Every day when I wake up I think about how lucky I am that I was raised to try new things. In many was this is what makes it possible for me to live a productive life with multiple sclerosis. When I was first diagnosed 20 years ago, I tried nothing. The result of that was that I was drawn further and further into the disease.
Ten years ago I decided to try swimming and things started to turn around. After that I tried weightlifting, and things got even better. Since then I have tried cycling, dragon boating, spinning and outrigger. I have raced in canoes in Catalina and Hawaii and swam in lakes and oceans throughout British Columbia. I have met hundreds of incredible people, seen some amazing places and have even swum with a whale. My life and health have been better because of me trying things.
Today I tried something new again; I attempted to swim across the English Channel with a group of friends. Each of us brought unique goals to the swim; all of us came with steadfast determination and the common goal of making it to the other side.
Our journey began at 5am when we first boarded Andy King’s 35′ Suffolk and headed toward Shakespeare Beach, Dover. The ride took approximately 20 minutes. While in transit, teammate Bill Burton prepared himself to enter the water. He would be the first to swim. Bill, Karen Tannas, Wendy Burton and I would each swim for an hour at a time and continue to rotate through until we reached France.
Just off shore from the beach Bill jumped in and made his way to the start line. It was exciting watching my teammate head toward the start of a journey of a lifetime. Once on shore Bill made final adjustments and then was given the call to jump in. His swim was strong; he had perfect form. Initially finding the right nesting spot beside the boat was a challenge, but within a few minutes he found his perfect spot.
Next into the water was Karen Tannas. After she popped in and Bill made his way back onto the boat we continued on our journey. Karen is always a joy to watch in open water. Her stroke is smooth and relaxed and she looks free and happy. Her swim was extremely well executed. Waves were coming at her from all directions, huge boat wake was constant and there was a never ending threat of jelly fish below. She plugged ahead with steadfast conviction.
I was next in the queue. I sat midway up the boat on the side eagerly awaiting the call to jump in. Before I knew it I was on my way. The temperature was great; not as cold as I had prepared for. The waves were unrelenting. The were coming at me from everywhere. I could feel the boat wake from a large freighter. It tossed me on my side taking my legs with it and leaving my body behind. Within seconds I was up on another wave, laughing at how the water continued to taunt and tease me.
After being tossed round and round and up and down for nearly an hour rest was in sight. I could see Wendy preparing to enter the water. Once she had jumped in I made my way to the ladder at the back of the boat. Getting up was harder than swimming, but with some help from our crew I made it.
Now comes the fun part. For those of you who are familiar with my Strait of Georgia swim a few years ago, you may remember that I am a bit of a puker. Keeping with tradition after 10 minutes of being back on the boat I found myself hanging over the side relieving myself of my breakfast.
Wendy continued on with her swim as I continued on with my tradition. I popped a gravel, sat myself down in a corner and kept my eyes on the horizon. By the time Wendy had completed her swim I was feeling better – but not quite ready to replace what I had left behind.
We made our way through the second rotation. The current was getting strong as we approached the French boarder. There was a bit of a break in the clouds and there were freighters and ferries all around us. I have never seen anything quite like it. Our crew was doing a remarkable job of keeping us out of harms way.
Part way through Wendy’s second swim our pilot Andy and observer Mick advised us that the current was too strong and would be even stronger as we made our way to the French shore. We were being pushed toward the North Sea, which does not appear to be unusual during channel swims. As they saw it things would get worse, not better. Although none of us were injured or any where near fatigued, surprisingly, they asked is to remove ourselves from the water.
On the way back to Dover I had a good hour or so to think about all of the things that had happened that day. I knew that what awaited me was a number of people that would say how sorry they were that we did not make it to France. So I thought about that, and asked myself if I was sorry we did not make it to France and I can honestly say I am not.
I am grateful to my teammates who swam today (Bill, Karen and Wendy) and my teammate Jim Close who was unable to swim but was with us every stroke of the way. It has been an incredible 2 year journey, one I will carry with me for life.
Thank-you to our crew Andy King, pilot on board the Louise Jane and to crew members Mick and James for keeping us safe during our crossing.
And thank-you to our fabulous hosts at the Sandown Guest House in Dover. You made me feel at home and part of a very special community that exists within the walls of your home. Everything was truly outstanding.
A special thank you to all of you who supported us along the way. We had an incredible day, it was a courageous swim and most importantly we made the attempt.
Attempts are not failures. Trying new things is key to how I thrive with MS.