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Catalina Swim
August 21-22 2008
First off, I would like to apologize for the tardiness of this final update. I realized that for the past 2 years, while planning, speaking, and training for this event; I’ve ignored many other factors of my life that were in need of attention. It also took me this long to remember the events that took place that night. For the longest time, it only felt like a dream- However, through the stories and pictures I was able to re-call the 10 and ½ hours I swam from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes.

Disclaimer: This synopsis is directly from the heart. I apologize for the poor grammar and writing style.

Just before heading to the boat I found myself surrounded by family, friends, neighbors, and a crew of a dozen others. There was an emotional undertone of excitement and nervousness- so thick you could cut it with a knife. Brian and Scott loaded the kayaks, checked and double checked our gear list and we said our goodbyes. The cars pulled up to the 22nd pier in San Pedro and we began moving all the supplies to the Outrider (John Pittman’s 30 foot boat). Ed and Ahelee were having dinner upstairs; I greeted them both with hugs. Ahelee offered some breadsticks to me for “last minute energy”, I declined and replied I was not hungry (I hadn’t eaten all day). It was time to say goodbye to my Mom and Dad, I hugged them both- gave my Mom a kiss and told her that “everything would be fine”.

I had the absolute best crew for my swim. Although 90% of them had never been on a channel swim and had no idea what to expect, they all rallied to support my 21 mile quest across the Pacific Ocean. As we all boarded the boat and went over the rules of channel swimming, the Captain realized that I had an abnormally large crew- about 5 more than usual. After a few discussions with the co-captain (Big Wave Dave), they agreed to accommodate my motley crew- I was thankful. Ahelee “insisted” that I lay down for the 2 hour commute across the channel. I took out my Ipod, turned to my “Zero 7” play list and passed out.

I woke up to a hand brushing my side…”Dave, we’re almost there.” I sat up quick and my blurred vision couldn’t make out the individual standing next to me. But I recognized the voice, it was Melissa Lustic. I moseyed up through the galley and onto the back deck…all eyes were fixated on me. No smiles, no talking, just staring. I changed into my suit, double checked my cap, goggles, glow sticks, ear plugs and began looking for Melissa again. One of her “duties” was to smear Lanolin (sheep’s wool) all over my body where there could potentially be chafing. As she caked on the horribly sticky putty I could feel my arm pit hair being pulled out. Brian and Scott placed the kayaks into the water and patiently waited for my entrance. The boat pulled 100 yards from the cove and sat there idling. Captain John came around the corner, cigarette in mouth “You ready?” he asked. “Yes sir” I replied. After numerous hugs, kisses, and high fives I slid into the water and made my way to shore.

Pulling myself up on the rocky beach, I saw my friend Jen Schumacher waiting for me. I could see the anxiety in her eyes. We slowly walked into the pitch black water, the fog lights from the boat were lighting up the water- the amber kelp was thick and beautiful. As the horn sounded I realized that this was it. Something I’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much for was finally here.

The first 2 hours went by extremely smoothly. The ocean was flat and warm and the bioluminescences were incredible. Every stroke seemed to set off fireworks of light. Jen kept pace perfectly and hopped out at exactly 2 hours. I was soon joined by Jim Fitzpatrick and we fell into our natural training mode, swimming side by side for 3 hours. Throughout the night I was stopping every 30 minutes to drink a mixture of water and Perpetuum (a carbohydrate replacement) delicately concocted by Melissa. I didn’t know it at the time but I was not fully consuming the beverage—about 80% was flowing out my mouth and into the water. This would later prove to be detrimental.

My feet began to tingle and I was getting nervous about getting overly cold, so I began to kick harder. The pace swimmers changed again and I was expecting experienced open water swimmer Ed Reynolds to be joining me. I did see a body jump off the boat and begin swimming in my direction, but I have never seen arms and legs move that quickly. The white water created by this person’s limbs was remarkable. As the fury of propelling arms moved closer I could make out the stroke more. Matt? No way. That’s not my little brother.

Surely I was hallucinating. Why would he jump in now? The water is pitch black and freezing, not to mention we’re in the absolute middle of the channel. Matt’s flailing arms continued for several minutes until his stroke finally calmed down. Two became one and we continued to head east toward the coast. 30 minutes into his swim I could see Matt making his way over to the boat. From the pace swimmers and the amount of feed stops we had made, I knew I had been swimming for 5 and ½ hours. By this time, my stomach was doing somersaults, my hands and feet were tingling, and my breathing turned short and labored.

I put my head down and gazed into the now murky-gray water. The sun was on the rise and the opaque water was now allowing some visibility. At this point, my shoulders were getting heavy and my hips were tight and cramped. How could this be happening? The Support crew began to pop up on deck…one by one. Ed Reynolds dove off the boat and began swimming right at my side. His freestyle stroke turned into breaststroke which ultimately turned into him floating next to me and giving me thumbs up. Am I really going this slow? Now all 18 crew members were on the port side of the boat. Every breath I took to the left I could see 18 pairs of eyes staring right at me. I knew that something was wrong but I couldn’t handle the fact that the problem was me. At this point, things got a bit confusing, but I remember Scott paddling on my left side. Every breath I took I was looking directly at his face. He had a huge smile on his face. A big…fake…smile. I could tell he was crying, wiping tears as he paddled along side of me. Why is he crying? Maybe I should cry too. So I started crying…

The next 1 and ½ hours was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. Physically and emotionally I was tapped out. Every feed I would dry heave and/ or throw up some of the honey/perpetuum mix. “Today just wasn’t my day…” I continued to say that in my head. “Dave, you tried really hard. You gave it your all. And today just wasn’t your day…” I cried again. The next feed I was shivering or percolating if you will. Ed asked me to count down from 17 by 2s. From what I heard I made it to 11 and it took me about 45 seconds to accomplish that task. All I remember is that my heart was hurting, or what I believed to be my heart. This is when the crew yelled to swim “just 10 more minutes,” during this time they would make their decision if the swim should be ceased. I was screaming at myself underwater. “Come on Dave! What’s your deal?”

