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Emma’s Tale of the Crossing

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.

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Mackenzie’s Story

We have decided to each give everyone a brief (or not so brief) synopsis of how the swims went, including all the highs and lows. Here’s my story:

We got to the harbor around 11:30 on Friday, and boarded our boats, Emma on the Gallivant with Mike, and I on the Sea Satin with Lance. I met my crew, whose names escape me, and they began asking me questions about all the things we had prepared. What food was I going to eat? Was I going to use grease? Where were my light sticks and clear goggles? After that, we discovered that we were a little less prepared than anticipated. I had planned on eating oatmeal, but they quickly nixed that idea and replaced my food with a carbohydrate drink. I was not going to use grease, and I had not brought light sticks (for swimming in the dark). Once they finished making fun of me, we sorted out all the things I would need, and found my spare goggles.

Around 10 till noon, my official observer arrived and we departed for Shakespeare Beach. Once we arrived just off the coast, I climbed down the back of the boat and dove in, swimming to the beach. Once I demonstrated that I was on dry ground, they sounded the horn, and we were off! Thirty minutes in, I was stung by a jelly fish. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought; it’s really just like getting stung by several bees at once, and it mostly faded within the next twenty minutes.

During the early hours of the swim, the plan was to stop every hour and “eat”. That went fine, and I was doing well, up until around hour three and a half. I had been doing the math in my head, and I had realized that even if we finished the swim in a miraculous 10 hours, I would still have to swim in the dark. I’m terrified of the dark, and of open water for that matter, so things were looking grim. I also had been feeling a little sick from the waves and from the carbohydrate drink mix, which, combined with my fear of the dark, was not helping matters. At the next feeding break, I told my captain and crew that I wanted to stop. Needless to say, they didn’t let me. Mrs. Reim (Emma’s mother) was also on my boat, and she was very effective at reminding me all of the time, effort, and money I and many others had put into the swim. I tried swimming for another fifteen minutes or so, but I still was not sure of it all. The distance wasn’t the issue, and neither was the amount of time. I knew I could handle that part. But the dark was more than I could deal with. They once again persuaded me to continue, and from that point on I didn’t try to stop. I spent the next several hours singing to myself, and thinking of all the people who were invested in this. I couldn’t stop, because so many more people than myself were part of my swim. Emma and I had dozens of people praying for us, and many more were stalking our progress across the Channel, willing us to finish. It really wasn’t possible to stop. Also, I made a deal with myself: If I finished, I would try to get home to Oregon. Otherwise, I was stuck in Massachusetts until Christmas 🙂

The next ten hours went by relatively uneventfully. People have been asking what I thought about during that time, and it was really a lot of things. I sang to myself in my head (the same three songs over and over, though I can’t remember the titles). I prayed when things started to hurt. And I thought of how many hours ago the Indian swimmer would have finished had he been swimming that day (that probably wasn’t helpful). All in all, I think the hardest part of the swim was boredom. It’s hard being stuck in your own head for hours at a time! I had to take it by half hours, or the enormity of our undertaking became too much. In thinking about the swim in such small increments, I think I was better able to handle the length of it.

Around hour 12, my captain told me we were getting very close, and that he was just looking for “the closest piece of terra firma” for me to land on. At that point, I know I slowed down, because I really had no idea where I was. I had been able to see the French coast for several hours, and the lights were deceptive because they never looked close. I wanted to know where my captain was taking me, but all I could do was stick closer to my boat and hope he took me to a warm, well-lit, sandy beach. Instead, the next thing he told me: “We’re about 1.3 miles from land. It’s a bit rocky, so be careful”. From the water, I could see the crew setting up a spotlight, and I knew we were basically just off shore.

At about 13 hours, they stopped me, and pointed the spotlight on a rock face about 50 meters away. I didn’t have a very good sense of what I would be landing on, but in my mind, “rocky” meant something like Dover Harbor, which is covered in small pebbles. As I approached the place where the light was shining (with goggles off, doing head-up breaststroke), I saw several large boulders and realized this is where they intended me to land. I thought of Lynn Cox, on her first crossing of the Channel all those years ago. She too had landed on the rocks, and I remember her saying how badly she had been cut up by the barnacles. Nearly 40 years later, the rocks were as painful as ever as I cut myself trying to find one that was far enough back. I landed on the first rock, but the crew shouted at me to keep going since there was water behind it.  I half swam/half fell away from the first rock and on to the second. The boat sounded their siren horn, and I had finished. I sat on that rock for a few seconds, thinking how surreal that moment was, and also how anticlimactic the whole finish had been (it was 1 am). I couldn’t believe it was over. Then I fell back into the water, scraped over a few more rocks underneath the surface and meandered back to my waiting boat.

