Catalina swimmer achieves his goal

October 14, 2005|By TOM DUNKEL | TOM DUNKEL,SUN REPORTER

Dolphins served as attendants to the Greek god Poseidon. In days of yore, sailors regarded them as a sign of fair weather and good fortune.

Peter Attia, therefore, felt reassured when a large pod tagged along with him for several hours early Tuesday morning during his attempt to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast, America's answer to the illustrious English Channel marathon.

At the time, about three hours into the swim, he was fighting choppy seas and nausea.

"They were as close as four feet away," recalls Attia, a 32-year-old surgical resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "I felt safe. I figured if dolphins are here, sharks are not."

Those sharks never materialized. The sun came up and soothed the ocean swells. And Peter Attia became only the 115th swimmer to beat the Catalina Channel odds.

He covered 20.5 miles in all; the charter boat captain guiding his way managed to hold a tight, direct line to shore. His official time was 10 hours, 34 minutes, 51 seconds.

"Peter swam very well throughout," says David Clark, his San Diego-based coach who was on the three-person support crew that took turns accompanying him by kayak. "The average swimmer would probably be around 12 hours, maybe a little more."

With a plastic glow stick pinned to the back of his bathing suit, Attia entered the Pacific Ocean just after midnight, appropriately embarking from "Doctor's Cove" on Catalina Island.

He moved steadily through 65-degree water, averaging a planned 48 strokes per minute.

Marathon swimmers don't take treading-water rest breaks or indulge in Big Mac hunger attacks. Every 15 minutes Attia's kayak chaperones would hand him a plastic bottle containing 150 milliliters of energy drink laced with dextrose. That's it.

He scrambled ashore near rocky Point Vicente and needed a full five minutes to gather himself before he could stand upright.

"I had the coordination of a toddler," says Attia.

His larger goal was to raise $10,000 for the Terry Fox Foundation and cancer research. It looks like he will hit that mark, he says, and maybe more.

The fundraising success leaves him elated. The swim itself leaves him humbled. Adventurers don't "conquer" deep oceans and high mountains, explains Attia. "They simply tolerate us for a brief period of time. That's what happened. The Pacific Ocean said, `OK, fine, we'll let you have this one.' "

Afterward, he and his wife, Jill, had a victory dinner with family and friends, although the guest of honor couldn't eat any solid food.

The couple then caught a red-eye flight home: Dr. Attia had business to take care of with Hopkins' kidney transplant team.

"I hope we don't have any transplants tonight," he said before beginning his Wednesday shift. "I could use the sleep."

To read more about how Peter Attia prepared for his marathon swim, visit baltimoresun.com/attia.

tom.dunkel@baltsun.com

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