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Saturday, September 15, 2012

If The Claw Appears, It Is Time To Get Out

Most open water swimmers are tough. Many are tough and courageous. Some are tough, courageous and fanatical. A special few go way beyond those parameters.

These athletes can enter a realm where the physical discomfort is completely ignored and they can literally will their bodies beyond excruciating pain.

It is a type of swimming that Skip Storch calls "survival swimming".

"When a marathon swimmers enters the outer limits of their swimming endurance and pushes their abilities, they become a survival swimmer. That is, they are swimming ineffectively and are swimming to survive. In most instances, survival swimming is a prelude to the swim being terminated."

But this very small fraternity of humans who can transform themselves into a survival swimmer push forward when other swimmers would have ended the ordeal much earlier.

Storch understands the inherent risk of going to the outer limits of human endurance. "If one becomes a survival swimmer, both the crew and the swimmer must be on full alert and understand the dangers involved. All decisions must be made by an experienced crew without being overruled by the swimmer. Additionally, the swimmer must be able to alter their stroke and breathing patterns. They must take longer and more frequent breaks, occasionally taking different strokes and kicks. They need to make sure not to fatigue, exhaust or injure their muscles while refueling."

One indication that a swimmer has entered the survival mode is when they start fisting in the water while they swim. Fisting is when the swimmer's hands become so cold that their hands start to involuntarily close up into a fist. The swimmer's hand naturally does this to help maintain circulation. Often the fisting is one indication that the swimmer has gone too far and can be occasionally accompanied by a blueness on the skin in other areas of the body. An inability to grip the water bottle is another easy indication of extreme physiological stress. The "claw" is sometimes another term used for this condition.

There is a time to swim and there is a time to pull a swimmer. It is our belief that when a swimmer's stroke count has slowed beyond 10% of their normal pace and fisting or the "claw" becomes the norm, they must be watched very carefully and frequently stopped to check their mental acuity by asking simple questions (e.g., what is your postal code? what are your children's birth dates? where did you first learn to drive? what was your best subject in school? what is the model of your car?). If the swimmer must pause and think about the answer or cannot answer the question at all, it is time to call it a day in our opinion.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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