A Thank You Post

Now that I have had a few weeks to digest my channel swim, I have decided to write a dedicated thank you post for all the people who have made achieving my dream possible. There have been so many people who have helped me in big and small ways to move toward my goal! Although I was in the water by myself and my swim is called a “solo”, the channel truly is a team endeavor.

My parents and my sister Jenna have supported me (even though they thought I was a little crazy) from the day told them about my dream to one-day swim the channel. From driving me to early morning practices to making sure I eat enough before a big swim my parents are always behind me. Jenna is always there if I need a piece of advice or cheering up for any reason. My girlfriend Maddy has been a huge support for me by keeping me positive and also helping me refocus whenever I hit a setback during my training. Even though she sometimes thinks my sport is crazy, she has been incredible and kept me sane throughout my road to the channel.

My crew in England, specifically Coach Kim and Paige, were also instrumental to my success, both in the months leading up to the swim and during the swim itself. Coach Kim was one of the first coaches who helped me believe that I could actually swim the channel and helped me turn an abstract dream into a concrete goal. He also stood on the deck of the ship watching over me for the entire 13 hours of my swim without any breaks. I honestly believe that my success is in large part due to Kim’s dedication and confidence in me. Paige has been a friend and inspiration to me since I first tracked her Channel crossing in 2014. She supported me during my training through both her friendship and also by answering all my crazy questions. It was amazing to have someone to talk to who had already been through the mental and physical challenges I was taking on.

My training partner Rebecca was also a huge part of my achievement. Not only did Rebecca and I train together throughout the summer and the past few years, we were also able to swim the channel on the same day. Rebecca has helped keep me grounded during our training and also motivated me to show up and be my best at every training session. Swimming the channel has a tremendous mental aspect and having a training partner to share that burden with is really amazing. I am so glad we were in England together and that we swam on the same day; this is a connection we now share! Knowing that she was in that water with me (even though I couldn’t see her) and that she was experiencing similar things to me was helpful motivation while I was pushing through the channel.

My team and all the swimmers I have trained with over the past year have supported me and made all the training and hard work fun and exciting. The Wild Bunch believed in my ability to succeed and kept me motivated throughout my training. The swimmers of the Santa Monica Bathing Society and Tower 26 kept me company in the ocean and made very training session new and exciting. All the Culver Plunge morning swimmers have encouraged me to work hard every day and also put up with me sharing their lane during long workouts.

My training was supported by a number of fantastic kayakers, including Jax, Melissa, Maddy, Gino. These four individuals have spent an ungodly amount of time supporting me from a kayak and keeping me safe in the water. Without their support and guidance, I would be a very lost and hungry swimmer during my long training swims. In addition, their positive attitudes kept me motivated throughout my training. I am so greatful for all the support, thanks so much for cheering me on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

English Channel Recap

Let me start off by saying that I keep going over the events of the last few days, trying to get my thoughts in order so I apologize if this recap is a bit jumbled. It is still sinking in that I have accomplished this goal!

My mom, Coach Kim, Paige, and I arrived at the dock at Dover Harbour around midnight on Monday night and

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On the dock with Rebecca

met up with Rebecca, who wa also going to be swimming. Together we waited for our boats to arrive, and chatted nervously about the upcoming swim. Once the boats arrived, everything moved very fast, which was good because it gave me no time to be nervous. We met the captain and his crew, and as we headed around the harbor wall to Shakespeare Beach, I put on my cap and goggles, and Paige helped me grease up. We pulled up to the beach around 1 a.m. Tuesday and I jumped over the side, into the cold, dark water. I swam up to the beach, adjusted my cap and waited for Rebecca to join me so that we could start at the same time. Once we were both on the beach, my boat sounded a siren and I plunged back into the water. I swam over to my boat and began find my rhythm in the dark water.IMG_4818 I felt like I was flying over the waves, though I was struggling to stay close enough to the boat. I was supposed to swim on the port side of the boat (so the boat was to my right) but my stroke tends to turn left and I kept drifting too far to the left. Every so often, Kim would beckon me back close to the boat, where the water was slightly calmer.

Usually when I do long swims, the half hour leading up to the first feed seems to drag, but I was honestly so ecstatic to finally get my shot to swim that before I knew it, Kim was signalling me to feed. Throughout the next hour, I continued to enjoy the chop and my

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arm turnover rate felt fast. Around 3 a.m. the sky began to get light and I could see where the sky and sea met. I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m actually swimming the English Channel” and I also wondered if this sense of excitement would wear off. Sometime around here I had my first jellyfish sting but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, so I just kept swimming.

