NEWBURYPORT — Rules for succeeding in business are similar to those that produce success in long-distance swimming: Never panic, always be prepared and do not give up.
So says Davis Lee, a marathon swimmer who spoke yesterday at a breakfast forum of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Davis, a resident of Newburyport, has swum the English Channel — 21 miles — and the Catalina, Calif., Channel — 21 miles. In June, he will enter a competition to swim around the island of Manhattan — 28 miles.
Completion of these three events is considered the "Grand Slam" of distance swimming, and only 43 athletes have done this, according to distance-swimming authorities.
Lee told local business professionals that marathon swimming can be like business in that the unexpected is often encountered — but one cannot give up in the face of adversity.
"Business people face uncertainty and challenges all the time," said Lee, a nuclear physicist who holds a Ph.D. from MIT. "One rule is not to panic, because that is a physical response that makes you ineffective. Try to reason, try to find an alternative method.
"Another rule is be prepared. I also sky-dive, and everyone in that business does as much preparation as possible because that is a sport in which you cannot fail."
Lee counseled business people not to give up.
"You may want to stop a program and call it quits on an idea, but do everything you can to stay with it," Lee said. "You've created your goal, now work to achieve it."
Lee said that one mental barrier that long-distance swimmers and racers encounter is a condition known as "hitting the wall."
He said it is a physical condition produced when the body tires and prepares itself to draw on reserves of strength.
Lee said that in swimming the English Channel, a journey of about 10 to 12 hours, he hit the wall after about several hours.
"It felt awful, but I knew it was going to happen, and I was prepared," he said. "I just kept swimming through it, waiting for it to lift.
"In business, as in swimming, sometimes perseverance is necessary to achieve those goals."
Lee is an amateur swimmer who receives little support from sponsors. A trip to England to swim the channel can cost close to $15,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
He said he will start training for the June race in New York after Thanksgiving. When he is in training, Lee takes four-to-five hour swims in the local YWCA.
Lee, a physicist with Axcelis Technologies in Beverly, recalled a story in which a distance swimmer was getting tired in an attempt to swim the English Channel. After eight or nine hours of a 12-hour swim, she began complaining of fatigue and the cold.
"Every half-hour when she would stop to take nourishment, she would complain to those on the (accompanying) boat," Lee said. "After several of these stops, the captain yelled back at her, 'If you have the energy to complain, you have the energy to swim. Just keep going.'"
The swimmer finished her journey.