I was swimmer #2 and Andy was going to be escorting Bill Bradley from San Francisco (on his fourth attempt) anytime starting Friday, August 19. So when I saw we had missed a call from King, I wasn't expecting to swim so early. "We may go tomorrow, Jenny," King said. "It looks like a good day."
"Did swimmer #1 turn it down?" I asked.
"I took him this morning," he said. "He didn't make it. He did a few hours and stopped. Call me at 7:30 p.m. tonight to discuss further, allright?"
"Okay," I said.
At that instant, I delivered the news, while standing in the kitchen of the house we rented in Deal, to my crew. Within moments, the rat race to prepare began. Everyone sprang into pre-swim action. Bags were unpacked and items were checked and shuffled around. All medical items were given to Aunt Lynn for her medical bag. In my large blue REI duffel bag for the boat, we packed my FAST fleece swim parka, two-sided fleece MSU/Detroit TIger blanket (that my mom sewed us for the holidays), lightsticks and blinkers for the swim, duct tape, Sports Beans, spare water bottles, kite string, and the 50/50 Lanolin-Vaseline concoction. I also added two pair of spare goggles, two silicon swim caps, rubber gloves for the Lanolin application. As a companion swimmer, Noah packed his swim gear in the medium REI orange duffel bag. He packed his USA swim cap, wetsuit, fins, towel, and a dry set of clothes, including rain gear. In my red, white and blue Speedo "Birmelin" embroidered backpack I had two pairs of silicon ear plugs, a Foggle (antifog goggle wipe), three pairs of goggles, my TYR USA silicon swim cap (which we were given at the Howell Aquathlon in July 2009), my red Detroit to Dover towel (monogrammed by my mom, Jan Domino), a pair of thick black winter running pants, a green fleece jacket, my black Tri-Covery Massage & Fitness fleece beanie (thanks, Jeff Kong), Body Glide, Bull Frog Water Armor 50 sunblock spray, fleece gloves, and Smartwool socks.
Lynn's medical bag included: children's liquid Motrin, syringes with saline (in case, for eyes), Zofran OD tablets, Epipen (for shock), Benadryl, plastic bags for seasickness, Antivert (anti-dizziness), vinegar, rubbing alcohol, gauze, Ace wrap, bandages, tape, Scapolomine patches, sutre set, throat lasenges for post-swim, stapler for large wounds, alcohol-free mouth wash (diluted 50/50 with water), lemon mouth swabs, rubber gloves, Albuteral inhaler, lip balm, Tylenol tabs, and Motrin tablets. In hindsight, we'd add shampoo, washcloths, and soap.
My crew packed 3 Muskateer bars, grapes, bananas, coffee, gummy bears, hot water thermos with boiling water, my laminated signs in a plastic binder, cheese and crackers, pre-made bland sandwiches (ham/cheese, turkey/cheese, no dressings on white bread), chips, water jugs (>2L per person), a 2 liter of flat Coca-Cola, rain and wind gear, gloves, towels, sunglasses with Croakies, sunscreen, stop watch, hats, whistle, green lightsticks, green blinkers, hand towels, two 2 kg tubs of Maxim Carbo Energy Powder, waterproof camera, Nikon's SLR D5100 and 7000, safety pins, logbook, and pens.
Noah and Karen mixed 24 scoops of Maxim powder per 2 L of apple juice to make the double-strength Maxim energy drink. My goal was to drink a half liter every hour, or 750 calories from the drink alone. My crew added 100 ml of boiling water to my apple juice/Maxim mix. We used kite string attached to my bottle. Andy King had a feeding system already built. His was comprised of about 12 feet of white PVC piping, a metal basket with the piping on the perimeter. The basket had a dish in the middle to hold feeding cups and two circular areas on either side of the dish, for water bottles or whatever. My mouthwash and feed cup were always tied to the food dish. We had poured my diluted mouthwash into a small 6 oz. empty water bottle squirt top that we bought in town.
My swimmer food included Peter Rabbit Organics squeezeable fruit snack pouches, peaches in heavy syrup, the Maxim mixed with apple juice and hot water, and coffee was on hand just in case.
Saturday, August 20, 2011, Dover's projected tides:
High Tide, 3:12 a.m - 5.92 meters
Low Tide, 10:33 a.m. - 1.62 meters
High Tide, 3:24 p.m. - 6.08 meters
Low Tide, 10:55 p.m. - 1.69 meters
Crew: Skipper Andy King, co-pilot Andy McRath, husband Noah Birmelin, aunt Lynn Frikker, friends Karen Rosinski and Cheryl Dehn.