Between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., the sky continued to lighten and I was still having a lot of fun in the waves and not really feeling cold yet. Coach Kim continued to stand at his perch on20476391_10154746263965976_2789000286769480111_n the boat and it meant so much to see him every time I took a breath! He did not move from that spot for the entire 13 hours that I swam.

By 6am, the sun was just peeking out and I was starting to feel cold. I began thinking that that if I got any colder, I wouldn’t be able to make it to France. My hands and feet were totally numb and I was feeling shivery. But I just kept swimming, hoping to warm up IMG_4916eventually. As we continued towards France, the water did seem to warm up a little and I gradually got feeling back in my hands and feet.

At this point, I was about 6 hours into the swim and starting to wonder where I was in the channel. There were lots of jellyfish so I thought maybe I was in the separation zone, but it also seemed too early to be that far. I tried to see what direction the tankers were moving in but this was aIMG_4932 flawed plan because I didn’t actually know what direction the boats were supposed to move in and they seemed to all be moving in the same direction no matter where I was. Eventually, I gave up and just focused on moving forward.

I was still seeing a lot of jellyfish in this area, but most of them were far enough under the surface that I didn’t worry about getting stung. I thought that jellyfish must have a nice life just floating along under the water. At my next feed (probably around 8 hours), I told IMG_4968Kim that I was feeling hungry and he told me to keep swimming. I swam for another half hour, working really hard to increase my tempo and pull water. When I stopped to feed again, Kim told me that Captain Mike had a treat for me and he handed me a few chocolate chewy candies and they tasted so good in my salty mouth.

The French coast was clearly visible now and I just wanted to get there. At the next feed Kim told me to keep pushing and that I had two Puerto Rico Training Trip practices left. This translated to about 4 hours IMG_4961and was not the answer I wanted since I thought I was much closer. I kept swimming anyway, telling myself that the sooner I got to France, the sooner I could get warm and dry and get something to eat. These thoughts motivated me to pick up my tempo and push toward France. Kim told me to think of each 30 minute segment between feeds like its own workout and this helped encourage me and separate each effort. For the next few feeds I kept hoping Kim would tell me that I only had one or two segments left to reach shore, but I also didn’t want to ask how far away we were.

Eventually Kim told me that I had a few feeds left and I asked him whether this meant two more feeds.

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Asking Kim if I only had 2 feeds left.

He replied that a few meant a few and that I needed to just keep swimming. France was clearly on the horizon now but didn’t really seem to be getting any closer. I kept stroking forward, thinking about how much I wanted to be on shore and how much I wanted a bite of real food. I thought I probably had only one or two more segments at this point so I kept pushing towards France, with my mom, Coach Kim, and Paige cheering me on from the boat. When I thought I only had one more feed left and Kim stopped me, I asked if I could skip it but he said no so I fed and then kept swimming. It was really good that I didn’t skip the feed because it turned out I had about 45 minutes left and I was starting to feel slightly light headed and very hungry.

I saw France straight ahead of me and could almost feel the sand in my toes, but the current was pushing me to the left so instead of swimming straight in I IMG_4948had to angle way right. As a result Kim kept calling me back over to the boat so that I could break through the current and swim into the beach. At the last feed, Kim told me that Paige would hop in and swim with me into the beach. I was really excited for the company and the boat stayed behind while we angled into the beach. There were tons of jellyfish floating along underneath us but they were far enough down that we didn’t get stung. Soon I could see sand and rocks below me and as the water became shallower, it also became much warmer.

I stood up in the knee-deep water and struggled to find my balance. Paige yelled to the people on the shore not to touch me and I stepped up onto the beach. Once on dry sand, I turned around and raised my arms. Looking across the Channel IMG_4988that I had just swam across, I felt my achievement. It felt so odd to not be swimming anymore but I was also really happy to be finished. I picked up a shell from the beach and swam head up back to the boat with Paige. I climbed on board and Kim gave me a big hug. My mom made me a gooey peanut butter and nutella sandwich and that was honestly the best sandwich I’ve ever had!

I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity and all the people that helped me get to this point. I couldn’t have achieved this goal without the unending support of my parents and sister, Coach Kim, and Paige. A huge thanks to the entire Wild Bunch for supporting me in and out of the pool! Thank you to all the coaches, swimmers, family, and friends who have cheered me on, from across the pool or across the world. It is still sinking in that I am a Channel swimmer and I am so happy to have finally achieved this goal.

