forward with only a half-mile remaining to reach her goal? Chadwick expressed to a reporter, "Look, I'm not excusing myself, but if I could have seen land, I know I could have made it." The fog had become so dense, she was unable to see her goal, and it felt to her as if she was getting nowhere.
Two months later, she tried again and this time after 13 hours, 47 minutes, and 55 seconds, she reached the California shore, breaking a 27-year-old record by more than two hours and becoming the first woman ever to complete the swim.
What motivates us to give up on our goals?
Florence Chadwick was prepared for the unexpected, well trained, mentally and physically tough. Why then would she quit her pursuit of something she knew she could accomplish? Could it be the same reason many give up on the pursuit of life…they no longer see beyond the fog of today’s trials, tribulations, and pain.
Romans 12:12 reminds us that we will experience such days, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” This does not mean that we will always feel as if we have the strength to push forward, but it does remind us that there is always hope if we recognize our dependency on the Lord. This also reminds us of our dependency on one who can see beyond the fog. Think for a moment, what if someone in Chadwick’s support boats was able to see the shoreline just a half-mile away and relay that information to her? It may have been just enough to help her push a little further and complete the goal, even though she couldn’t see it. Why? Because she would have faith and trust in her team.
Whom do you place your faith and trust? Is it someone who will always be there even when you falter, or the chaos and currents of life seem overwhelming and thus prevent you from moving forward? Do you place your faith and hope in someone who can see beyond the fog, even when you can’t, and encourages you to press forward?
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) If needed, God’s Word For Warriors is here to support your pursuit in this life and help you navigate toward the greatest of goals.
Encouragement in times of trail:
Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
1 Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
James 1:2 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,”
James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
1 Peter 5:10 “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
Romans 5:3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,”
Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”