Story posted November 06, 2009
Max Goldstein '09 is living the good life. "A life where I am confidently understanding what I love and pursuing just that," writes Goldstein in his blog chronicling his Thomas J. Watson Fellowship project, "Swimming Around the World: Creating Bridges Between Communities."
Goldstein, of Los Angeles, is traveling the world — to Peru, Bolivia, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan and Israel — to complete long-distance swims in the waters that divide these countries.
Goldstein says he began swimming on competitive teams at the age of five and says as a child he considered the water his home.
"The swimming community was my source of bonding, unity and grounding. The water was the center of my life."
Excerpts from Swim Around the World: The Strait of Gibraltar
I woke up to a sky filled with pink nimbus clouds that stretched far across the ocean and into the waters beyond. Then again, because don't think that I slept at all that night, I should simply say that the sunrise on the morning Sunday September 20th was beautiful. It was the last day of summer, and the day that I was set to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar, something that I have been consciously thinking and talking about since I arrived in Spain, two months ago. The swim, which at first seemed like an incredible feat of athleticism, had come to mean something very different for me. While the physical challenge of swimming the Strait and battling the currents and cold waters was still on my mind, and my fear of getting cold tortured me during the days before the swim, swimming the Strait of Gibraltar, more importantly, was the way that I experienced Spain. It had become my identity since I arrived; it was the answer that I gave when people asked me what I was doing here, it was why people over fed me in their homes, or invited me to swim with them ... or at least I imagined that my experience here was so shaped by this goal.
I was in the water by 9:30 a.m. The conditions were good, not great, but not bad enough for the captain to call off the swim, and neither am I sure that they would say the conditions in the Strait are ever "good" for swimming, only that they are not "too bad."
I had finally decided to attempt the swim without a wetsuit, a decision that I couldn't actually make until that very morning. People who know me, especially my swimmer friends, know how cold I can get in the water and may understand my concern. In any case, I attempted to protect myself from the cold with a thick layer of makeshift blubber, consisting of those kilo jugs of lanoline and Vaseline.
I wore three swim caps, a pair of clear Swedish goggles with the bungee-cord strap, and a blue soon to be retired Speedo swimsuit. The first two, one green and thin and the other orange of the think latex caps, were given to me during two separate 2.5 km swim competitions I had completed, one in Santander and the other in Guadalajara. The third, and most awesome swim cap, was a fading black cap with a giant white B on either side, aka a Bowdoin College swim cap, my alma mater. The blue swimsuit, which is now officially retired, is a suit I picked up in the lost and found pile at Bowdoin and have been wearing for the past 5 months to the point that acquired an awesome hole on each side where the fabric stitched together.
There were a few incredibly powerful visual moments during the swim. One was watching the Moroccan coast become ever clearer in the horizon, as the faded browns turned to defined shapes of hillsides and rocks. Another was seeing the huge cargo ships or oil tankers in the water around me. I never got too close to them, but seeing the boats from the waters view reminded me of the oceans expanse. It was as if I had to see something so much bigger than me to be reminded of the profundity of the ocean.
Goldstein's project involves making each of these traverses a community endeavor by developing swimming and lifesaving programs and inciting a dialogue between people on both sides of the water.
In Lima, Peru, in early November 2009, Goldstein was seeking funding from various embassies to start such programs in the southern region of Morocco, in the towns of Mirleft and Tiznit, which would bring together the youth of Spain, Morocco and the U.S.
"Ultimately, these projects will assemble a team of six swimmers from three countries, who hope to become the first international relay of swimmers to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar, from Spain to Morocco," says Goldstein.
"Currently we are looking for a small amount of funding, 7,000 euros (approximately $10,400), that will allow us to create a large array of projects that encourage cultural understanding and are an example of international cooperation."