Before dinner, I plopped down on the couch to read my book, The Help, while Noah, Lynn, Karen mixed 2 liters full of the Maxim drink. Cheryl and Lynn went to the grocery store for dinner and reinforcements. I almost dozed off but Noah saw me and said, "She won't sleep tonight. Cheryl, go talk to her and keep her awake." I was thinking, "Come on, let me take a nap." For dinner I ate salmon, Hake, a fish native to Scotland, risotto, white bread, water and bowtie noodles. The crew also made fresh veggies (green beans, zucchini, carrots, snap peas, garlic, red onion and olive oil). Around 11 p.m. we heard the clickity-click of high heels walking down the 3 ft wide sidewalk. Then, the person banged the door knocker trying to get inside a nearby house. Since no one answered, the person knocked repeatedly for about 10 minutes before hollering began. "Open up," a woman's voice bellowed, "open up, wake-up." The knocks grew louder and more frantic and seemed much closer together. Then she screamed, "Open the F***** door, Arthur!!!" and kept knocking. I think our whole crew was awake by then and finally someone from our street yelled, "Enough!" it sounded like another neighbor tried to speak to her quietly. Finally, the clickity-click lady ticked away. Around 12:15 a.m. our CD player boomed a Van Morrison song from the kitchen. After dinner, we hit pause on the CD to call our pilot to discuss the possible swim Saturday. We never turned the radio off, so for whatever reason, the song blasted in the house until Lynn wandered in the kitchen and pulled the plug. It took her a while to realize where the music was coming from. Around 12:30 a.m. someone else was playing music. I should have slept with ear plugs.
The alarm rang at 2:00 a.m. and I rolled out of bed at 2:15 a.m. When I came downstairs, I ate a small banana and one instant regular oatmeal packet mixed with warm water. I began drinking one sports bottle filled with apple juice and Maxim. Our plan was to have me swim one hour and then stop for the first feeding. Further feeds were scheduled on 30 minute intervals, which Andy approved. Noah, Lynn, Karen, and Cheryl carried all of our bags to our rented silver Volkswagon Passat hatchback. We started the 15 min drive to Dover in the pitch black. Noah was wondering if his lights were on. All of a sudden, we went past a Deal Police Officer vehicle on a side street, who pulled behind us with his flashing lights. The police vehicals in Kent are white, checkered with blue and neon yellow rectangles so you can't miss them. "2:52 a.m.," I said, "pulled over on the way to swim the English Channel!" The officer was out of his patrol car and standing my Noah's window within seconds. Noah rolled down his window.
"Hello," the officer said. "Did you know your lights weren't on?"
"No, I just figured that out now," Noah replied.
"This time of night, I'm checking for drunk drivers," he said. "I saw you coming from way down the street. Where are you headed?
"We're on the way to Dover to swim the English Channel," I piped in from the front passenger seat. I'm sure he could see that we were all wearing the same navy blue "Detroit to Dover" hooded sweatshirts.
"Do you know how to get there," he asked.
"Yes, we think so," Noah said.
"Good luck then, right," he said.
Whew. "From now on, I'm keeping the running lights on all day," Noah said. When we turned into the Dover Marina, the lights were exciting. In the dark, the Marina area was well illuminated, as well as the ferry docks and harbour area. We turned into the Marina parking lot and found a space to park. Noah walked up to the dark Marina office and knocked on the door. "I woke up the attendant," Noah said. He bought a full day parking permit for 6.5 pounds, which went in the front windshield. I grabbed my Speedo backback and started walking the plank to the dock. I saw Andy standing on the Louise Jane with lights on the boat. "Morning," I said, and shook his hand smiling. Others were behind me, carrying armfulls of swim bags and deck food/gear. Andy introduced us to his co-pilot, Andy McRath and they both lifted our gear onto the boat and set our bags in the fish coolers, which doubled as crew benches.
Meanwhile, as Lynn and Karen were taking photos while we walked to the dock, a large white police van pulled alongside them. Here we go again.
"Is everything okay here," the officer asked. "What's your purpose?"
"We're here with the English Channel swimmer," Lynn replied.
"Alright then. Good luck," he said, and motored away slowly.
Whew. Karen ran down the long ladder/plank and told Cheryl and I what just happened. We just laughed.
Two police encounters within 25 minutes on the most important and now most stressful morning of the year.
I had bought a Little Miss Sunshine shirt at a large sporting goods store in Ramsgate on the Tuesday (Aug. 16) prior to the swim, for 5 pounds. I was a huge fan as a child of the series, and owned several of the tiny books. The series is popular here in England as we have seen the books in several book dealers' window displays. Both Andy's asked if I was ready and I nodded. I said, "Wait. I have something for you when I get grumpy." I ran to my Speedo backpack and rifled to the bottom and came over to the railing to proudly show Andy my cheerful shirt. And just so his sons and Andy M. could make fun of him, I gave it to him to hold up for a photo of me and both Andy's.
"My sons are going to love this!" Andy King said.
Andy pointed to a boat docked just 50m away from us. "See them--the Viking Princess," they are going out too. There was a 43-year-old man going out with Reg Brickell. The man's mother stood in the darkness of the marina dock, waving to her son, who was pulling away with his crew, for the swim of a lifetime. I couldn't imagine what she was feeling. I could guess she was the proudest mama while a bit nervous for her son at the same time. As she walked past our boat, she paused, smiled and said to us, "Be well."
