Going Bananas: Two Pioneers Attempt To Cross The English Channel

Abe Osheyack, Sports Information Director
8/1/2011 9:00:00 AM

It’s 10 times as long as the swimming portion of the Ironman Triathlon.  It’s been done by fewer than 700 people in the history of the world.  The preparation is grueling, and the reward is no less than the satisfaction of having accomplished one of the toughest feats in distance swimming: successfully navigating the English Channel, starting in Dover, England, and finishing in Calais, France.  And that’s what rising juniors Emma Reim ’13 and Mackenzie Bradley ’13 are attempting in early August.

The channel is 23.69 miles long; add in currents, tides, and weather, and a swimmer may end up traversing closer to 30 or 40 miles.  And on top of all of that, Reim and Bradley don’t know exactly when they’ll be allowed to swim.  One cannot simply hop in the channel and begin paddling; rather, the two will have to wait for a phone call that will tell them to be ready to swim the next day.  “It’s going to be nerve-wracking, but exciting,” said Reim, who, along with Bradley, will begin the crossing in 57-degree waters.  The channel length is about twice as long as anything either of them have ever tried before.  “I did a 12-mile swim, in about six hours, but this will be very different, because you won’t have the current on your side,” said Bradley.

Arriving on August 1, Reim, Bradley, their head coach at Smith, Kim Bierwert, and Reim’s father David will land in London and with the help of the Smith College Club of Great Britain, a group of Smith alumnae living in the English capitol, stay overnight before making the trip south.  The Smith College Club of Great Britain will also provide a bit of extra encouragement for the two swimmers – co-President Martha Fray ’74 once swam the channel as part of a relay.  There may be a bit of tourism as well, with a possible trip to Westminster Abbey, but there will also be plenty of swimming in the days leading up to the phone call.

Preparation stateside has included swimming the Long Island Sound, and parts of the Connecticut River.  “We’ve also trained in Boston,” said Reim.  “There are actually two swimmers there who have done it (swam the channel) before.  But the physical preparation is nothing compared to the mental grind of having to swim for 12 hours or more.  “I try not to think about it too much,” said Bradley.

It’s an training regimen that Reim and Bradley have done mostly by themselves – since they are out of their regular season, head coach Kim Bierwert is not allowed to work with them directly, though he has been able to prepare workout plans for them.  “It’s good to have each other,” said Reim.  “Waking up at 5 a.m. (by yourself) would be really hard.”  A special waiver from the NCAA was also required to allow Bierwert to travel to England with the duo.

Once it’s over, the pair will head in different directions; Reim to Chile to study for the fall semester, and Bradley back to Northampton to prepare for another season with the Bananas (a special nickname for members of the Pioneers’ swimming and diving team), where the team will look to improve for the third straight year at the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference championship meet. But both agree it will be a little strange when it’s over. But rest and relaxation will greet them both, as well as the realization of a task achieved.    But the next big obstacle might not be as big as swimming the English Channel.  “I might do some smaller, open water swims,” said Bradley, “but I’m really getting ready for the regular season.”

Note: Bradley and Reim have been writing about their preparations on their blog.  To read past entries and future updates, please click here.



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