The idea started as a joke and turned into a challenge.
The Savage family was leaving Los Banos for a camping trip when their car broke down. While looking out across the San Luis Reservoir, Jillian Savage asked her son, James, if he thought he could swim across it.
“Yeah, I probably could,” James said.
Then James quickly wanted to know if anybody had ever done it. When his mom said she didn’t think so, he responded: “Make it happen, Mom.”
That’s how these crazy swim challenges usually begin — with the words “Mom, make it happen.”
James, 12, has already made the swim to Alcatraz seven times and swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge four times. Last summer he did an ocean swim in San Diego.
“It’s fun,” James said. “The thing I like is it’s never the same. It’s always going to be different.”
Currents, winds, and water temperature all create different challenges every time he attempts these open water swims. James says he saw whales off in the distance while swimming under the Golden Gate Bridge. In San Diego he saw jellyfish.
On Saturday he became the first documented swimmer to swim across the San Luis Reservoir. An accomplishment that spanned 7.3 miles and took 5 hours, 23 minutes and 13.94 seconds. James is now officially in the books as a marathon swimmer.
“It was hard,” James said. “I know I could do it, but there’s always that mental breakdown in the middle where you think you can’t, but really you can. It felt nice finishing. I couldn’t walk though. I kind of just fell on the rocks.”
James had a team with him. His mother and father were nearby on kayaks. He also had someone nearby in a boat documenting the swim.
Before taking on the challenge, James had told his mom not to let him quit for any reason. No matter how much he complained, cried or didn’t want to do it.
Jillian stuck to that promise when James had what he called his “mental breakdown” in the middle of the swim.
Around the fourth mile, he started getting cramps and cold, according to Jillian. During the fifth mile, he was ready to call it off.
That’s when mom turned into a coach.
“I told him ’you wanted to do this,’” Jillian said. “You can do this. You will do this. He got his mind right and he kept swimming.”
After the race, James thanked his mom for pushing me.
“He said, ‘Thank you for not letting me quit. You did a good mom job. You didn’t let me quit,’” Jillian said. “That got to me because it’s tough for a 12-year old boy to get sentimental. He’s been riding on cloud nine ever since.”
James trained for his latest challenge by swimming every morning before school in the Los Banos Creek Reservoir. He also spent two hours in the pool every night.
Are their nights when he doesn’t want to jump in a pool? Sure.
“There are plenty of nights when I don’t want to swim, but if I want to be a great swimmer I have to do it,” he said.
James says he wants to do a swim in Lake Tahoe soon. He also wants to swim the English Channel eventually.
When the time comes, mom will make it happen.