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The Channel Crossing

People kept asking, “Why are you doing this?” 

In my knee jerk response, I would say, “to accomplish an old desire to cross the channel, or I am trying to motivate others to do uncomfortable things.” But when I was on the beach at 5:00am in Catalina, feeling the nerves, anxiousness, and fear, I felt the real answer would be discovered somewhere in the middle of that channel.  

The purpose or the “answer” moved from being external to something deeply personal. 

We launched in the dark, at 5:44am. There wasn’t a breath of wind, and the surface of the water could be easily mistaken for the starry sky.  People slept in their boats around us as we stealthily cut through the water. Every stroke with my paddle was like breaking liquid glass, distorting the stars. The sailboat quietly hummed its little engine and set a pace similar to mine. We were off, and there was no turning back. The goal was Seal Beach, an expected 26 miles away. 

As the sun rose, putting the stars to bed, a new beauty awoke.  The wind, still non existent had the Pacific like our own giant pool. The boat and I were the only disruptions to the mirror surface. Everything turned orange.  The sky, water, and darker silhouette of the island was an orange I experienced for the first time. 

The sense of Freedom was overwhelming as I paddled toward the invisible horizon. I pulled away from the boat and was alone. All I could hear was my breath, water lapping over my board and the paddle cutting through the surface. The experience was freedom. No engine, no sail, no one else to move me along.  I found myself deeply submitted to the sea and God Himself. The ocean is unpredictable, a powerful force that can morph and change at any instant. Large and dangerous creatures lurked just below my feet.  I was forced to trust and rely on something bigger than myself.

In that trust I found freedom. I heard it said that the best place to be is when God is your only option.  I find my natural leanings are to control, protect, and secure everything around me, to the point where those securities and comforts actually turn into bondage. What were luxuries, now become expectations. WiFi is no longer a convenience, it has become an essential human right. Take away my iPhone, and I am lost and naked.  This is bondage. 

My 7+ hours on the water was a breaking free of the unnecessary dependence, securities, comforts and safety nets I put up all around me. More than that, the crossing was a breaking free of even my mental and physical limitations.  Crossing that channel was the hardest thing I have ever done. The channel took me to places mentally and physically I have never been. 

Around mile 15 I was struck with peace and joy. I believe these two were by-products of freedom. It was as if freedom was the covering over the whole experience, and peace and joy were fruits produced under freedom. Freedom is only healthy within boundaries.  Total freedom leads to destruction. Had I paddled the opposite way from Seal Beach, my experience would have ended in death. I experienced freedom and the fruits of it because the two coast lines marking my boundaries. A small child can have wonderful adventures in the bounds of his back yard. But take away the gates, and he wanders to the front where a busy street and other threats endanger his life. 

Fear of the unknown gripped me prior to leaving the beach. Looking across that channel with no visible destination was a mental feat to overcome. My head said, “What do you think you are doing? You have never done this and it is unsafe. You aren’t prepared.”

But my heart retorted, “Shut up and let’s go!”  

What I discovered on the other side of fear was freedom, peace, and joy. Peace came and went, especially as my body began to give out. But ironically as the pain increased, so did joy.  The last 10 miles were the most difficult. Specifically because I had expected and trained for 26 miles. When I hit 25 miles and still couldn’t see my destination, my heart sank.  I still had another 6 miles to go, which translated to over an hour longer of hard paddling! My feet were numb and everything burned.  The cramping in my hands became normal. Despite the radical discomfort, joy was grinning at me and through me the whole time. It’s really hard to explain, but I almost enjoyed the extremeness of the whole situation, and knew I had to finish.

As I came to mile, 29, 30, and the final stretch, the pain subsided and my focus was the finish line. What struck me was the limitations I put on myself thinking it was only 26 miles.  Had I known it would be 30.7 miles, I don’t know if I would have gone. I would probably either trained longer or found a shorter route. But at the final stretch, my strength was renewed and the pain subsided.  The end was near, and my beautiful wife, two kids and friends were on the beach to welcome me. I caught a small wave in, landed on the shore of Seal Beach, and dropped to my knees in elation and gratitude. 

