We arrived in Dover on Wednesday, August 3rd, and we were ready to swim on August 4th. Strong winds and rough waves on the 4th prevented us from swimming that day, but when we talked to our boat captains on Thursday, they suggested leaving Friday. It was unlikely that the water would be calm enough to leave on Friday morning. The first option for the swim was to leave Friday afternoon, around 3 pm, just after high-tide. Starting in the afternoon and swimming into the night was not something that we had considered; we were expecting to leave Dover in the early morning, around 3 or 4 am. We had begun to think about what it would be like to start in the afternoon and swim into the night when Mike, my boat captain, called and suggested leaving at 12pm on Friday. We thought about how leaving at this time would affect us and what the current would be like, and ultimately we trusted our boat captains and decided that we would leave at 12pm if conditions permitted.
At 9:30 am on Friday, we received word that we would begin swimming at 12, and we would meet at the dock at 11. Between 9:30 and 10:45 we prepared ourselves both physically and mentally for the swim. It felt as though we were getting ready for a very big swim meet! At 11 am we met Mike and Lance, our boat captains, and their crews at the dock. Each crew had three members, plus one official observer. By 11:45 we had left the marina were heading to Shakespeare Beach.
As we approached the beach, I received words of encouragement from both Kim and my dad as well as the crew. As I jumped off the boat, the only thing I could say was, “Wow!” I couldn’t believe that we were beginning the swim that we had been preparing for over a year and a half. Once I got to the beach, I saw Oliver, a swimmer from India who would be attempting the Channel later in the week, and his coach, who had come to see us off. When I demonstrated that I was on dry land, I gave the crew a thumbs up, and the horn sounded to mark the official start of the swim.
At the start of the swim, winds were strong, 10-12 mph, and the water was much choppier than I had expected. Instead of swimming at the anticipated pace of 2.25 mph, I was swimming at 1+ mph. Two hours into the swim, I stopped to for a “food” break. I drank warm hot chocolate and the same carbohydrate drink that Mackenzie mentioned in her account of the swim. During each break I would tread water and Kim would hand me my water bottle and ask me how I was feeling, etc. Most breaks lasted between 30 seconds and one minute. After the initial stop, I would break after just one hour of swimming.
Mentally, the first three or four hours of the swim were easiest. I was excited, and at this point the songs playing in my head were still new. I was stung by a jellyfish about three hours into the swim. It was a little startling at first, but it quickly became a stinging sensation. I was looking forward to the six hour mark, and I was counting the number of food stops left until I was expecting to be halfway.
At the end of six hours, I stopped for a break. When we stopped and Kim asked how I was, I said, “Okay. Am I halfway yet?”
“Not quite. Almost halfway,” He said.
I didn’t know if almost halfway meant one mile or three miles until we reached the halfway point, and I didn’t want to ask.
Hour seven was one of the hardest. I was beginning to feel tired and discouraged, but I began to think of everyone who was connected to the swim. I knew people at home were tracking us, and I thought of all the encouragement we had received. There were so many people who had supported us through the last year and a half in countless ways. I imagined how happy we would be when it was over, and how excited it would be to tell people about our swim. For every negative thought I had, I tried to remind myself of at least three positive things.
Once hour seven passed, things got a little bit “easier.” The water was much smoother, and my pace was steadier. I started to count every stroke. My stroke rate was about 62 strokes per minute, so for the next seven and a half hours I counted to 62, 450 times. I was stung by three more jellyfish over the course of the swim. None of the stings were too bad. I managed to avoid most seaweed, and even a trash can and toy boat that floated by!
I began to feel overwhelmed around hour ten. It was dark, I couldn’t see the French coast, and I felt like I had been swimming forever. When I stopped and Kim asked me how I was feeling I said, “Overwhelmed.”
“Well, soon you will be overwhelmed because you’ll be standing on land,” he replied.
“How soon will that be?” I asked.
“Three to four hours is my best guess,” he answered.
“Okay,” I said, and I kept going.
On our first night in London, sometime told us jokingly, “Three quarters into the swim, remind yourself that you are having fun.” So three quarters into the swim I reminded myself that I was having fun.
Soon we were out of the shipping lanes and getting closer to the coast. At one break I was told that Mackenzie had finished, which was great motivation to keep going. With 250 meters to the shore the captain stopped me and said, “Okay, you are 250 meters from the beach. The boat can’t go to shore, so follow this spot light.” It was about 2 am, and it was pitch black. It had also started to mist, making it harder to see. As I started to swim, I realized that I could not see the spotlight and had been swimming towards a lighthouse. The spotlight was much too weak to shine through the rain. I stopped swimming and looked around, but I could not see the shore at all and the boat could not see me. There were no lights on the beach. It did not feel like I was close to shore, but more like I was floating in the middle of dark, mysterious water. I yelled out to the boat, and it was clear that they had no idea where I was.
Luckily, Mackenzie’s boat saw me. The spotlight on her boat was much stronger, and it guided me to shore. Shortly after, my boat realized where I was. As I stumbled onto the beach, I could not see much farther than my feet, and I walked out very slowly. When I was fully out of the water, I picked up some French sand, took a deep breath, and waited to hear the horn signifying the end of the swim. It felt wonderful to have completed the swim and to have my parents, coach, and friend to watch me finish. Exhausted I swam back out to the boat and exchanged hugs with my dad and Kim. On the three hour ride back across the Channel I dosed in and out of sleep, never really believing that the swim was finished. Once we reached the dock Mackenzie and I celebrated and lifted our tired arms up as high as we could to give each other a hug.
We had done it!
In the days following, Mackenzie and Kim headed back home, and I stayed in London with my parents. Now I am back home re-energizing and getting ready to head to Santiago, Chile for my junior year abroad.