I sat down on the black bench (fish cooler/gear holder) and Karen and Cheryl sat on either side of me. Both Andy's sat on the bench facing us. "Are you ready? You look a bit nervous," they said. "Yes, I am both," I said truthfully. "When should we grease her up?" Cheryl asked. Andy said it was too early, to wait about 15 minutes, until we left the Dover Marina. Andy M. asked if we had green lightsticks and blinkers. "We have blue, red and yellow," Noah answered. "Green is the most visible, right," he said, "hang on." Andy M returned with a bag of lightsticks and pulled out two. Andy M gave me two green ones and two safety pins, and a green blinker for my swim cap. I took off my shoes and socks, blue "In Pursuit" hoodie and gray Tri-Covery sweatpants. My swimsuit of choice was my USA red, white and blue Speedo. I had only worn it prior to the big swim on two training swims in the Channel that week. There were three red crossing straps on my lower back but I wasn't worried about them chafing. I chose a TYR American flag silicon swim cap, which I had saved from one of the Howell Aquathlon open water swim races from 2009. For goggles, I grabbed my BlueSeventy Nero racing goggles that had white straps, blue lenses. There were the most comfortable goggles I had tested this summer. The testing was getting mighty expensive, as I was buying several styles and brands to test.
In the past few years and even for the USMS 25k on June 17, 2011 I wore TYR Socket Rockets goggles with bungee cords. As much as Iike wearing them in pool training and races, they ended up bruising my eye sockets after the 7 and-one-half hour swim in Noblesville, Indiana. I searched for comfort, a goggle I could put on and not have to adjust for over 12 hours. The BlueSeventy's I found at Running Fit in Novi and after one pool swim, I used them on my 8 hour swim to Charity Island on July 10 and loved them.
Andy said to stand next to the cabin for greasing. Before greasing, Lynn put gloves on my hands to protect them from the grease. It was more stable and less windy standing by the cabin. At swim time, the water temperature (63 deg F) was warmer than the air temperature (56-58 deg F). Noah put on latex gloves and opened our container of swimmers grease. Back on July 9 in Tawas, Michigan, Lynn, Karen and I mixed a batch containing 50% Vaseline and 50% pure lanolin (ordered from CVS Pharmacy in July 2008 and still sticky!), using an old crock pot, two inches of water, a tall stainless steel bowl and a wooden spoon. Noah began greasing my sides and armpits first. Then he put the stick mixture all over my neck, back, and under all of the red suit straps. Finally, with my arms touching the white cabin wall, Noah greased between my legs, where my suit could possibly rub my inner thighs. I put my waxy ear plugs in and my goggles on my forehead. From the moment we pulled away from the dock to the brief boat ride to Shakespeare Beach, it seemed instantaneous. Everything in the dark happpend so quickly. Noah fastened two green lightsticks with safety pins to the back of my suit. Andy M. said at daylight I could remove them. One of the sticks stayed in place until shortly after I reached France and the other fell off at some point after daylight.
"Give Noah a kiss," Lynn said, and I gave Noah, Cheryl, and Lynn and kiss. Karen was at the back of the boat. Andy M. then asked me to walk to the starboard (right) side of the boat, where he unclipped a 2-foot chain, which was there for safety.
"You're going to sit here and jump," Andy King instructed. "Tthen swim to shore, stand up, clear the water and wait for the whistle. Then start swimming."
"Can I pee first," I asked.
"Sure thing," he responded, "good idea."
Since I was slippery as a jellied eel, they held my arms as I swung my legs over the side of the boat. As I sat there, I was quite nervous about leaving the protection of my crew and vessel.
"You want me to jump?" I asked, stalling.
"Yes--mind your head," King said.
"One, twoooooo, threeeeeee," I said, and jumped into the dark and salty day. I started stroking with all the adrenaline and energy of a thoroughbread on Derby Day. The water temperature, air temperature, and salt water were the last things on my mind. The only thing I was thinking was "when will I feel the rocky bottom and I hope nothing bumps into me."
Andy was shining the boat's search and rescue beam on the cliffs of Shakespeare Beach. I could see the beam of light to my left but I tried to swim straight. Shore was about 100 yards away. When I started to feel pebbles, I stayed seated on shore for a moment to pause, urinate, and think about what I was about to do. Meanwhile on the boat, I was told Andy King asked, "What's she waiting for? Cheryl told him, "I think she has to pee."