A Navy Seal once said, “When you think you are at your limit, you are really only at 60%. You have another 40% capacity left.” 

The limitations we put on ourselves are made up. They are fabricated.  How often do we say, “I could never” or “That is impossible” or “I just can’t anymore.”  

A book I think everyone should read is Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  Viktor Frankl was a holocaust  survivor and has endured the worst a human can endure.  He says the following:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

The choice for freedom is ours.  As life becomes more comfortable, comfort becomes the expectation, eliminating even the ability for us to think we can do uncomfortable things. Our head makes agreements for why we can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t.  But in the end we get to choose. I would bet if you took a close look at your fears, it is probably just your head convincing you to not do something that your heart has been wanting to do your whole life. 

The paddle was uncomfortable. As I write this almost a week later, I am still sore.  But the soreness is a reminder of joy.  I look fondly over that channel knowing that every stroke across brought me closer to my true self and revealed more capabilities. I want to live from the heart, to be in touch with the desires God imprints on my heart. Uncovering that desire and going after it uncovers who we are and what we are capable of. Going after our hearts desire is challenging but rewarding.  You might be surprised what you find.


What is your channel to cross?

What do you desire?




Assumption of the Risk: I am aware that there are significant risks involved in all aspects of physical training.  I understand that the reaction of the heart, lungs and vascular system to exercise cannot always be predicted with accuracy.  I understand that there is a risk of certain abnormal changes occurring during or following exercise, which may include abnormalities of blood pressure or heart rate; chest, arm, or leg discomfort;  transient light-headedness or fainting; and in rare instances, heart attack, stroke, or even death.  I should look for any signs out of the ordinary,  including but not limited to excessive soreness, darkened urine, and pain in the kidney areas in the days following a workout. While this type of injury is very rare, it can occur due to many factors that may be beyond the control of PURSUIT/ Garden Church. I understand that the programs and classes offered by PURSUIT are of a nature and kind that are extremely strenuous and can/may push me to the limits of my physical ability.  These risks include, but are not limited to falls which can result in serious injury or death, injury or death due to negligence on the part of myself or other people around me, injury or death due to improper use or failure of equipment.  I am aware that any of these above-mentioned risks may result in serious injury or death to myself and/or others.  

I willingly assume full responsibility for any and all risks that I am exposing myself to as a result of my participation in PURSUITS’ programs and classes and accept full responsibility for any injury or death that may result from participation in any activity, class, or physical fitness program.    

Liability Release: I fully understand that my personal exercise program may be strenuous and I choose to participate voluntarily. I accept all responsibility for my health and any results, injury, or mishaps that may affect my well-being or health in any way. I waive any claims, demands,  causes of action, or any claims for relief whatsoever against, and release PURSUIT (as well Zac Ernst, Garden Church and its owners, employees, or other authorized agents, including independent contractors) from any and all liability, claims and/or causes of action that I may have for injuries or other damages, arising out of participation in PURSUITs’ activities, including, but not limited to the programs and classes. 

I agree that PURSUIT is in no way responsible for the safekeeping of my personal belongings while I attend its programs and classes. I understand that programs and classes at PURSUIT may be physically strenuous and I voluntarily participate in them with full knowledge that there is a risk of personal injury, property loss, or death. I agree that neither I, my heirs, assigns or legal representatives will sue or make any other claims of any kind whatsoever against PURSUIT or its members for any personal injury, property damage or loss, or wrongful death, whether caused by my negligence or otherwise.    

