Photo: Jason Haughey, Crush Photography
Jumping Into the Deep End
Northumberland Strait swimmer Michael Popp.
“Always remember to be yourself.” The wisdom in that statement eluded me, but it was advice from my older brother, MJ. He passed away suddenly in 2014. A year had passed since his funeral, I was despondent and gave up trying to understand.
I questioned who I was? When searching for an answer, nothing came to mind. Truth is, not sure I ever knew. Hovering over my laptop, I began typing. Two words stared back at me from the screen, Northumberland Strait. Thirteen kilometres of cold water, tide, jellyfish and current. It was time to go for it. The first step in my pursuit of one day defeating the English Channel.
Swimming the Northumberland Strait from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island was going to be my way of saying goodbye. But swimming isn’t my strength.
Truth is, it scares me to death.
Open water swimming is terrifying. Tides, waves and weather are relatively unpredictable. Water temperature is cold. Marine life is potentially dangerous. In the same way, life can be scary. Life takes without warning, appears wondrous one day and destructive the next. It’s unstable, impermanent, fleeting.
Swimming requires absolute care. Each stroke practiced with precision and concentration is essential to achieve maximum efficiency in the water. Proper breathing and relaxation is necessary to keep the mind focused and calm. Mastering the stroke and breath are key to successful marathon swimming.
Always remember to be yourself.
Swimming can teach us how to live. If each day and every waking moment within it is honoured and treated with focus and right thought, immense power emerges. Any difficulty that exists begins to disappear with no effort. Life becomes fun, peaceful and joyous.
Training to swim the strait has taught me how to live a happy and prosperous life again. Instead of treading water, I become one with it. Instead of opposing life and wanting it to be different, I flow with it.
Swimming has taught me to rise above loss and tragedy. It’s shown me that life is both impersonal and precious. To treat life with care and mindfulness is to honour it.
Swimming the Strait for Hope is about moving on, acceptance and honouring the past. Whatever hardship faced in life, there is always a deeper good. A reason to move on. How do you move on? You live! It is as simple as that. What appeared as the sunset, was actually the sun rising.
It became clear what MJ was saying. “Always remember to BE yourself.” When you look inside yourself, you are fearful of what you might find. Your strengths, weaknesses, even your own power. What happens to fear then? It dissolves. You realize all those things are you and, for the first time, you own it. Now I know who I am. See you on the shores of New Brunswick … love you brother.
Michael Popp is swimming the Northumberland Strait to raise awareness for Lifeline Malawi and the Calgary Humane Society.