The criteria for qualification being that we had to swim for two hours, without wetsuits, wearing a regular swimsuit that conformed to English Channel rules (cannot come any lower than the line of the groin), a single swim cap and regular goggles.
We had been paired up and I was to swim the first two hour leg with Leora. I couldn’t have wished for a better person to swim alongside through this important swim. As soon as we were confirmed as swim partners I knew we would get each other through the trial at the first attempt. Earlier in the week I had even gave her permission to shout, scream and even kick if I wanted to quit part way through.
Somebody had obviously forgotten to tell Mother Nature our plans for the day because it was windy and the water was pretty choppy before we began. The wind was picking up and I knew we were going to be in for a rough ride of it for the two hours.
Our start time came around and as we entered the water at the boat launch the water was so much colder than I had anticipated, due to the run off from the creek nearby. As we headed out towards Gyro Beach I lost sight of everybody, all I could see was a wall of water every time I looked up. Once I caught one quick glimpse of the Zodiac piloted by Mike and it looked like Leora was swimming alongside it, they were leaving me behind. The cold was playing havoc with my breathing again, add to this the anxiety of being left behind and it made for an uncomfortable first few minutes.
I worked on getting my breathing under control, just like I had worked on with Brent in a previous training session. It was also around this time I had my first taste of fumes from the powerboat. I couldn’t see it but I knew it was nearby. Kelly also came into sight and I asked her to paddle on my right hand side. It was reassuring to know that she was there, I just swam alongside not having to worry about sighting. My breathing had settled down and we headed towards the Gyro Loop. Before I knew it I was having my first feed. We had planned ahead to have warm nutrition every twenty minutes.
Everything was going great, I felt pretty comfortable, even in the rough water, until I got a shout from Brent to increase my stroke rate. What?!
I felt I was swimming a good pace, one that I could maintain for two hours. He later told me, however, I was swimming too slow to maintain my body heat. So up the pace I did. As we dug in for the long haul the water got rougher. I felt waves breaking right over me. By this time Phred had taken over as my kayak support and he told me I looked really strong through the water. To me though I just felt like I was fighting the waves.
Before I knew it we’d had another couple of feeds and we were told to turn around and head back towards The Eldorado. I remember thinking that by turning round our cheerleader Jennifer wouldn’t get to see us at the WR Bennett Bridge.
We were now swimming directly into the wind and waves. I felt like I was going nowhere at one stage. It was then that I heard Leora shout ” This is bullshit!” and figured she was having the same problem. Eventually it felt like forward progress had resumed and I could make out one of the large private boat docks in the distance. Once we made it beyond there I knew we would be almost done. It turned out that knowing it and actually doing it were two completely different things.
The waves kept pushing me sideways towards the shore and I was having to push hard to get anywhere again. Every time looked up I seemed to have gone further to the left than I had gone forward. I thought I would never make it around the dock and even contemplated swimming under it, which would have been crazy in the conditions. It seemed like an eternity but eventually I cleared the dock but I was spent. My left arm felt like a dead weight. Just as it would feel if I’d slept on it. It was all I could do to get it out of the water. I had no strength in my stroke on that side so was in effect swimming with just my right arm.
I told Angelique about this later and she asked if I’d been wise to carry on at that point. I told her that I knew I had less than 30 minutes to go and there was nothing or nobody that was going to take the swim away from me. I was now feeding every ten minutes and felt the shorter legs would be my saviour, giving me something to look forward to. At one of the feeds Phred told me I still looked great and asked how I felt. I told him “Fuck the channel I want my money back!”
Right after I took my last feed I realised we were heading into the Gyro Loop, our regular training spot and it felt as though we were coming home. It felt great to be in familiar surroundings. Next thing I knew I got the shout from Brent to say the two hours was up and I had successfully qualified to swim The English Channel. AWESOME!
I shook Phred’s hand and thanked him for all his help and told him I owed him one. Little did I know I would be paying him back just a couple of hours later when I got back in the lake with Leora to help him get through his own qualifier. With thirty minutes left he was really struggling with hypothermia and was on the verge of being taken out of the water by Brent. We swam alongside him and got him through what must have been hell.
Tracey and Denise had great swims and also qualified so the team had a great day. All we have to do now is do it again in September when Mike goes for his qualifier.
The whole day was a true team effort. None of it would have been possible without our awesome support crew. Who probably got as wet as the swimmers.
Brent Hobbs – coach
Stephen Ott – powerboat
Mike Stamhuis – Zodiac
Kelly – Kayak
Phred – Kayak
Angelique – Photographer
and Jennifer that followed our progress the whole way along the shoreline.
Thank you everyone.
photography by Angelique – www.BrightSparkMedia.ca