To That Little Scared Junior Lifeguard

You were so nervous that first day at the beach. The waves were so large and loud as they crashed on the white sand. All the other kids already knew how to dive under the foaming surf into clean water, but you just stood in knee deep water, your toes squishing in the wet sand. Your instructors taught you how to avoid the pounding waves, but you were still nervous every time you had to cross the surf line. You started to enjoy being at the beach and improved so much that first summer.

The next year your mom gave you the book Swimming to Antarctica and you were enthralled by Lynne Cox’s bravery and adventures. You told yourself that maybe one day you would do a long ocean swim, too. You pulled out the atlas to see where the English Channel was and the seed was planted in your head, but you didn’t share your dreams with anyone for fear that they would laugh at you. You kept training hard at swim practice, imagining you were really swimming across oceans.

You entered a 2-mile ocean swim and enjoyed it so much you entered the 1 mile an hour later. Racing in the ocean felt nothing like racing in the pool, you were free ride the waves as you swam through the salty water. You began to grow used to the surf and were motivated to develop  ocean sense, by how much you enjoyed swimming in it. You entered as many races as you could that summer, and dreamt more about the oceans you wanted to cross.

On a school trip to Catalina Island, you first visited the island you’d been dreaming about. You told your friends that you would swim it someday, and they smiled and said you were crazy, but you held onto your dream. After all, your Junior Lifeguard instructor had swum from Catalina, proving that real people could do it. You visited London with your family and when you took the train under the Channel to Paris, you dreamed about swimming from England to France someday.

When you started high school, you told your coach that you wanted to swim the English Channel one day and she said if you trained hard she was sure you could. This was the first time a coach had believed in your dream and it caused the swim to feel attainable. You continued to train distance and work hard in the pool. At a race in Seal Beach you met Lynne Cox and told her that you wanted to swim the English Channel one day. She told you to keep training and reaching for that dream.

When you started looking at colleges, you heard that the coach at Smith College was preparing a swimmer to cross the English Channel. When you met him at your tour, you told him boldly that you wanted to be his next English Channel swimmer. He told you that it was a challenging and rewarding endeavor. You tracked the swimmer, Paige Christie, as she crossed the Channel that summer, telling yourself that would be you one day.

All those years ago you were too scared to swim through a few waves to do a buoy swim, and in a few days you will stand on Shakespeare Beach looking across the Channel to France and start to swim. Thank you so much for setting seemingly impossible goals all those years ago as a little scared Junior Lifeguard.

 

Welcome to Dover, UK

We arrived in Dover yesterday and have been getting acquainted with the area and exploring! Although the weather was great yesterday, high winds are predicted for

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Beginning our swim in the Dover Harbor

the next few days so it could be awhile until we get the green light to swim. Last night, Paige and I headed to the Dover Harbor for a quick swim. The beaches in this area are mostly rocky shingle, rather than the sand I am used to. The water was pretty calm and not too cold so we swam a few laps of the buoy line, until it got too dark to really see anymore. I felt smooth and strong in the water even after 11 hours  sitting on a plane. I really enjoyed watching the sunset while swimming along the harbor.

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Enjoying flat water in the Harbor

After the swim, we drove back to our rental house and enjoyed some cold pizza, before finally getting to sleep!

Today, we went to Hythe Beach because they were doing construction in Dover Harbor. I did a 2 hour training swim and the water was much choppier than yesterday. When I first walked in, it felt colder than yesterday, but I soon warmed up and tried to find my tempo. The water felt very lumpy and I kept getting smacked in the face by waves. I started by swimming south toward these two large towers on the beach. I swam to the 2nd tower and turned back north again and as I was

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Coach Kim making sure they don’t shoot at me

passing the 1st tower a boat approached me and I saw a man in a guard uniform on the deck. He informed me that I had accidentally swam into a military firing range and that I needed to stay to the north of the towers. There was really no signage in the water warning of the firing, but I was just glad I got out of there safely! I swam to a jetty on the north side of the beach and saw Kim signalling me to turn back south. This time, I swam all the way back to the south but stopped just shy of the firing range. Paige hopped in at this point and swam with me for a little while, which really helped me keep my spirits up. It took until about an hour and a half for me to start feeling good in that water and also start having fun. When Kim signalled me to swim into the beach, I was actually feeling so good that I didn’t want to stop! I swam into the beach and climbed out of the water, where I warmed up in my parka. After eating lunch, we headed over to the town of Canterbury and explored. I cannot wait for my chance to swim the channel and plan to enjoy the rest of my time waiting in England.

