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
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. 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
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 on 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 eventually. 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 a 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 Kim 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 and 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.
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 had 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 that 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.