As soon as I stood up, I heard a whistle. "That was quick," I thought. My adrenaline, crew and I began our English Channel adventure at 4:05 a.m. (Dover time). I took a few steps and dove into the salty sea. I prepared the last two to three years for this day but all of the swimming coaches, teachers, friends, workouts, races, collegiate water polo, open water swims and experiences played a role in getting me to Dover. I really believe the PURSUIT was readying my body and training my mind to finish. Training my mind encompassed focusing on my stroke, while experiencing sensory deprivation from the first plunge into the darkness. I had read accounts of swimmers who had physically gotten to Dover, who swam just minutes or hours in the Channel before ending their attempts. I hadn't trained for a 2-hour swim and a 15 to 20 minute boat ride home. For me, the PURSUIT was surrounding myself with a cohort of friends, who wanted me to be successful. This group, my dedicated crew, was essential for a successful crossing. You don't complete a "solo" swim alone. My friends and terrific husband were committed to my goal and told me, "Do not stop until you get there. We know you can do this. We believe in you." I was far from alone in the enormous sea and shipping lanes. The PURSUIT--Detroit to Dover was over. I would now swim to France channeling my inner strength, desire, and courage, plus a swift kick from my crew.
I swam to the port (left) side of the Louise Jane and saw my crew hanging light sticks on the rails. The boat looked like it was ready for a nautical parade. Maybe not that bright. Andy King had asked me to stay 8 to 10 feet from the boat. He had a camera fixed on me, so he could always see me swimming from the skipper's cabin. I asked if I could get more lights strung, since the weren't that bright with my blue goggles. I didn't want to use clear and have to switch them later. I could really only see the bright orange lightstick. The crack and snap lightsticks were much fainter. Since there weren't any lightsticks hung past the cabin door (the dinghy blocked the crew's way), when I swam near the bow (front), I had difficulty judging how far I was from it. I preferred to swim in the middle, closer to the crew and lights. I wanted to maintain bilateral breathing (breathing every three strokes) but when I did, I would often drift too close to the boat. When I came too close, Karen and Cheryl, who were crouched down by the railing in the darkness (like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) would motion to me to move away from the boat with their lightsticks. I thought, "they could get a gig at an airport taxing planes on the runways."
I could see Lynn's red coat easily, and Cheryl and Karen's white FAST hats. As the morning progressed, sometimes when I breathed to my left I would catch a glimpse of new colors appearing in the sky. "There's the moon," I exclaimed my crew at one point, midstroke. After at least an hour I finally saw a glimmer of orange and a few clouds. The colors brought comfort to my gigantic effort. I thought of what my mom, Jan Domino, posted on Facebook the previous day for me to read. "Jenny, tomorrow... all those that love you will see everything in black and white except you, You will be in color. Tomorrow is YOUR day." And I thought of what my friend Maddie Diedo told me. "Want it more than you're afraid of it," she said, quoting Bill Cosby.
My first feed was after one hour of swimming. My crew waved a large white FAST towel and I swam closer to the boat. In came the 12 ft PVC pipe feeding pole and basket with a water bottle filled with apple juice and double strength Maxim, a high carbohydrate powder. I drank 250 cc's. At 6:30 a.m. I reached the first shipping lane and Andy said that 3 or 3.5 hours to reach the first shipping lane would be ideal. We were setting a great pace. My stroke count was 62. At this feed, the crew administered 600 mg of liquid baby Motrin mixed with peaches. My crew said I spit out 500 mg once I tasted it.
At 7 a.m. they let Noah get in as a companion swimmer. He was allowed to swim one hour next to me without touching me. I was thrilled to have some company as I was getting colder. I was 8 miles into the swim. They gave me a bottle of Maxim and I complained of a headache, possibly from the diesel boat fumes. I did tread for a minute to urinate, which pleased the crew and skipper. At 7:30 a.m. Noah and I swam over a gigantic orange-pinkish rhizostoma jellyfish (abundant in the Irish Sea and eastern English Channel). It was a beautiful Finding Nemo type. I was ecstatic it was closer to Noah, but well below him. I yelled, "Jellyfish!" to my crew but that didn't see that one. This feed I was eating Maxim and peaches. The water had dipped to 58 deg. F (14 deg C) and my fingers were curling inwards. Many times during a stroke, I would open and close my hand to keep them warm and stretch them out. At 8 a.m. Noah exited the water at the back of the boat. During the feed I had a squeezable Peter Rabbit Organic fruit snack pouch and some Maxim and mouthwash. I began vocalizing how cold I had become. I yelled, "I can't be this cold for 9 more hours!" My comment was ignored.
The crew decided to move my feeds to 25 min intervals, instead of 30 min, as well as adding more hot water to the apple juice/Maxim bottles. At that point my body had burned through the carbs and was burning fat for energy. I was having a tantrum because I was freezing. I thought of my warm comforter at the house and putting on my Smartwool socks. As I breathed to my right, I could see the long ladder, which was folded up high on deck. I plotted how I could get to it to get on board and get warm. "I'm so cold," I yelled again to the crew, with tears in my eyes and a sad, pathetic look on my face.
"You're doing great," Cheryl yelled. "All those boats that started before you--YOU PASSED!"
"Wait, what did she say?" I thought. "Yeah, right," I said, and started stroking. Not my most positive hour.
