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August 18, 2007

I knew after last years trip to Ketchikan, AK for the Pennock Island Challenge that I would return again.  In 2006, I had signed up for the Channel and Alaska was going to me my first introduction into cold ocean swimming.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I started taking cold showers and ice baths to prepare.  The entire time people just telling me I was crazy to even consider this.  After a while I began to think that they were right.  I couldn’t find another swimmer who thought that this sounded like fun.  That was until I reached Ketchikan.  The event in 2006 was small with me being the only out of state swimmer.  There were 21 swimmers total and only 3 soloists, all women.  But man what a crew of people; I have never felt so at home as I did that weekend in 2006.  I was welcomed into the fold of cold ocean swimmers with open arms and I loved it.  I knew then that I had made the right decision to go after my dream of the English Channel.  I managed to stay in contact with the Alaska swimmers through out the year and was looking forward to seeing them this year.


Now the 2007 adventure gets a little interesting.  Somehow I convinced 4 of my triathlete/running friends to come up to swim a relay and I convinced a sprint butterflier to come do the event as a solo.  I know that my tri/running friends were coming to show support as I have gone to plenty of running and triathlons to cheer.  As the event became closer, I think all of us became a little bit more nervous.  I wanted to ensure that they were well informed and had as much fun as I did the previous year.  They were getting nervous about the cold and the potential wildlife that the ocean presents. 


The Group – Kim B., Kim R., Jill V., Jane B., Elizabeth K:

THe Group



Prior to arriving in Alaska, Willie sent an email explaining that there would be 38 swimmers, which included 16 soloists.  16!!!  The event had grown.  I arrived in Ketchikan and was picked up by Kathy.  It was then that I saw the list of swimmers.  There were successful marathon swimmers from all over the world.  On the list there were the following:

  • 3 English Channel swimmers, of which 2 were successful
  • 3 successful Catalina Channel swimmers
  • numerous other successful long marathon swims which would take me forever to list here
  • James Pittar, a blind marathon swimmer from Australia and Luis Castro, a swimmer from Brazil and plenty of accomplished swimmers from all over the States.

I was a minnow among the Great Whites and I was humbled to be in their prescence.  In true swimming fashion the arms were opened and we were all welcomed.   For all the support and guidance that they provided I can never thank them enough.  And I feel like my group of swimming friends continues to grow in wonderful and amazing ways. 


Saturday most of us spent it out doing a short 1K swim in Settler’s Cove.  Most of the time was spent talking and sharing stories.  The swim actually felt secondary to the socializing.  My butterflying friend decided to come along and test the waters.  She of course swam fabulously and finished a very strong 3rd.  My other friends had made the decision that they would enter the cold waters once and that would be the day of the Pennock.  Now the Settler’s Cove 1K proved to me that the waters were much warmer than last year.  It is strange to thing that 63 degrees actually is starting to feel like luke warm bath water to me.  The human body has amazing ways to adapt.


The Pennock Island swim was on Sunday.  I knew that the 4 person relay would be just fine after I saw them laughing and joking with their boat captain at the Saturday safety meeting.  (Turns out Cliff was a Johnnie that graduated in ’93.  I’m pretty sure that he and my brother knew each other…small world) Jill also met her safety kayakers.  I was going to be escorted by Mike Rath who helped escort me the previous year. 


Finish Re-enactment by Jill and Michelle:

Mike Rath and Michelle:

Mike Rath and Michelle



Race day was beautiful.  The sun was shining and we were all set to go.  With all the swimmers in the water, the race started.  I decided to see how long I could hold a fast pace.  Ok, I really wanted to see if I could race with the big dogs.  I held a good pace along the south island into the east channel up until the north part of the island.  And then my arms turned to noodles.  Mike kept encouraging me and saying I was gaining on the leaders with every stroke, but I knew that I wouldn’t be gaining anymore.  Now it was time for me to work through the pain and get back to a good strong stroke.  I made sure that I didn’t look for the red buoy that marked the end of the race.  (I did this the previous year and you can see the buoy for a very long time and it never seems to get closer).  I just tried to focus on Mike and my stroke.  At the 3rd feeding, Mike pointed to the red buoy and said “It is right there”  and it was.  I decided to skip the 3rd feeding and get down to the business of finishing.  I came in 5th behind a 2-person relay and 3 solo swimmers.  I finished in a time of 3 hours 9 minutes, which was 30 minutes faster than last year…but the North bouy was cut out of the race, which accounts for my faster time.


Jill came in not long after me.   We both had the opportunity to cheer in a lot of the other swimmers and enjoy one of the best hot chocolates I have ever tasted.  After a quick break,  I went back out to meet up with the relay team.  I wanted to provide any support that I could.  Turns out that they didn’t need me.  They were doing AMAZING.  Here was a team that was concerned they wouldn’t finish within the 5 hour alotted time and they were cruising in at 4 hours.  I think that they have all verified something that I already knew “WE ARE SWIMMERS!”


Again the event was amazing and even 3 of my friends have said that they would consider returning.  Willie and his family along with all the other volunteers put on such an incredible event.  If you are into swimming and looking for an event, this one should definitely be put on the list.  Check it out:


Swimming Notes:

  • No songs really played through my head this day.
  • Earplugs – Not a big fan.  I tried them both days.  I understand why swimmers say that they keep them warmer, but I don’t like when the little bits of water get through.  In addition, I can’t hear anything and I find I like the sound of the water and my stroke.  I will give them another go.
  • Swimsuit – I now have two contenders for the big day.  Both have been tested and come out ok.  Not to bad on the chaffing.
  • Apparently there were 4 orcas in the water during the race.  I unfortunately did not see or hear them.  My friends saw a seal.  One of these Pennock trips I want to see orcas or wild bears or something more than just really big fish.


To Elizabeth, Jane, Kim R, Kim B and Jill – Thank you for taking a dip into my world.  I’m not sure that I could do the same for you in the running world.  I have been blessed with such supportive friends.  I know that gardens, school work, house work, social lives have been sacrificed to help me on my dream.


To Willie and the Pennock volunteers:  You all continue to make this a special event for all the participants which is evident in the race growth.  Thank you.


To the Pennock swimmers:  Thank you for showing me the place where I “fit” and reminding me that I am not alone.  You have shown me the importance of crew, training and most importantly fun and laughter.  Good luck on all your future swims.

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3 Responses to “WE ARE SWIMMERS!”

  1. Shannon says:

    Hey Michelle,

    We’re all so glad you came back to Alaska this summer! And even better that you brought friends too. I knew you were ready for the Chanel when you stayed in the water after finishing your swim, hung out for awhile and then headed back out as the rest of us were in the boat enjoying our hot cocoa! You’re awesome! You can do this! And you’ll have all of Alaska behind you too!


  2. Joan Barry says:

    I’m so excited to be a tiny part of your amazing adventure. Reading the blog is so exhilirating! I know you will be successful and I wish you all the best! I can tell everyone I borrowed your swim suit in Arizona!!
    God Speed
    Joan (Jane’s Mom)
    p.s. I’m coming to Alaska next year to cheer you on!

  3. Mike says:


    I heard that you were going to be swimming the channel. That is so awesome!!!!!

    Take Care


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