I’m sure that this news will potentially come as a shock to most people. Two years ago, I swam the Channel for the first time. Two days after that I signed up to swim it again. However, I had a new goal. I wanted to swim the Channel three times in one go. Yes that is right swim first from England to France, turn around swim back to England, and then do it one more time. Yes, it is crazy. Only 3 people (2 men, 1 woman) have accomplished it before and many have attempted. At the time I signed up, I wanted to do something GREAT in my life. Give my family and me a reason to look at something and say that I did THAT. Yes, I understand that I had just swam the Channel in just over 10 hours, but somehow that didn’t seem enough. Some may think that I was seeking fame, but it wasn’t that at all. I wanted to make my family and friends proud of me. Hell I wanted to make myself proud of me.
Yes there was a part of me that wanted my name to be remembered among the great American marathon swimmers like Gertrude Ederle, Lynne Cox, Marcia Cleveland, and Marcella MacDonald. So since 2 days after my first Channel swim, I’ve been training and planning. I had the most amazing trainers, friends, family and sponsors helping me along the way. People who gave up their time and resources to help me reach my goal. I also had the best Channel pilots.
After all the preparations and training, we all headed back to England. Though I felt physically the strongest I’ve ever been something seemed to be missing. I was enjoying my training swims in the water so I tried to push that other “off” feeling away. I was so happy when we got to talk to Reg and find out that the swim was early in the tide and when he looked at me and said “You’re looking fit”. I would finally get to find out how the story ended. Just like a pick-a-path book, the story could end in many ways. I guess I never imagined the way that my swim would end.
We arrived at the boat as scheduled, Reg, Ray, and another boat captain Andy King were all set to guide us on this adventure. Mikee Philips was the observer and I was happy to see another friendly face as he was the CSA observer on my first crossing. We loaded up the boat and set off for the start.
Samphire Hoe, the land created from the Chunnel dirt, was the start of the swim. On the way there, I was busy with preparations; sunscreen, rashguard, etc. I was ready when it was time for me to jump in the water. And the first 2 hours of the swim were going really well. I had turned off everything except what was necessary to swim. I so far had chosen the right path in this story.
It was the third hour that I began to notice that “off” feeling becoming stronger. Since we marathon swimmers have plenty of time in our heads I decided to explore this feeling and deal with it and move on. It seemed to me that the question that needed to be answered was “why are we doing this?” The original answer is above…the lasting accomplishment. Giving me something to be proud of in myself. The answer that I got while in the water was; Think of all the time, resources, energy that trainers, sponsors, family, friends have put into this swim. You can’t disappoint them. They have expectations. My next questions was “What about your expectations for yourself, Michelle?” I could definitely remember my original intent, but I no longer felt the fire that went with it. It was then that I realized that my path on this story was about to change. I guess the only way for me to put this is that I was an injured athlete. Yes, the physical muscles were all fine due to all the work that the trainers and I put in, but it was my soul, my heart that was injured.
In an earlier post I mentioned that my mother and father are my moorings. And they are, but 6 weeks ago I became adrift. I thought that I could overcome this feeling of being lost. To find that fire within me to keep this swim going. But the flame was not there, my heart wasn’t in it. My soul was aching. At the three hour feeding I told my crew “We have a problem. I’m fine physically, but my heart hurts. I will finish this part of the swim, as that is the right thing to do, but I don’t think I can go on.” So for another 8 hrs 26 minutes I swam.
After reaching France, my fabulous crew asked me to continue swimming. I did…for a very short period of time. I came up for a feeding and I saw the waves and fog in front of me. It seemed to be taunting me by matching my internal environment. Jane, Katie, Cathy and Jeff were amazing! They did everything that they could to keep me going forward to the next feeding…to the next five minutes. They all had the heart that I was lacking and I had drawn on that to make it across the first time. But the fire also had to come from me for this swim to be a success.
It was me and me alone that called off this swim. It was me that had to make the choice to touch the boat and end the years of hard work. It was the path that I had to take at this time. I know it is not the path that ended the story the way that I wanted to or that I believe anyone wanted.
After changing clothes and laying down for the return trip to England, I finally felt like I rested. There was some quiet.
I don’t regret my decision yesterday. I’m hoping that as time passes that I never will. I had 8 hours to really think the decision over. An athlete can force themselves to do only so much without a fire burning within. I am not the first athlete or even person that this has happened to and I surely won’t be the last. I have seen many an athlete falter and fail after years of hard work and thousands/millions of dollars spent. I can see those clips that are played on TV in my head. It is these athletes that give me my inspiration right at this moment. Most of the clips of the athletes show great pain and suffering, but not to long after that I’ve seen the clip of their renewal and success.
The one athlete story that sticks in my mind is Paula Radcliffe. I watched her 2004 Athens marathon. I stumbled and cried with her. I sat down with her on the curb and wept. I also had the good forture to watch her months later (via computer) stride triumphantly to the finish of the New York Marathon, which she has done two times since.
My dad emailed me yesterday and said “6 weeks before your first Channel swim, your mother told you she had cancer and yet you swam. 6 weeks before your 2nd Channel swim your mother passed away and yet you swam. Many others would not have done the same. I’m proud of you”.
This is my time to regroup, reset the course, refind my center and my mooring and then move forward. I know that there will be comments about this swim and perception about what went wrong and some of them may not be that kind. Regardless, I plan to dust myself off and begin to accept that while overall this was an unsuccessful triple Channel crossing it was a successful solo crossing that took a lot of guts on my part.
So to start this healing process and to restart the fire, I will swim. It won’t be a long swim, but I will return to swimmers beach in Dover, put my suit on, and shove off from shore. That is what I’m going to do.
Thank you to Reg and Ray: You can’t find better pilots. I only wish that I could have been the swimmer that we all needed yesterday as I would have loved to provide them with another swim to add to their already phenomenal legacy.
To Mikee Philips and Andy King: Thank you for coming along on the journey. I know it wasn’t what anyone expected, but you were kind throughout my whole swim.
To my trainers, coaches, medical professional team: We did all the right things and the body was there. I’m the healthiest and strongest I’ve ever been. You have all taught me so much about what it takes to build an athlete. I know that with our continued work, I’ll only become better. Thank you for being a part of my life.
To my friends and family: Thank you and I love you. You have been there for every crazy adventure and I’m guessing you will be there for the next one. Thank you for all the love and support.
To Jane, Cathy, Katie, and Jeff: Thank you for coming along on this ride. You have been there for it all and for that I can’t thank you enough. I know that I can never repay all the generousity that you have shown to me. I love you all. And thank you for having the heart on this swim.
And to my sponsors: Thank you for helping me chase and live my dreams. Without your support, I wouldn’t be living my passion. Thank you for believing and seeing that I’m worth it.
(Note: I know that there are problems on this blog and my friend is helping me to correct it. Bear with us as we work through the issues.)Tags: Channel Swimming Association, English Channel Swim