Cindy Werhane wanted to become the first person to swim all the way around Sauvie Island. After 20 hours of swimming in open waters on July 11, 2019, she stopped 8 miles short of finishing the loop around the island. But to her, it was never about completing the 38-mile swim — it was about the undertaking.
“The bravery is really in the attempt,” Werhane told OPB’s “Think Out Loud.”
For as long as she can remember, she itched to be in the water, Werhane said. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t the fastest swimmer, or the best. She simply loved water. Even so, she took a 20-year break from swimming after she went to college and it took nearly a decade of deliberation after that for Werhane to decide it was the right time to swim around Sauvie Island.
“I got to a point where I had the right people around me, the right experiences in my background, and I decided that I was just going to try to get as far as I could,” she said. “And that was always the goal: to get as far as I could.”
For the first 22 miles of her swim, she traveled against the current of the river. Every half hour, she treaded on her back to receive food and water. Her nutrition during the swim came from chai tea, Tang, boiled eggs, pudding, coffee and beef sticks.
Werhane did a lot to prepare for the swim — and for staying awake long enough to complete it. She told “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller she would swim for 8 miles in open water, work a 12-hour night shift in her job as an oncology nurse, then swim another 8 miles again after her shift ended. And while much of her training was physical, mental strength was just as important.
“I did a lot of mindfulness training,” she said. “And that was finding out the places where I thought all the negative voices would be able to win, and then practiced getting to those places and fighting them back.”
Community support also motivated Werhane. She recalled hearing the voices of Sauvie Island residents watching from their house boats and cheering her on during the swim.
“I never felt alone while I was swimming,” she said.
She also remembers sharing her vulnerable experiences with her patients who were also in difficult times. After a practice swim, sometimes she would tell them happily about her success, and other times she would sit by their side and cry because she had failed.
Werhane said she doesn’t know if she’ll attempt the swim around Sauvie Island again. In her eyes, she had completed what she set out to do: try.
“There was success the whole way around,” she said.
To hear more from Cindy Werhane’s conversation with “Think Out Loud,” click play in the audio player at the top of the page.