“We never give ourselves credit for what we can really do. If we can get out of
our own way and look at the big picture, we have so much within our spirit.
We need to dig deeper just to see what we have.”
~Shannon Ward Swartz
(See Reflections on the Experience)
This is the story of my role in a great adventure swimming across the English Channel as part of a relay swim team in August of 2015. We were a team of 3 swimmers, 2 crew women, a Pilot and his 2 crew men and 1 official Observer. The swimmers were my nephew Todd, his 16 year old daughter, Lauren, and myself.
Our Pilot suggested we start during high tide so we could get a good night sleep before starting our swimming. We took his advice. And on August 1st at 7:00 a.m., we went to the pier loaded with gear. Pilot, Lance, and his crew were beyond awesome! They gave us SO much attention and support, something I hadn’t experienced in previous channel swims. The boat was nice and big, and there was plenty of room for all of us. Our Observer was an ex-marine seal. He was very militant and negative. I chose to ignore him.
We planned to swim in one hour intervals each. During each hour swim, our crew would wave a plain towel at the 1/2 hour mark. At the 5 minute marker, she waved a very bright colorful towel notifying the swimmer to return to the boat.
Let the swim begin!!
Arriving at Shakespeare Beach about 10 minutes away from the pier, Lauren jumped in and swam about 200 yards to the shore. She stood up, put her arms in the air to show she was ready. The horn sounded and she was off, swimming out to sea. And we proceeded to move forward toward France!
After my first round of swimming, I changed into sweats, jacket, coat, and hat and got into a sleeping bag. The crew women brought me food and drink.
After my 1 hour and 45 minutes rest, I put on a dry suit, cap and goggles and climbed down to the skinny little deck at the back of the boat. The horn sounded, I jumped in, and the swimmer ahead of me made the transition to get back onto the boat.
The sun was out and it was a hot, beautiful, glorious day. We each did 2 rounds so we had 6 hours in, and were half-way to France. The swimming was fabulous!
Then, as I jumped in for my 3rd round of swimming, all hell broke loose. The winds picked up and harsh, fast strong waves got bigger and bigger. I felt like a rag doll being thrown around. After my hour, I could barely get back on the boat. It was miserable.
Back on the boat for recovery, the crabby Observer told me to not fight the water, but to cut (slice) through the wave, leaving me more energy and saving my shoulders. He said to “embrace” the swim. Even though I didn’t like him, he did give me great advice!
Back in the water again, the swimming was great and I loved the temperature of the water despite the rough seas. I swam for what felt like forever, and never saw the towel. What no towel?? What was happening?? Finally, I hear the horn and swim to the boat. I get back on and learn that Roberta (our crew) and taken a bad fall, cutting open her head and needing medical attention. One of the crew was an ex-army medic and attended to her. Fortunately, Roberta was ok. That sure could have been a really awful way not to finish.
Meanwhile, the turbulence is taking its toll on the team. Todd, is hanging his head over the side of the boat. Need I say more? I briefly thought this is it….we aren’t going to make it….cannot let that happen.
I felt fine until midway through the challenge when I started to feel very weak, dizzy and nauseous. Fortunately, the nausea held off. Lauren had very little too. But poor Todd!! Fortunately once any one of us was back in the water we felt fine. Being in the water felt so much better. But, at one point when I turned to breathe, it looked like the boat was going to roll right over on me! When I told the Pilot, he laughed and said “you crazy!”
The Pilot announces we are about 1 mile out. I take a look and think it looks more like 2-3. Lauren tells her dad he won’t be swimming again because she intended to finish! The moon was full, the winds had died and the water was calm and flat.
And Lauren finished! She arrived on the beach, stood up, and the horn sounded. Team “3 Generations” made it to France!
Lots of people were on the beach with a bon fire. Party time. Clapping and cheering for Lauren. Very, very cool. They offered her a beer! She swam back to the boat, and we headed back to Dover.
The trip back is 3 1/2 hours, but not bad. I was soggy, hungry, exhausted, but fell sound asleep. We arrived in Dover at 3:30a.m, went to our B&B where we ate, showered and crashed.
I am very grateful that we made it successfully. Love the Channel!!
Reflections on the Experience:
I’d been a recreational swimmer from the age of 6. Around the age of 40 I decided to challenge myself with a 5 mile, open water swim event. I found I kind of liked open water swimming – no walls, no flip turns, no chlorine and no boundaries! The swim just about did me in and I decided to get in better shape by swimming more.
A few years later my nephew, Todd, decided to swim for fitness after receiving poor results during a physical exam. He wanted to open water swim and so I joined him for health and safety reasons.
I loved open water. I could just go and go. I loved being outside, sun coming up, or going down. It was very spiritual for me, and I started experiencing energy that I didn’t know existed. I felt very exuberant and discovered I liked cold water.
Eventually we met a YWCA coach who wanted to put a relay team together to swim the English Channel. Without any idea or concern for what the training would entail Todd and I said yes! For me, I just wanted to complete a really big goal. When I was younger, I never did well competitively so the open water, non-competitive aspect was very appealing.
We trained and trained and trained. And when we succeeded I felt I had accomplished something I never knew I could do – and I was 57! Now that I am 63, I can swim very competitively in pools or open water because there are so few in my age group! Nationally, there are many, but locally? Just a few.
We never give ourselves credit for what we can really do. If we can get out of our own way and look at the big picture, we have so much within our spirit. We need to dig deeper just to see what we have. It never ever occurred to me during each of the three relays that we would not finish. I found passion. Plus, had we not finished one or two or even all three attempts, who cares? The experience and learning is worth every minute. Time here on earth is finite. Use it well.
I have often been asked why I don’t do a solo swim across the channel. The truth is, that the training is so much of your life that everything else has to be put on hold. I’ve not been willing to make that commitment. I like my team effort better. Life has so much to offer. I don’t want to eliminate other activities for the sake of just one. And I like diversity.
Time here on earth is finite. Use it well.