Jourgensen: The Great Garbarino

Marathon swimmer Kim Garbarino after completing a Boston Harbor swim in 2016. (Courtesy photo)

Kim Garbarino isn’t built like me and probably not like you. One look at him tells you that is true and, in case you need more evidence, consider these Garbarino facts.

The Lynn native swam the English Channel in 2012. He has swum out and back from Boston Light so many times he is more familiar with Boston Harbor than many fish. He’s logged hundreds of miles and thousands of laps in practice pools, and rising before dawn to plunge into a frigid ocean is, from Garbarino’s point of view, a perfectly sensible way to start a day. 

If all goes as planned, Garbarino will spend almost 13 hours in the water Friday, diving into the water lapping onto the beach near the L Street Bathhouse in South Boston and swimming past Boston Harbor islands before circling the historic lighthouse to make the eight-mile swim two more times. Yes, that’s 24 miles total.

“It’s a first in the Swim’s 107-year-old history,” he said.

Like I said, he isn’t built like you or me. 

Garbarino will cross the harbor in a swimsuit and goggles: Boston Light Swim rules prohibit wetsuits. 

He will be swimming alongside Elaine Howley, who he described as “one of the best swimmers in the world.” Amy Simione will paddle a kayak along the Boston Light course, keeping an eye on her husband. 

“Amy has kayaked all my swims and knows the course better than any boat pilot, and will be leading me and Elaine through the darkness,” Garbarino said. 

You read those words right — darkness. Part of the swim, like many endurance swims, involves stroking through the ocean in the dark. An escort boat, the Ellie Mae Knots, will follow Garbarino with John Forgione at the helm. 

Like Garbarino, Forgione was born and raised in Lynn and one of Garbarino’s other regular pilot boat captains is also a Lynn resident. 

Garbarino is dedicating Friday’s swim to his grandson, Vinny, who was born on Wednesday. 

“I’m hoping in 15-16 years from now we can complete the Boston Light together,” Garbarino said. 

Since 2009, Garbarino has accomplished the Boston Light Swim 16 times, logging nine single-leg swims, six double legs and a relay team win. He said a triple leg swim has never been successfully attempted, and the challenges he faces today include three tide changes and rip currents. 

Garbarino swam the English Channel on a Sunday in 2012 and swam Boston Light the following Saturday. 

He waded onto a French beach after battling two-foot swells, a fish that nibbled on his left foot and water temperatures that dropped to 58 degrees during the Channel swim.

Entering the water at 5 a.m., he swam five miles through tough tides simply to clear a harbor. Once he reached the Channel, Garbarino broke into a sprint swim to outpace tides that threatened to shove him back to shore.

His sister-in-law, Beth Simione, kept him on endurance pace by counting his strokes as swimming coach Craig Lewin urged him on while Lynn lawyer Harvey Rowe scanned the sea for debris.

Item readers will note how Lewin last Saturday completed a swim around Manhattan Island. 

During the Channel swim, Garbarino only broke his stroke cadence at intervals to motion for Amy to toss him a bottle filled with Gatorade, Red Bull, water and vitamin gel.

“I downed it as fast as I could — stopping even 30 seconds drives you back 500 feet with the tide,” he said.

Passing ships forced him to battle through their wakes, and the onset of night prompted Garbarino to shove light sticks under his cap and swim on through the twilight into night.

The Channel crossing wasn’t Garbarino’s first attempt at the Mount Everest of marathon swims. Bad weather ended an initial attempt in 2011 and a second attempt that year fell short of success. 

Striving for success in the face of failure perfectly defines Garbarino. His motto is, “I don’t do anything that has more than a 50 percent chance of success.”

He applies his philosophy of tackling adversity to his job working as a probation officer. Resumes, work history, family background are words on paper for Garbarino. 

He approaches his District Court clients with the belief that everyone has a reservoir of confidence and perseverance inside them. His job is to show people in trouble with the law how to tap into that well and use it to power discipline. 

Garbarino isn’t interested in warning people to avoid failure. He is interested in showing them the path to success so that they can make hope the overriding dynamic in their lives. 

After completing the Channel swim, Garbarino explained why he likes ocean swimming: “A lot of people are afraid of deep water. I’m not at all.” That same explanation applies to his job. Other people shy away from trouble and failure; Garbarino sees the negatives in other people’s lives as fertile ground for sowing the seeds of success. 

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