My crew members could have been on a collegiate cheer squad. They recognized that during this fourth hour, I would need a little extra cheering. Cheryl, unanimously voted #1 cheerleader by crew, alternated between performing the "YMCA" arms and the Chicken Dance (and for you triathletes, the "bask in my prowess cheer, Swimmer Guy vs. Triathlon Girl." See my links tab above). From time to time, Noah would give me the thumbs up to keep me moving. Simple communcation from my #1 supporter. Sometimes Andy M. would come out and I'd see him talking to the crew. He tried to make me laugh and even attached the giant American flag to the back of the boat and the smaller one to where I could see. When I saw Andy M. wearing the Detroit Tiger cap we brought for them, I said, "Nice hat," midstroke, and he smiled and waved. Lynn and Andy King even made a bet on my swim. King bet five pounds that I would finish in 10.5 hours. Lynn said it would take me more than 11. I'm glad I chose a pilot who bet on ME. I saw Andy King watching me from his cabin window throughout the day. One time he was holding up his binoculars and I saw the red lenses looking out to the west. I thought he looked like a fly. His role on board was not only to make sure I was okay at all times, but he was also skipper of the boat and in charge of logging every detail about the swim. He was in contact with the French authorities, piloting the boat, and logging sea temps, winds, tide changes, stroke count, my state of mind, crew names, the wherabouts of companion swimmers, my food intake, and medications. At this point, the water temperature warmed to 60 deg. F, 15.6 deg C and my fingers got closer together. At 8:20 a.m, my feed was Maxim mixed with extra hot water. Karen said they were adding more hot water when I complained of being so cold.
At 8:50 a.m. I was given my Maxim bottle, a Peter Rabbit pouch, and my stroke count dropped to 61. Andy King said he would make me coffee if I wasn't urinating. He said sometimes the Maxim causes you not to be able to urinate but the coffee would fix that. When I stopped to feed, Andy K put the boat in neutral. He had an orange sea anchor which slowed the boat's speed. At 9:25 a.m. companion swimmer and friend Karen jumped off the port side, wearing her wetsuit and swim fins. She splashed while I was feeding and apparently I made a face. Sorry, Karen! They gave me peaches and Maxim. The string for the mouthwash bottle kept getting tangled in the wire feeding basket. Probably when I yelled, "I want my mouthwash," since my tongue was swollen like a canteloupe.
Karen and I saw one or two Compass jellyfish, brown striped jellyfish and several translucent ones of all sizes. We swam over something that looked like a vertical sea lettuce, resembling a sea horse, but larger. At 9:46 a.m., the water temperature dropped to 13 deg C, 15 deg F when I stopped for a quick Maxim feed. At 10:30 a.m. the water was 16 deg C, 62 deg F. The winds were blowing 11 knots. Karen exited on the back ladder. "I climbed to the first ring and pulled off my fins one-by-one and handed them to King," she said. "While I was climbing he was trying to lift me into the boat." Then her and King took a photo together by the American flag. I was grateful for her companionship and am thankful for her friendship throughout the years. Karen was with my husband and I when we did the Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge swims in April 2010. At this feed they gave me liquid baby Motrin mixed in with my Maxim bottle and again, most of it was spit out into the water.
At 11:15 a.m. I drank 100cc's of Maxim. At 11:40 a.m., I had a Peter Rabbit fruit snack and Maxim. For the 12:10 p.m. feed, Noah filled my bottle to the top with 3/4 Maxim & apple juice and 1/4 hot water. It was the heaviest bottle yet. When it came time to feed, Lynn aimed and fired the bottle towards me. "Whack!" it drilled my head. Then I face floated and held my head. "Oh my goodness, I tought I had a headache before, but this is nuts." Lynn, my medical supporter, photographer and cheerleader, said to me, "There is nothing I can do about it now, so just start swimming." On board, she told them it scared her that I was face down. "I'm supposed to be here to take care of medical problems," she said, "not CAUSE them." She said she was about to jump in and get me. Karen assured her, "if everything went smoothly, it wouldn't be a colorful story."
And so I began stroking 8 hours into the swim with a terrible headache. Noah entered the water around 8 hours and 10 minutes into the swim. Earlier Noah asked Andy King when the next best time would be for him to get in. They decided between 8 and 9 hours would be best. Andy told him to add more water to the bottles because it was a salty sea, he said. At 12:36 p.m. I drank a 1/2 bottle. Noah found a blue plastic bottle floating on the surface. He grabbed the bottle and threw it on board, hitting Cheryl in the head. At the same time, Lynn accidentally hit Karen with the feeding basket handle. The water temperature was 16.6 deg C, or 62 deg F. I had a Peter Rabbit and Maxim.