At this point, I was stripped of everything, my personality, my strength, my passion, my love, my hope, until there was nothing left. Every crew person that morning saw my inner-core; my spirit…because that’s all I had left. This is when something absolutely incredible happened. I spoke with God. He had me come up out of my body, told me to look at myself, what I am doing, why I am doing it, how far I’ve come. Then he told me to look at the boat of friends and family, look at their faces, and look how many people came to help you because they believe in you and more importantly because they love you. And that’s the third time I cried. What happened next was another act of God.

I could see Ahelee on deck, frantically putting on her swim cap and goggles. She jumped in and began swimming over toward me and the kayakers. I stared into her eyes and she stared right back at mine. “Dave, you need to drink this” she said. “I can’t Ahelee, I feel like shit” I replied. “DAVE! DRINK THIS NOW!” Ahelee continued to shake the bottle in my face. I grabbed it from her took a sip and then threw it 10 feet behind me. She grabbed it again, now she was pissed, “Finish it! Now!” I choked the entire bottle of stomach churning ooze and began to dry heave. “Dave, Look at me---- Follow me” and she began to swim. And I followed.

My arms were turning over as fast as possible and my legs, feeling like tree trunks, were dragging behind my body. Ahelee guided me through the lowest moment of my life. She brought me back from the depths of Hell. The pain subsided as it was replaced by euphoria; imagine a runner’s high times one thousand. Ahelee slid back onto the boat and I was again joined by Jen who would spend another two hours right by my side. I was swimming slowly, but my stroke was consistent and smooth. The sun was shrink-wrapped by the marine layer which allowed the wind to stay non-existent. The water was a clear blue and visibility became fantastic.

Continuously staring directly below me I saw something large come from the left side of my vision. Oh My God, that’s a shark. Holy Shit, that’s a shark. A hammerhead slithered, exactly like a snake (a huge man eating snake), directly below Jen and I, did a U-turn and headed back the way it came. On any other day at any other moment, I would have been the first person in the boat. However, I felt an abnormal calming fall upon me. It was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. After telling a local fisherman about this encounter he replied “If you saw one, that means about 40 or 50 saw you.” I didn’t respond.

The shore grew extremely close. And soon we were joined by two fin whales, a mother and her calf. The little one (school bus size) sneaked up on the boat and continued underneath to get a quick peak. Curiosity soon subsided and the mother escorted the baby off but not after a spectacular show of breaching and show boating. Next John set up in the water next to me; he was wearing a wetsuit because the water temp was now 62 degrees. I could now see people on the shore, a big pack. But I was so focused on what Ahelee and Ed were saying to me I didn’t have time to wonder who it was. I knew we were within hundreds of yards when everyone began jumping off the boat to join me in the water. I was accompanied by Jim, Ahelee, Ed, Matt, and Jen. They surrounded me like the paparazzi and I felt super comfortable. I looked down and I could see kelp and then shortly after large rocks.

I had made it. Everyone was screaming “Don’t touch him, Stay Back!” I pulled myself up on a large green rock and gently shimmied up to dry shore. Everyone cheered. “Why is everyone cheering” I thought. I turned around and I saw my mom, my dad, and the rest of my family and friends. I looked at Ahelee and I opened my arms up for a hug. She asked me if I wanted to get warm on the boat. I nodded, slid back into the water and Scott pulled me onto his paddleboard. I was ripped from the water and soon found myself absolutely naked with a barrage of blankets making its way into the galley. Everyone huddled around as I munched on John Pittman’s delicious French toast and sipped on hot cocoa. I was satisfied.

In so many ways this was more than just a swim from an island to a coast. This was about people coming together for something greater than them. This was about raising awareness for a disease, so debilitating, that it sends shivers down my spine. It was about creating new relationships and strengthening the ones that were all ready established. This was about showing people that there is more to life than a job, school, or material possessions. This was about sacrificing two years of my life to give others hope.

I recently told my Mom that I lost something that night. I’m not sure exactly what it was but I can tell you that it was taken from my heart. But I was given so much, a strong bond to family and friends that no one or thing could ever break. And I thank God for my crew, my family and my friends. I would like to especially thank my parents, who gave me the sense of adventure and the freedom to explore. I am deeply humbled.

Many have asked “What’s next?”
Matt and I have decided to train for and complete the 2009 Ironman Louisville in hopes of qualifying for the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Even more than that is an event created by friends to again bring people together for a greater good. In October of 2009, many close friends and I plan to run from the Currituck Lighthouse to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. Separated by just under 90 miles of gorgeous coastline, this has been the backdrop of our most memorable life moments. The Dream Team will be raising awareness and funds for the cause, cure, and respite of ALS. Because as of right now this disease is relentless…and so am I.

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Dave Galli

Swim Photos can be seen here:

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