In a previous blog post I spoke about Île de Gorée. This small island, located off the coast of Dakar, is the sight of much controversy and occupies an important place in the historical memory of both Senegal but also the Global North. It also is the sight of the largest and most important event of the Senegalese Swimming and Lifeguard Association. Each year, the group organizes a race from mainland Dakar to Gorée. There are two courses: a 4.5km and a 5.2 km course.
When we first visited the island, the race briefly came up in conversation. As a former swimmer I was interested and one of my peer’s swims at the club level at William and Mary but we never thought anything would come of it. Then one night about two weeks after this first trip a friend reached out saying that she had all the details of the race and that we should enter. All of a sudden what had been very hypothetical and far away become very possible. At this point the race was only days away but we decided to go the office of the Swimming Federation none the less and see if it was even possible.
When we showed up to the Office we were informed that registration had closed two days ago but we could still enter. We all looked at each other with a brief look of panic. In a large way we were hoping that we would be unable to enter it. We were then told that we needed a from that certified we were in good health that was signed by a doctor. We breathed a sigh of relief as we realized that we had found another out. Then my third friend asked if the forms we had given to CIEE would suffice and the woman enrolling us eagerly said that it would. We were then asked for printed photos. We informed the office that we did not have any but the woman said that too wasn’t an issue and that we should just WhatsApp her a selfie. We were late, did not have the proper forms or documentation and yet still were allowed to enter. At this point we all just believed that it if all these options were surmountable, then this was simply meant to be.
As the race approached we became more and more nervous. The day of we showed up well ahead of time and it was as we walked down onto the beach that we realized exactly what we had gotten ourselves into. The end of the race lay far, far in the distance. It was then that we realized what we had unwittingly gotten ourselves in to.
When we were checking in we asked in the end how many people had signed up. We were told that 800 people had signed up and it was expected that 600 would show up for race day. As the crowd started to swell, our energy did as well. And the start arrived. We were signed up for the shorter course and launched second. The gun went off and then I was surrounded by a mass of 400 people all charging towards the water.
The race itself is a bit of a painful blur to me. For a good stretch of the race you are far of the coast and it is next to impossible to know where you are in the course. I could have been half way or only been ¼. Determination to finish drove me closer and closer to the finish line. As I neared the Gorée the pain started to slip away as my frustration began to grow. I must have put my head down 50 times thinking to myself these will be my final strokes, just to come up to air and realize that I still had a great distance to cover.
The last 100 meters to the beach was the longest 100 meters of my swimming career. But as I emerged from the water, I broke out in a massive smile. As I look back on it I can’t help but smile. The fact that I was able to enter so far after registration and without proper paperwork is very emblematic of many experiences that I have in Dakar. That coupled with the triumph that one feels after completing a major race like that has made for a memory that I will not soon forget.