OGDEN — On Thursday, Dec. 13, Goody Tyler IV stood at water’s edge of the Salt Lake Marina, stripped down to a Speedo, cap and goggles, waded into the 41-degree water and started swimming.
After two quarter-mile laps to the mouth of the marina and back, his body started shifting to survival mode, pulling blood from the limbs to keep his core warm. After the third lap, the searing pain and growing inability to convince his body to keep going were almost too much to bear.
As Tyler started the fourth lap, his body started shutting down and willpower was the only thing lifting his arms and kicking his legs. Tyler’s swimming buddies, Gordon Gridley and Josh Green, started their car to warm it up as he approached the shore 40 minutes after getting in the water. They immediately covered him, and because his legs wouldn’t support his standing weight, carried him to the car.
It took another hour to get his body temperature out of the danger zone, and for Tyler to comprehend that he was only the sixth American to complete the Ice Mile.
Four days later, Tyler started his first round of chemotherapy.
“We had no idea he was going to try the Ice Mile,” Gridley said, explaining that he and Green thought it would just be the typical 400-yard swim the group did on a regular basis. “But we knew he was going in for chemo, and he wanted this to be a memorable swim.”
Gridley got out after one lap and Tyler told him he was going to try for two more. Gridley followed along the marina wall, snapping pictures with his phone while keeping an eye on his friend in the water.
“Once I was diagnosed in November, I knew that day was my last chance to do it this season,” Tyler said. “When I finish with therapy the water will be well into the 40s and 50s, and I’d have to wait until next December for another chance. I was thinking, ‘If I can just do a half-mile today I’ll be good, but something inside of me just snapped and I went for it.”
Founded in 2009 by Ram Barkai, the International Ice Swimming Association is an organization that officiates Ice Swims around the world and aims to establish Ice Swimming as a recognized sport. An Ice Swim (or Ice Mile) is a one-mile swim in water temperature 41 degrees or below following the English Channel swim rules. Pending the processing of his paperwork, Tyler will be the 41st person in the world to have accomplished the feat, the sixth from the U.S.
“I got into cold-water swimming about two years ago,” Tyler said. “We started swimming in the Great Salt Lake at least once a week, and that’s when we found out about the International Ice Swimming Association.
“The Ice Mile was always in the back of my mind. Could I ever do something that intense? It’s just something so rigorous and so difficult to achieve.”
What most people don’t understand, Gridley explained, isn’t how difficult the swim itself is, but what happens after.
“The most dangerous part is when you get out of the water,” Gridley said. “If all that cold blood in your feet and hands goes to your heart too fast, you’ll have a heart attack.”
After a few minutes in the car, Gridley and Green carried Tyler to the marina shower and started at a luke-warm temperature. Little by little they increased the heat. As his shivering slowed and body temperature rose, Tyler’s accomplishment sank in, along with his imminent treatment for testicular cancer.
Overcome, Tyler broke down in front of his friends and released all his joy and frustration.
“It was quite an emotional time in that shower,” Gridley said. “He told us what he had been going through for the past months and just knowing what he’d be going through … it was very emotional for all of us.”
An avid marathon swimmer since his time in the Army more than a decade ago, Tyler discovered cold-water swimming in 2012. But the 36-year-old Virginia native, husband, father of two girls and Army veteran said it has been difficult balancing his treatment along with his job teaching physical education and sixth-grade world history at Navigator Pointe Academy in West Jordan.
He said swimming has helped put cancer into perspective, and completing the Ice Mile is something he draws on when the chemo leaves him physically and mentally exhausted.
“One of the best ways to describe when you’re swimming is your brain and your body go into all-out war against each other and against you,” he said. “You’re constantly fighting against your body to keep moving because it wants to stop, and your brain wants you to stop, too, and it eventually starts pulling blood from your arms and legs trying to make you stop.”
Tyler said some of his “warm-water” (50-60 degree) marathon swims can last six to seven hours and, just like the Ice Mile, draw undeniable parallels with cancer treatment where his infusions span five straight days and last six hours each day.
“I’m used to being uncomfortable for long periods of time doing these swims,” he said. “That’s a big benefit when you go in for chemotherapy. It’s an advantage I have, because you are going to be uncomfortable for long periods. You are going to be sick, and tired, and agitated, and p----- off and hungry all at the same time, and yet you have to keep going forward.”
Tyler pulls from his experiences in the water on days when the effects of chemo make getting out of bed impossible or summoning the energy to put on a pair of pants seems like a monumental task.
Aside from the tremendous support of his family and friends, Tyler is quick to point out how “unbelievably amazing” Principal Judy Farris at Navigator Pointe Academy has been in accommodating his treatment.
Farris said it’s the least they can do for one of their most beloved staff members.
“The kids think he’s absolutely the coolest,” Farris said. “He is a really great role model for these kids to look up to, and he’s also great with the staff. He’s a team player and ready to help anytime anyone needs it. We really love him.”
Tyler’s latest round of chemo took place earlier this week, but that’s not about to slow him down. Listed on his swim blog are three goals for 2013:
1. Beat cancer!
2. Complete another Utah Triple Crown.
3. At least one 20-mile swim. Most likely Bear Lake or Lake Tahoe crossing.
For most people that list would seem impossible at best. For those who know Goody Tyler, they have no doubt he’ll accomplish those goals and plenty more.