Naramata’s Elaine Davidson described completing the English Channel swim on July 26 as “a pretty cool achievement.”
Davidson and her Crazy Canucks relay team featuring Penticton’s Janet Robertson and Charlie Llewellyn, as well as Albertans Jaime Williams of Innisfail, and Chris Lough and John Ostrom of Calgary finished the English Channel swim in 13 hours, 47 minutes, unratified by the Channel Swimming Association.
Davidson felt that way because of how much harder it was than they all thought it would be.
“The really cool part of it is the team work,” said Davidson, who did three swims along with one other person while the rest of the group did two turns in the ocean. “Everybody looked after each other on the boat and cheered each other on. It just made it seem like a much more neat thing to do because we had done it together.”
Each swimmer went in for an hour at a time. There were several challenges for the team to overcome and the biggest one to Davidson was the weather window. Davidson said there are only so many days in which people can swim the channel. She said they were lucky as it has happened that some teams traveled to England and waited, then couldn’t do the swim, erasing three years of planning and training, plus costs. Athletes doing the swim have to decide three years prior to doing it to plan everything.
Davidson said the weather, winds and coldness were all challenges, as well as boat traffic.
“The weather and the winds cause seasickness if you have a rough day,” said Davidson. “Half of our team was sick. The seasickness really takes a toll. Our eldest member who is 63, Janet Robertson, she was sick from the get-go. Then you still have to psych yourself up for getting in the water to do your swim, which she did like a champ. Then there is also jellyfish. Two of us got stung.”
The team also got hit by strong winds, force four level, which according to the Beaufort Wind Scale hits nearly 18 miles per hour. That caused the boat to rock.
“It’s crazy. You get bounced around on the boat. I have a big bruise on my arm. You’re on this hugely rocking boat and you have to jump in the ocean and do your hour swim and the ocean is like a washing machine,” said Davidson. “Holy crap, am I actually gonna get in there? It wasn’t so bad once you got in. It was just the thought of it.”
Davidson said they were fortunate the winds didn’t reach force five. The boat pilot Reg Brickell, who was in charge of their safety, had the authority to make all decisions to keep them safe without argument.
“It was crazier than what we had anticipated,” said Davidson, who with Robertson and Llewellyn, trained for the swim in Okanagan Lake.
In order to do the swim, there are different criteria’s they must fulfill before hand. Among them is completing test swims of two hours straight in water 15 degrees or less.
Davidson formed the Crazy Canucks who she knew from doing triathlons and other sports events. She connected with her long time friends over the phone and met for coffee and they all agreed to do the swim. Davidson had thought about doing this for years.
“I’m not quite sure why,” she said. “At one point three or four years ago, I learned that you can do it as a relay versus a solo effort. At that point I thought, well I can do that for sure.
However, Llewellyn had not put nearly as much thought into it.
“Swimming the English Channel was never on my radar, let alone my bucket list but I have a tendency to agree to participate in crazy events before I really know what I’m getting myself into, so I agreed to be part of the team without much hesitation. My husband and I spent our 35th wedding anniversary competing in Ultraman Canada and going to England to swim the Channel seemed like a good way to celebrate our 40th anniversary,” Llewellyn said.
Llewellyn thought that cold water and jellyfish were going to be her toughest hurdles, but that changed, briefly, when the moment finally came.
“Sea sickness turned out to be the biggest challenge for me. Followed closely by the cold water and seeing so many jellyfish. It is a very long day and you need to take in calories to fuel you for your swims, but that is so hard to do when you feel so nauseous and can’t keep anything down. Thankfully the nausea disappeared while I was in the water swimming, but that is where the cold temperatures and jelly fish took over,” Llewellyn said.
The part she will remember most is the camaraderie between the swimmers.
“We were a group of acquaintances that were able to support and encourage one another with the help of our spouses and the boat crew to turn a crazy idea into a successful reality. This is a quote from Sir Winston Churchill that I came across just a couple of days before our attempt at making the crossing, it certainly helped in the lead up to jumping in the water: ‘your greatest fears are created by your imagination. Don’t give in to them,’” Llewellyn said.
While the experience was a bonding one, Davidson may have to wait awhile before she brings up any more ideas.
“I think we are going to be buddies forever after this. They don’t want to talk to me about any other ideas for the moment,” Davidson joked. “They are shutting me down pretty hard.”