The crew chatted about the a successful crossing and discussed the White Horse Pub. Andy told them the wall is smothered with names. At 1:55 p.m. the water temperature was 17.2 deg C. I had been in the water for 9 hours and 50 minutes. As I watched the crew and Andy on board, they seemed down. I saw serious expressions and zero cheering. They were hoping we'd land at Cap Griz Nes but realized the tide pushed us too much north. The tide hadn't pushed me as far south as he had hoped. I was watching the Cap get closer and closer but after an hour I felt it slipping away. My crew was so important to me and they displayed so much energy for so long. It crushed me to see the absence of smiles and everyone looked serious and Andy K looked grumpy.
I stopped abruptly and yelled, "What's wrong? I want to see some cheering. Why so serious? This is FUN!"
They exploded into cheer, clapping and waving me towards the French cliffs. Andy M. went and put on his swim trunks and tank top. At 2:15 p.m. Andy M began preparing the dinghy and pulled it to the other side of the boat. When I saw him stand next to it, I couldn't contain my excitement. I got teary eyed. "THIS is happening," I thought. All I wanted for the last hour was for them to launch that little dinghy in the water. They told me that I would have to sprint for an hour to beat the tide. Karen later said she could see Calais getting closer and the Cap further away. Again, Noah entered the water at 2:45 p.m. for the final push to France. I was definitely a bit discouraged. I thought we were going to land at the Cap for a while, which would have made for a much shorter swim. Then I seemed to be moving to its left.
At the next feed I said, "Andy looks grumpy. What's going on? What do I need to know?"
"The tide's changing," Cheryl said. "We need you to swim really hard right now."
At 3:05 p.m.the water temperate was 17.8 deg C and I had covered 27 land miles. At 3:10 p.m. I had a quick drink of Maxim. "Quick feed and go," Lynn said, "final push." It was tough to judge depth. I could see the cliff's in Wissant in front of me, Calais to my far left, the Cap to my right. I didn't realize the beach at Wissant sorta curved inward. For a while, I felt like I was in an Endless Pool. I kept thinking of the swimmers I read about who fought so hard to get this far and couldn't reach shore. Some were only 300 yards or less from an official crossing, only to have the tide take them west. I started to apply more power to my stroke, even though my shoulders were screaming at the increased workload. I glanced at Noah many times and I was glad we were pushing each other beyond our limits. The final hour, one that will forever be engraved in my mind. This hour pushed my shoulders past their pain threshold, a swifter stroke rate (now at 65-66/min), and increased intensity by the crew. Cheryl and Karen turned their white FAST hats into rally caps. When I saw this I just shook my head as they laughed and cheered. This was the bottom of the ninth inning, and all cards were on the table. Cheryl went to my binder of signs and held up one of my favorites. When I breathed towards her, she held up the sign that said, "REMEMBER THIS DAY." I looked at her and nodded, so grateful for her presence and the message.
All of a sudden, a small fishing boat cut right in front of us, heading southeast. I saw it on a forward sight and said, "Oh my gosh." I will never forget looking at my crew and seeing certain crew members giving the fishing vessle the middle finger. I thought, "They are bad ass! They have been fighting for me for a year and 11 hours into this, a boat comes too close. I saw Lynn jumping and motioning to the nautical "A" flag (diver flag, or our "swimmer in" flag) on the rear, trying to slow the speed boat. A few minutes later I saw a friendlier sailboat ahead. I figured it was very close to shore. As I fought the tide, I was judging the final distance by thinking about how many lengths of a local lake back home this was. In my opinion I had one length of Trout Lake (Island Lake State Park, Brighton, Michigan) remaining. I figured when I saw the sailboat and could make out people on the sandy beach, I was no more than 10 minutes away. The water was much clearer and the crew had been shedding clothes for some time, so I knew they were heating up in the sunshine. The sun was brightest at the finish. I hadn't seen a single jellyfish the last hour. At 3:27 p.m. Andy M finally launched the dinghy. While doing so, the boat hit Lynn in the chest. Andy M was 20 feet off the back of the boat and Lynn and Cheryl called him back to the boat. When he came back he asked if they wanted him to take the Olympus waterproof camera and flags. "Yes, she wants them," they said, and handed him a small American flag, a navy and white Detroit Tiger flag, and a green and white Michigan State University Spartan "S" flag. I knew that was when I was leaving some of my crew and smiled. "They got me here!"
The tides, jellies, and cold were no longer against me. I had visualized my landing dozens of times and always saw a sandy beach. The beach in front of me brought relief over having to navigate a rocky shoreline at the Cap. With his arm, Andy M pointed me towards shore, in the direction he wanted me to swim. The bottom of the Channel was growing a more brilliant blue. The water was warmer and I saw people walking towards me. They realized what was happening as they saw the dinghy directing me. I sawm by a jet-ski carrying three people who came close to watch. Even the friendly sailboat inched closer. I was IN PURSUIT of sand in my fingernails and collecting rocks from shore. The last few yars swam by so quickly. My left hand touched bottom first and then I started to dolphin dive like I was finishing an open water race or triathlon swim.
