Special Events Stories & Photos

Lil Long with her husband Henry Earl at "The Long Battle forLil Long with her husband Henry Earl at "The Long
Battle for Nicky" gala fundraiser leading up to the
official swim date.

The Long Battle for Nicky
Mississippi, September 2010

Lil Long Swims the Mighty Mississippi

Elizabeth ‘Lil’ Battle Long’s name says it all — she’s faced a very long battle. On Saturday, Lil reached a milestone in that battle when she triumphantly swam across the Mississippi River during an event she dubbed "The Long Battle for Nicky."

The event’s name honors her own struggles and pays tribute to her friend, Nicky Roberts, who lost her battle with PH in 2007. Lil received her own PH diagnosis in June 2009, and following the initial shock and devastation, Lil made significant health and fitness changes and began daily swimming exercises. Her husband Henry Earl was so impressed with her progress that he soon began telling people she’d be capable of swimming across the Mississippi River in a year’s time. Lil took his words to heart and never looked back.

The swim was originally scheduled for September 4, but due to high water levels and dangerous currents, it had to be postponed. Lil says she wavered between excitement and apprehension during the days leading up to the re-scheduled swim on September 11, but she never lost focus or faith. In a personal journal (PDF) chronicling the range of emotions she faced during her experience, Lil writes, “Instead of getting more nervous as the day approaches, I actually feel calmer. It’s like that time I was in an emergency landing with one plane engine on fire. We had to go through the ‘hunker down’ process. At first, the panic just overwhelmed me. Then when I realized it was totally out of my control, calm came over me that was so sweet. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling. I think I’m having it again.”

Early Saturday morning during the final moments before the swim, Lil not only turned to this inner peace to propel her forward, but she also gathered strength from those around her. Family and close friends accompanied her at the launch site of Catfish Point, showing their support by wearing shirts with “Go Lil Go” across the front. In addition to the physical show of support, Lil also felt Nicky’s presence guiding her throughout the entire journey.

After pausing to listen to Nicky’s favorite song and receive a blessing and communion, Lil strapped on her flippers, gloves, snorkel and flotation device, collected her thoughts and eased into the water to embark upon the roughly half-mile swim to the Arkansas bank.

Even with boats trailing her and a camera crew recording the voyage, Lil fell into the tranquility of her own thoughts and the true purpose of it all. She recorded these sentiments in her journal after the swim, “Everyone was really quiet and the longer I swam, the more personal it got. I thought of all the people going through this horrible, unknown disease that were past the point of doing something like this; how they are the real heroes.”

In just twenty-seven minutes, a mere fraction of the hour she predicted it would take, Lil crossed the Mississippi, exhausted and overcome with emotion. She spent the remainder of the day celebrating with family, friends and lots of catfish!

While the swim was both physically and emotionally draining, Lil says it left her feeling like, “I can conquer anything!” It has also given her the motivation to keep moving forward in raising awareness for PH. In true Lil Long spirit, she says she won’t stop here. “Don’t count me out yet,” Lil says. “I might come up with something even crazier for next year.”

Watch video of Lil's swim | Read Rino's blog post about the swim, "Out of Hope... Joy"


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