While I dried off and cleaned up, we circled back around to find Emma, who was just a couple miles behind us. She was doing really well, and was aiming for a beach a bit north of where I had landed. We convinced my captain to follow Emma along as she finished, and thank goodness we did too! But that’s part of Emma’s story, which she will tell you about herself.

Once Emma and I had both finished, we settled in for the three hour boat ride back to England. My crew decided it was the perfect time for a midnight snack, and promptly made a pizza to eat on the way back. They had already been eating the ENTIRE time I had been swimming, including something with garlic that I had been able to smell for quite some time. Once we arrived back on dry ground, Emma and I hugged, and Kim congratulated both of us, then we began the trek back to our hotel. We tried to sleep for a couple of hours, but woke up around 9:30 and went swimming in the harbor, just to loosen up. It was cold and painful since we were covered in cuts and rub marks. On the flip side, it was nice to just float a bit and relax. We spent the rest of that day sleeping, showering, eating, and repeating. The next day, Kim and I left to go back to the US, while Emma and her family stayed to tour London some more.

And now I’m home, recovering, sleeping, and yes, swimming. Looking forward to the next season as always 🙂

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WE DID IT!

We hit the French coast in the early hours of Saturday morning, finishing in the dark. Mackenzie finished in 13 hours and 5 minutes and Emma finished in 14 hours and 15 minutes. Conditions were not ideal, but we were able to power through the difficult spots. After a three hour boat ride back, we reached Dover and headed to bed.

We appreciate your outpouring of support; WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU!!!

A special shout out to our Wild Bunch. Bunches of banana love from us to you!!!

Mackenzie and Emma

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We’re Swimming TODAY!!

Hello!

We have word from our captains that we will be swimming today. We are doing something a little unorthodox and will be starting at about noon and swimming into the night, finishing on the French coast sometime around midnight or early Saturday morning.

Here’s the link for the tracker.

Tracker 1: Gallivant

Tracker 2: Sea Satin

Emma will be on Gallivant and Mackenzie will be on Sea Satin.

We will be ‘channeling’ all of your positive thoughts! Best, Emma and Mackenzie

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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.

http://www.smithpioneers.com/news/2011/7/29/WSWIM_0729113213.aspx

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Hello from London!

We arrived in London on Monday morning, after a red-eye flight, and were welcomed by our wonderful hosts Jen, Coz and their family. After a quick breakfast we headed out to London. Our first stop was Westminster Abbey, and on our way over we saw Big Ben and Parliament. After a couple hours at Westminster Abbey, we walked along the Thames to  The Tower of London. We stopped at the Tate Modern on the way, and also saw the London Eye, The Globe Theater, Diagon Alley, and Tower Bridge. After a long day of sightseeing we headed back for a lovely family dinner, and finally caught up on sleep.

Today, we woke up well rested and ready to see London again. We left for London in the morning and headed to our second host in the city. We are tremendously thankful for the wonderful hospitality we received over the past two days! Candy welcomed us into her home, and we were fortunate enough to meet her two daughters and three grandchildren. We then walked through Hyde Park, and saw the Serpentine Gallery, Serpentine, Speaker’s Corner, and the Marble Arch. Then, we hoped on a double-decker bus and headed toward Buckingham Palace. After a quick stop along the Keningston Gardens, we walked to the tube stop and back home for a quick rest. In the evening we went to the Sloane Club for drinks with the Smith College Club of England. It was great to meet everyone and talk a little about our swim. We are looking forward to arriving in Dover tomorrow and going for a quick swim in the Harbor!

At the Sloane Club with the Smith College Club

Buckingham Palace

Big Ben

Westminster Abbey

Tower Bridge

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Want to follow us across the Channel?

Now you can! Each boat will have a tracker from which you can plot our progress every ten minutes. Below is the link, and on the day of the swim we will post who is on which boat. If you would like to receive an email notification as soon as we know when we are swimming, send an email to ecreim@gmail.com or mhbradle@gmail.com.

Tracker 1: Gallivant

Tracker 2: Sea Satin

We are currently sitting in Logan airport and are very excited to leave for London this evening! We will keep updating the blog during the trip so stay tuned!

 

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