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For 18 minutes they swam neck and neck, Horning breathing to his right, Bryan to his left, and with each stroke they stared into each other's eyes. Suddenly, Bryan stopped, announcing to his boat, "I'm getting sick." Horning asked him, "Want to follow me?" It was as if Sonny Liston had said to Floyd Patterson, "You want to get up? I won't hit you for a while."
They swam on, Bryan finally accepting Horning's offer and drafting, but only for another 200 yards. At 11:43, three hours and 13 minutes into the race, Bryan stopped and said, "I'm sick and I've got cramps in my thigh." He clambered into the boat, and Horning went on alone.
"I was trying my best to keep him from following me," Bryan said later, "but the only thing I could do was urinate, and that didn't seem to bother him."
Nothing did. Nothing ever has.
In 1969, when Horning was a Cal Berkeley junior, he broke his back skiing. The epilepsy had been diagnosed a year earlier, and the doctor said, Horning recalls, "that my future in all sports would have to be limited." So each of the next two winters, back on the slopes, Horning broke a leg, and another doctor told him, "You'll never run again." In 1971 Horning graduated with a degree in marketing and finance, and in 1977, deciding he was out of shape, he started running 30 miles a week. Seven months later he completed the New York Marathon in 2:47. In the next two years he ran four more marathons and then he discovered triathlons. He has won four of those swim-bike-run ordeals, twice setting course records in the Escape From Alcatraz event, and three days before his Manhattan swim he finished fifth in another on Long Island. But until New York, his longest swim had been seven miles, with an ebb tide, from San Francisco's Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate.
Now, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, 24 miles along, he had been in the water for five hours and 10 minutes and was 29 minutes ahead of the record pace for the course, with his nearest competition more than a mile behind. Trouble was, the tide wouldn't start turning up the East River for another 29 minutes. By the time he reached the United Nations' complex, at East 42nd Street, Horning was six minutes behind the record pace.
By the East 50s the tide was tearing along the seawall at five knots, and Horning began passing surprised joggers ashore. He had left his chance for the record (seven hours, 14 minutes and 44 seconds) in the outgoing tides downtown, and his winning time was 7:25.45.
As he struggled out of the water, Horning's face, where his scuba-diver's mask had pressed down on it for more than seven hours, was a frightening mass of purplish-yellow ridges. He rose on wobbling legs and asked, rhetorically, "Why am I so tired?"
The very obvious answer would seem to be "Why not?"