Over the past four years, Bob Burrow swam a total of about 70 miles in three separate open water swims. In doing so, he completed what's known as the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming earlier this month.
The former Lake Oswego resident, who now resides in Bend, was the 254th person in history to complete this marathon swim challenge, which consists of three swims: the English Channel, the 20 Bridges Swim — a swim around New York — and the Catalina Channel between Catalina Island and mainland California.
Burrow lived in Lake Oswego from the end of middle school through high school. And he credits his time living in Lake Oswego to when his swimming really "came to life."
Burrow was part of the Mountain Park Swim Club and swam for Lake Oswego High School.
"I had some great coaches in both places," he said.
He took a break from swimming, but decided to pick it back up roughly 25 years ago.
"It was just a way to provide balance in my life so I wasn't working too much," said Burrow, adding that he enjoys setting goals for himself, whether that be personal or professional. "It's nice to have a goal."
And while Burrow said open water swimmers are a small, "tight-knit" community, he found the right group of people he enjoys swimming and training with.
"It's easy to embark on these things when you have a group of people who are in your camp and want to help train with you," Burrow said.
Burrow emphasized the importance of teamwork to complete these challenges.
He had a friend who was versed in open water swims and pushed him to try the English Channel, which he completed in 2017. The 21-mile swim took Burrow about 10 hours and 51 minutes. Two years later, he completed the 28.5-mile 20 Bridges Swim in about seven hours and 37 minutes.
After realizing he was one swim away from completing what's known as the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, he took on the Catalina Channel Aug. 31, though it was originally scheduled in 2020 during the pandemic. This was an overnight swim that started around 10:30 p.m. and took him about 10 hours and 49 minutes to complete.
"Part of the reason (the swim is at night) is boat traffic, but more important than that, the condition tends to be more calm at night," said Burrow, adding that he timed the other swims with the tides and currents to be in his favor.
Burrow swims without a wetsuit — it technically doesn't count if he wears one — and a kayaker paddles alongside him for safety and nutrition support. Swimmers cannot touch the boat or they're disqualified, so he would tread water and take a "feed" every 30 minutes.
"Most of mine is in liquid form," said Burrow of his nutrition. "The longer you sit and chat with the kayaker and the longer you take to get your substance into you, that's more time."
But the Catalina Channel swim was physically tougher than the others. Burrow said he didn't manage his nutrition properly and became full and experienced an upset stomach.
"I was feeling physically not good in a way I haven't felt before," he said. "I got in this self-doubt area."
Burrow kept going for three reasons: He didn't want to tell himself or others he quit, he would likely not do this swim again and he knew that if he kept going it would likely improve.
Another factor that propelled him was the fact that one of his kayakers battled brain cancer.
"I'm such a wuss that I'm whining about not feeling well and here Dan is — he's survived brain cancer twice — who is paddling for me in the pitch black," Burrow said. "If I'm complaining to myself I should be looking to him going, 'That's pretty amazing.' If he can endure this, if he's out here putting himself at risk, why am I whining about it?"
Burrow said he starts by visualizing the end of the swim and what he's grateful and appreciative for. When he's swimming, Burrow said he might space out a bit but he mainly focuses on one stroke at a time — after trying to solve the world's problems, of course. He said counting his strokes helps keep him engaged and feeling present.
"The idea is to put your head down and just keep swimming," he said. "A lot of our lives we're looking in the rearview mirror assessing what happened yesterday. … We worry about the future, but we can't necessarily control that."
As for Burrow's next goal, he hasn't quite marked anything on the calendar yet.
"Right now I want warm water and I don't want to swim very far," he said.
For a closer look at Burrow's journey, check out his blog.
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