"You can stand up and walk," Andy M said. I always swim as far as I can into shore, so I did a few more shallow dolphin dives, with my suit now skimming the bottom.. In my research, I read about swimmers who have attempted to stand prematurely and after 10, 12, 15, or more hours of swimming horizontally, have collapsed just feet from clearing the water. By standing too quickly, after being weightless for so long, their hearts were under too much strain. Knowing this, I crawled the last few feet before putting my left knee down in the sand. When I tried to stand I was wobbly, like Bambi on ice and my arms flailed a bit to maintain balance. Until you have no water in front of you, no one is allowed to touch you or provide assistance. I took a few steps and realized I was standing on sand. I turned around to face my boat and hoisted my arms into the air with clenched fists, in victory. Noah was removing his fins and stepped on shore just behind me. I walked back to shore to share the moment with him and we embraced. Andy K sounded the big horn on his ship and Lynn and Karen took turns sounding a 1.5 ft plastic horn. Cheryl was waving the 3 x 5 foot American flag. Andy M handed me the three flags to hold and I posed for pictures with Noah. Andy M shook my hand and other beachgoers were clapping when I looked around. A man approached and shook my hand and said, "Well done. Brilliant."
I wasn't sure how long on shore I had, so we turned to get back into the dinghy and I saw that Noah had two rocks in his hand for Karen. "My rocks," I exclaimed, "I almost forgot." I highkicked it out of the water and ran back to the beach, where I chose three rocks as momentos. And I mean RAN. Where did that burst of energy come from?
As i walked back to the dinghy again, a medium sized black dog saw something in my hands. He wanted to play. The dog followed me back to waters edge, so I tucked the three rocks into the side of my suit and showed the dogs my empty hands. "Magic," I said to the dog. The dogs owner and others laughed.
At 3:36 p.m. I landed in Wissant, France, after 11 hours 31 minutes 7 seconds. I covered 28 land miles or 24 nautical miles.
The short ride back to the Louise Jane was beautiful. I was beaming. Our crew was still cheering and preparing to help us onboard. I was still hoisting my arms in the air. We pulled up to the port side and Noah got out first. Then I stood up and they held my upper arms firmly as I swung both legs over the side to get on board. Andy K came right over after Lynn gave me my red "Detroit to Dover" towel and shook my hand. I got a big hug from "Mr. Grumpy." He was more relaxed, like Little Miss Sunshine at this point. I hugged each crew member and I stood up for a few photos with the American flag and both pilots. While they took care of the dinghy, I sat down in back and they helped me put on my fleece swim parka. Lynn put on my Smartwool socks and Noah draped the MSU/Detroit Tiger fleece blanket my mom had sewed over my legs. Somehow, they also got my warm black running pants on too. I drank some water and looked around as I grabbed my sunglasses. Around 4:20 p.m. Cheryl gave me a few bites of a banana and at 4:40 p.m. I said, "Can I have some Dramamine" and it was given to me. A few minutes later I asked, "If I was going to get sick, where do I go?" and pointed to the black buckets near the starward side of the cabin. "NO!" yelled the crew in unison. "You're not touching those buckets," Lynn said, while I sat wondering why. At that time I figured they must have something to do with the bathroom. Someone handed me a plastic bag and then I lost my banana and water.
Lynn gave me a dissolving Zofran tablet to stop the vomiting. I began to feel better after a few minutes and apologized to my crew near me. At 4:51 p.m. I got sick again, and the crew had already given me a few new bags. This time I got a lemon mouth swab. At 5:11 p.m., in a tiny plastic dispenser cup, Lynn poured me 1.5 oz of water.
"You can have another 1.5 oz in 10 minutes if you keep that down," Lynn said.
"Sweet," I said. "I just swam to France all day and I get 1.5 ounces of water in a plastic thimble."
At 5:21 p.m. I got another 1.5 ounces and made sure they didn't short me on my water ration. Finally I was able to look around the Channel and really get an idea of just how many freighters, ferries, fishing boats, and Channel swimming boats my crew had seen all day. The sight was incredible. They get so close! At 5:23 pm. I was given one Ritz cracker and 26 mL of water. The White Cliffs of Dover were getting closer. I wanted to get my feet on land so I could start to feel better. I was thrilled to see Dover Harbour. At 5:59 p.m. the Louise Jane, carrying Andy King, Andy McRath, Noah & Jenny Birmelin, Karen Rosinski, Lynn Frikker and Cheryl Machovec Dehn, pulled up to the dock in the Dover Marina. We took a few crew photos and I walked carefully and slowly to a shower stall at the Marina. My left hip flexor took a pounding the first few hours since I was mostly breathing to my right in the dark. It was extremely uncomfortable walking up the ramp. Remarkably, I only had a little seaweed in my suit and a lot of French sand. The only place I chafed a bit was on the back of my neck, where my hair was creeping out of my swim cap. After a shower, using only their hand soap from the wall, I hobbled back to the car. We hadn't packed shampoo. I plopped myself in the front passenger seat and asked permission to eat part of a granola bar. "Eat," Lynn said, "Drink!"
