Water is my jam. Any body of water will do. Some of the most notable for me are the warm, deep lakes in the Ozark mountains late at night when the sky and the water are one, the politicized waters of the South China Sea, the wild untamed rivers in the Pacific Northwest of the US, crappy indoor hotel pools in the Midwest with Richard Marx playing, and bathtubs everywhere.
I pack my swimsuit everywhere I go. I have one in my car for quick dips whenever I can sneak one in. Given the line of work that I am in – I run a women’s-focused international humanitarian aid organization – some days I find myself in totally unreal swimming holes. On my last trip to Nicaragua, I stole away for a few minutes from an indigenous women’s forum deep in the jungle. I swam in a muddy, dirty, pretty fucking gross spot on a fast moving river bed with some local children. They spoke Misquito, I did not. Did that matter? Nope, we giggled, got wet, and shared that special moment. Those moments, they are everything to me.
I swim because I can. There aren’t words to express the gratitude I feel for the body I inhabit that knows how to float, stroke, dive, and sink. I was a competitive swimmer as a kid and through my adolescence. I firmly believe that the reason I take on seemingly herculean tasks of keeping women and girls safe is directly tied to my successful adolescence, as I call it. My body was mine. It was strong, crazy fucking strong. It did what I wanted it to do, and we were a team. The sex I had as a teen was hot, safe, and loving. I was healthy and my body thrived.
As a 41 year old working mother of two, well, my body and I have been through some shit. It took me a while to work through two cesarean sections; how my body did not do what I wanted it to on those occasions. The rapes, well, those weren’t so much up to me and as I am still standing, that is testament alone to the fact that my body was the winner in those battles. The drug addictions, sigh, those were dark days and my body and I were lucky to make it out alive. These reasons, this is why I swim. Simply put, because I am here and I can.
I will be swimming from Turkey to Greece on Mother’s Day, May 8th, to mark a distance traveled by some of the bravest women walking the earth. More than 3,000 drowned in a valiant effort to reach a safe place, last year alone. I will be swimming for them. For the 250,000 Syrian women who will become pregnant in the next twelve months and give birth either in a country not their own or under the duress of falling bombs. I will be swimming for them. For the child bride forced into a marriage not of her choosing, one every two seconds around the world. I will be swimming for them.
This swim that I am undertaking is part of a new campaign we are launching on International Women’s Day, March 8th: Go The Distance. We are inviting individuals, groups, businesses, to emulate the distance traveled by refugee women and girls by “going the distance” either through running, walking, or swimming with COHI. Anyone can join in, anywhere, at any distance: http://gothedistance.causevox.com/
There is a baptismal element to swimming for me. Every time I enter the pool, the lake, the bathtub, I am given the opportunity to exit that water transformed. Lighter than I entered. A lighter, brighter, version of myself starting a new. I wish this for women and girls everywhere. May we all emerge from the fires that are forging us braver, kinder, and inspired to do what we can to make the world a safer place for all of us.
For this, I swim.