 

 

English Channel Details

I completed my last long training swim this morning and am now starting my taper! My team and I leave for England in just over a week and I could not be more excited! Since my swim is drawing closer, I figured I should answer some of the most common questions I have been receiving from my friends, family, and supporters.

When will I swim?

I will most likely swim between July 29th and August 6th, depending on the weather. I am booked on a neap tide (which is when there is the least change between high and low tide), but the ultimate deciding factor is good weather. I will swim on the first good weather day offered to me by my boat pilot. You can follow my swim on the CS and PF site or my tracker.

How far is it across the channel?

It is 21 miles across the channel in a straight line, but currents will push me and increase the swim distance.

What will I wear?

According to the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation, I am allowed to swim in one regular swim suit, one cap, and one pair of goggles. Yep, this means no wetsuits allowed! I will also be putting on a layer of grease (1/2 vasoline, 1/2 lanolin) to help with chafing from the salt water.

Who is coming to England with me?

My crew for England includes my mom Natalie, my coach Kim Bierwert, and my friend/teammate/support swimmer/channel mama Paige! My training buddy Rebecca and her family will also be in England at the same time!

Will I swim alone?

For the majority of the swim, I will be the only swimmer in the water, but Paige will jump in to support me from time to time!

What will I eat?

I will follow the same feeding plan I used for my Catalina swim. I will feed every 30 minutes, starting from the beginning of the swim. My feeds are either carbopro (which basically tastes like sugar water) or applesauce. While I do stop to tread water for a few seconds to feed, I am not allowed to touch the boat or receive any assistance.

Are there sharks?

While there are sharks in British waters (it is the ocean after all), the water is generally too cold for the large scary sharks we get here in California. Jellyfish are certainly a more pressing concern in the channel!

Will I have a boat with me?

I will be accompanied by the Gallivant and Captain Mike Oram. My mom, my coach Kim, and Paige will also be on my boat, as will an observer from the swim federation.

I am getting very excited to head over to England and hope you will be able to experience my journey with me!

 

20 mile weekend part 2: 6 mile race

Following my 14 mile training swim on Saturday, my mom and I headed up to Santa Barbara for 6 mile race on Sunday morning. We got to the beach around 7:45 in the morning and I stretched out and met my kayaker Greg. I warmed up and then we had a brief safety meeting before lining up at the water’s edge. The kayakers were out at the buoy waiting for us and the race director blew her whistle to signal the start of the race. I sprinted out to the buoy, staying ahead of most people but also knowing that I would pass some people later on because I have stamina but not easy sprint speed. I rounded the buoy at the end of the pier and met up with my kayaker before turning south and swimming parallel to shore. I was swimming with the shore to my left and the kayak to my right and it was fun to watch the shoreline pass by. Greg stopped me for the first feed and I was surprised how short the first half hour felt and also how smooth and strong I felt in the water.

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Course map.

After the first feed we realized that I kept drifting to my left so I switched to Greg’s other side so that he could stop me from turning to the left. This worked much better and we kept making progress along the course. I couldn’t see very many other swimmers but Greg had told me that I was probably in around 7th place with two people way ahead of me and a small group of people just ahead. I picked up my pace a little, hoping to get closer to the group ahead of me.

The water seemed flat and the kelp was lying flat, pointing south, meaning that the current was favorable. At the 1 hour feed Greg told me that we were about halfway and that I was looking strong. I was feeling powerful in the water, almost as if I had not swam 14 miles the previous day. My stroke had good rhythm and was flying through the salty water. Soon I was at the 3rd feed and Greg could see that I was feeling a little discouraged that I hadn’t yet caught the group ahead, so he told me to shoot for a personal best time on this course.

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My route from this weekend.

This encouragement revitalized me and I kept pushing forward. I was swimming over kelp now and when I sighted forward I could see the bluff at the finish. There two swimmers just ahead of me and I swam a little faster. I swam even with them and eventually passed them. I could see another swimmer off to my right just behind me, and although I couldn’t see who it was, I imagined that it was my friend Jessica. This motivated me to swim a

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Me and Jessica at the finish.

little faster even though I was finally feeling tired from the mileage of the weekend. I sprinted around the buoy and realized that it was Jessica just behind me. We raced each other into the beach and across the finish line. I finished in 2:13.38 and Jessica finished in 2:13.52, placing 6th and 7th overall and 3rd and 4th for women. It was so much fun to race my friend and a huge confidence builder to swim so much mileage within 36 hours and feel good doing it. I also finally got the chocolate chip pancakes I had dreamt about yesterday! A giant thank you to my mom for supporting me this weekend, I couldn’t have done it without you!