Before we parted ways, King told us if we met him the following day (Sunday, August 21, 2011), in Dover, he would give me a chart of my swim. We made plans to meet in the late morning, knowing I really wanted to meet other Channel swimmers who were training in the Dover harbour on the weekends. On the 20 minute ride back to Deal, we laughed and recapped our favorite memories: the police encounter at 2:52 a.m., the water bottle head incident that almost ended my swim, jellyfish encounters, freighter sightings, and crawling to shore.
When we got back to our house in Deal, I knocked on the door and Cheryl's husband David answered the door, holding their daughter Jeanette. I gave him a big hug and said, "Guess who just swam to France?" Then I joked, "I delivered your secret message to the man who shook my hand on the shore. I saved the Western World." After our crew unpacked the car, I went up to shower for real and Lynn and David walked into town to order pizza. When I came down, we all shared three varieties and were intrigued that one pizza was topped with veggies including kernel corn. I admit, we also had a little ice cream--and a lot of water.
Everyone went to bed fairly early but I didn't sleep too much. For the next few nights, it didn't matter which shoulder I slept on, I was hurting. My mind was like an MTV pop-up video. Thoughts burst into my head like Jiffy Pop and I was trying to relive every minute. This was much the same story until Monday afternoon. We went to visit the Dover Castle. I was exhausted and frankly not much fun. Funny story: We walked into the ticketing area at Dover Castle and showed them our English Heritage passes to get our tickets. I grabbed a brochure that was sitting by the register and opened it. Still standing in front of the register, exhausted, I read the first page of the brochure, "2,000 years ago...yadda yadda yadda," I said, and flipped the pages quickly. Well, the register clerk heard me and said, "Mam, there is much more here than just 2,000 years ago." I said, "I'm sorry. I just swam to France." He was probably thinking, "Swam to France, yadda yadda yadda." Whoops.
My crew practically coaxed me up hundreds of steps and steep hills like I was suddenly displaced in the Detroit Marathon. "You're doing great, keep going," they insisted. I kept thinking, "I swam to France two days ago and now you want me to walk 500 acres." Surprisingly, I was the first one awake on Sunday and Monday, sometime between 5 and 6 in the morning. I snuck downstairs quietly to write before my crew woke up.
I will always remember THAT DAY (8.20.11), the day I said, "I did it. I swam the English Channel." Thank you to my wonderful husband and best friend, Noah Birmelin, for your continued love and support and ensuring I was safe. This experience is richer having shared it with you. Thank you to my parents, Jan and Gary Domino and sister Jill Domino, for your constant cheer and encouragment (and mom's awesome swim towels, blankets, swim quilts). Thank you Aunt Lynn Frikker, for my first swim suit, motivation (Mark too!) and keeping me on course. Cheryl and Karen, you were instrumental to my success from training swims to answering my phone calls and never leaving my side in the dark Channel. Katy Michalski, thank you for your friendship, swim companionship and brilliant effort and success with Channel PR. Friends who joined me on my long winter pool swims at Lifetime and the Y, walked around Trout Lake keeping an eye on me, or crewed the 25k and training swims, thank you!
Final thoughts: On Living
1. Surround Yourself...with people who want you to succeed. They don't have to share common goals but be a support system for you during your PURSUIT. You are strong and capable. This was my mantra during the swim. 2. Always be IN PURSUIT. Life is more interesting when you set goals. This could be an A or B on a test, saving up for something, or walking your first mile or 5k. Harness your energy so it works for you, not against you. Make a plan and see #1. The PURSUIT is a process, a journey, the effort--of achieving the goal.
3. Plan to Succeed. Train your mind and body to finish. Simulate your final pursuit and visualize how you feel and what you see at the end. Organize practice events, practice tests, etc. The more you do, the more you discover you can do, and the more you want to do. Get to know what it feels like when everything "clicks" and nothing in the world could make you want to quit. Swim until you can remove the element of time. One hour will start to feel like 10 minutes. As Cosby said, "Want it more than you are afraid of it." If you keep going, whatever your speed, the finish will get closer.
4. Be Thankful. Thank others (see #1) often for their assistance in your PURSUIT. Let others know what they mean to you. Your crew or support team is the key to holding your course when the going gets tough.
5. Inspire Others. A few simple words of encouragement on a tough day go a long way. Make a phone call, write a letter, send a photo or message, or best yet, go for a face-to-face visit. Your actions and words carry a lot of weight. Throw it around. Putting out that extra effort brings good things to all aspects of your life, and your support team.
If you're wondering when I got back in the water, it was Wednesday. I did an easy 25 min (1 lap) swim to the pier and back. My mechanics in my left shoulder were not in best form, so I stopped. Finally got that sports massage on Wednesday at noon. Many people have asked, "What's next now that you've swum the Channel?" For right now, my answer besides wanting to throw out a first pitch at a Detroit Tiger's game, is "Must a successful feat be sequeled?"