Lori King expected the pain. You don't swim for more than 21 hours in the open waters around Bermuda - all the way around, Elbow Beach to Elbow Beach - without aching shoulders, head winds exacting their toll, seemingly whatever direction she swam. A former La Salle University swimmer, Class of 1997, King felt she nailed her nutrition in the run-up to last month's swim. She was ready for the cold water.
Still, 16 hours in, aiming for land points that seemed never to arrive - "Objects always appear closer than they are" - she eventually knew her right rotator cuff had slightly torn. She still could turn over every stroke, but "started to get real pinchy."
That wasn't the worst part. King knew there would be pain. She knew she'd get a little seasick, although not much it turned out until it was over. Even knowing the high salt content of the water, King didn't expect the inside of her nose to eventually get completely raw, her tongue swollen, her taste buds "not right," her throat as sore as any sore throat. Each swallow hurt. Let Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky find out what that feels like.
A graduate of Gwynedd Mercy Academy, originally from Norristown, King (maiden name Baiocchi) remembers always being nervous on the blocks during her competitive swimming days and "completely freaked out" when she began open-water swimming after marrying and moving to Long Island. But once she got over the thoughts of sharks swimming nearby, she kept hitting longer and longer swims, seeing what more she could handle.
A man had accomplished the swim around Bermuda four decades earlier, so King, 40, knew it could be done, even if nobody else had done it in those 40 years, and it had taken the man more than 40 hours.
Her mission: "What did that feel like, to swim for 24 hours?"
She talked of the vital work of the support team, also of coaches who taught her how to do this kind of extreme sport. Accompanying, in addition to two-foot waves and winds of 12 to 14 knots, was a mothership 60 feet long, two smaller motor boats, plus a couple of kayaks - "My kayakers were very experienced; They do extreme endurance sports."
There was no respite for the kayakers in the rollicking waters, she added. "They were having problems holding their position to me. I knew it was rough. They would be no more than 10 yards away, but it was really hard for them to do it. If it was other kayakers, not as strong or experienced, they would have been way far ahead or way behind."
Maybe 12 hours into Lori King's swim, the kayaks flipped. King couldn't help them, just like they couldn't touch her. She had to swim around the island by herself. She had to keep going as those kayaks worked to right themselves.
"He was trying to flip back over. It took him like three times. I didn't know if the support boat could see him," King said. "It got a little intense. 'Guys, he's not flipping back over!' "
This was at night, just over halfway into her swim. She had to keep going, moving away, guessing the right angle forward. Eventually, they righted themselves and got back to her.
What did King think about the whole time?
"Sometimes you think about everything, sometimes nothing," King said. "Sometimes the rhythm of my stroke. One of the crew members, their daughter - and he had stopped and dropped off her backpack - she ran out and said, 'I believe in you.' I think she was 12. Just those four words you think are nothing but just the way she said them."
King also thought about her own children back home, her son Ryan, now 10, and daughter Anna, 7.
"If I don't make it, how would I explain to them?" King said.
And her husband, Michael, about to undergo open heart surgery. She had plenty to think about, to keep her moving.
At one point, she was sure she wasn't going to make it. She hadn't gotten far enough. She needed to get around a point at the top of Bermuda that can get "really rough and sloppy and crazy."
She kept wondering when she'd hit the point. She finally asked, how far to it? She'd passed it two hours before. Her stroke rate picked back up, her confidence with it.
She got a little delirious at the end. A few miles to go, she yelled to let her on the boat. They said no way.
"I knew I was going to finish," King said. "But it was going to be a painful last three miles."
To make it official, she had to clear the water line. King remembers thinking she wasn't quite there, still swimming when the water was probably no more than knee deep at Elbow Beach. The local man who had done it 40 years earlier, Sean O'Connell, was among the greeting party.
There will be more swims for her, "but nothing will top this."
Her actual time for the 36.5-mile swim was 21 hours, 19 minutes, 45 seconds, June 15 to 16.
And as soon as it was over, it wasn't over. Never mind the euphoria King felt or the pain.
"I had to swim back to the boat to go to the hotel," she said.