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The cry came from a swimmer in New York's grungy Harlem River, but it was a request for water, not a complaint. The Harlem was cleaner than expected on Sept. 14. The First Annual Manhattan Island Swimming Marathon wasn't going to kill anyone.
The 31.3-mile race had begun at 8:30 a.m., at 90th Street and the East River, appropriately enough hard by a large scow mounded high with garbage. The East River meets the Harlem about half a mile upstream, and there the tide would turn in their favor and carry the 12 swimmers—10 men and two women—nine miles to a third river, the Hudson. Catch the tides. That's how one circumnavigates the Big Apple.
It was 9:51 when the swimmer asked for water. His name was David Horning, a 34-year-old marketing consultant from Berkeley, Calif. In 1969 he had suffered two epileptic seizures. No one in New York knew that. And no one knew that Horning's doctor had warned him not to swim again. Now here he was, swimming at the toes—drafting is the term—of the leader, Todd Bryan, a 31-year-old environmental planner from Providence.
At 10:30 they stopped to feed, treading water as they did so: On a rise to the north, at the Marble Hill railroad station, a group of commuters stood and looked down, like tourists at Marineland. Horning turned to Bryan and said, "How're you doing?" Bryan replied, "Very good. How're you doing? Want to lead?" "No," Horning said, "you're having too good a time." Actually, Bryan wasn't having a good time. He was starting to look a little peaked. Drafting can cut a swimmer's stroke rate and energy expenditure by up to 10%, so the 155-pound Bryan was working harder than the 190-pound Horning. As he swam into the Hudson, Bryan, leading, was like a pilot fish trailed by a shark.
At 11:06 they were nearly 2� miles downstream, having caught another tide. The two had stuck together in their little symbiosis for an hour and 55 minutes when, suddenly, the shark started edging up on the pilot fish. By 11:13, when they stopped beneath the George Washington Bridge, the two were head to head.
Bryan asked, "How're you feeling?" Not doing, as he had asked before. It was easy to imagine the answer Bryan was hoping for, but Horning said, "Great," as he grinned, gulped Pepsi-Cola and downed a second banana. Bryan looked troubled.
Horning said to him, "Hey, I don't even know your name," as seemed only courteous, after haunting the man for nearly two hours.
"Todd," Bryan answered as he tried to eat a peach.
"I'm Dave," Horning said, and off he headed down the Hudson. Bryan vomited up the peach and followed.