Description of Potential Risks: I understand that no exercise program is without inherent risks regardless of the care taken by an instructor and that my personal safety cannot be guaranteed by my instructor. I realize that when participating in any exercises, particularly those that induce cardiovascular stress, muscular endurance, strength building, and other fitness activities, there is a chance of serious injury, including but not limited to bruises, musculoskeletal strains, and sprains, more serious injuries including but not limited to heart attack, stroke, muscle tears, herniated disks, torn rotator cuffs, or other cardiovascular injuries, or catastrophic injuries including but not limited to death and paralysis.   

Participant Responsibilities: If Participant is able to answer affirmatively to any of the following questions, please consult a physician prior to any  involvement in PURSUITs’ programs and classes:   

  1. Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should perform physical activity recommended by a physician?  
  2. In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?  
  3. Do you lose your balance because of dizziness or do you ever lose consciousness?   
  4. Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?  
  5. Is your doctor currently prescribing drugs for your blood pressure or heart condition?   
  6. Do you know of any reason why you should not engage in physical activity?   

I understand that it is my responsibility to:  

  1. Fully disclose any health issues or medications that are relevant to participation in a strenuous exercise program to the instructor;
  2. Cease exercise and report promptly any unusual feelings (e.g., chest discomfort, nausea, difficulty breathing, apparent injury, etc.) during  the exercise program; and
  3. Clear my participation with my physician.   

Participant Acknowledgments: Agreeing to this exercise program, I acknowledge that my participation is completely voluntary. I understand the potential physical risks involved in the exercise program and believe that the potential benefits outweigh those risks. I give consent to certain physical touching that may be necessary to ensure proper technique and body alignment. I understand that the achievement of health and fitness goals cannot be guaranteed. I have had a voice in planning and approving the activities I have chosen to participate in. I have been able to ask questions regarding any concerns I might have, and have had those questions answered to my satisfaction. I am in good physical condition,                                       

I have no impairment which might prevent my participation in such activities, and have been advised to consult a physician prior to beginning this program. I have been advised to cease exercise immediately if I experience unusual discomfort and feel the need to stop. I have read and understood the above release; I have been able to ask questions regarding any concerns I might have; I have had those questions answered to my satisfaction.

I understand that my medical history is a very important factor in the development of my fitness/wellness program. I understand that certain medical or physical conditions which are known to me, but which I do not disclose to PURSUIT may result in serious injury to me.  If any of the above conditions change, I will immediately inform PURSUIT of those changes. I, knowingly, and willingly, assume all risk of injury resulting from my failure to disclose accurate, complete, and updated information in accordance with this release.   

I hereby certify that I know of no medical problems that would increase my risk of illness and injury as a result of participation in a fitness program designed by PURSUIT.  With my full understanding of the above information, I agree to assume any and all risks associated with my participation in PURSUIT programs and classes.

I acknowledge that I have voluntarily chosen to participate in a program of progressive physical exercise. I acknowledge being informed of the strenuous nature of the program and the potential for unusual but possible, physiological results including, but not limited to, abnormal blood pressure, rhabdomyolysis, fainting, heart attack, paralysis, or death. By signing this document, I assume all risk for my health and well-being and hold PURSUIT, Garden Church, as well as Zac Ernst, other owners, employees, and authorized agents, including independent contractors, harmless therefrom. I understand that questions about exercise procedures and recommendations are encouraged and welcome.           

Indemnification: I recognize that there is risk involved in the types of activities offered by PURSUIT. Therefore, I accept financial responsibility for any injury that I may cause either to myself or to any other participant due to his/her negligence. Should the above-mentioned parties, or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney’s fees and costs to enforce this agreement, I agree to reimburse them for such fees and costs. 

I further agree to indemnify and hold harmless PURSUIT, Garden Church, Zac Ernst, owners, agents, employees, independent contractors, and volunteers from liability for the injury or death of any person(s) and damage to property that may result from my negligent or intentional act or omission while participating in activities offered by PURSUIT.  

I have carefully read this Agreement and fully understand its contents. I am aware that this is a release and waiver of liability and sign it knowingly, voluntarily, and of my own free will.