Sunday, August 16, 2009

Channeling Peace, A Story in 427 Parts

I realize that the most efficient way to finish telling you about the Channeling Peace Initiative of 2009 would have been to write it up and post it last Sunday. But that would have been to assume that Mr. Coach had already told me everything that happened such that the narrative of their adventure could just write itself.

But that would also be to assume that Mr. Coach thinks in narrative form. And he doesn’t. It’s more like bullet-point form. And there’s no telling what’s going to shake a bullet point loose. The other day, it was the smell coming out of the kitchen garbage can. Next thing I knew, he was out the back door and then back in again, carrying a pair of sneakers that had been sitting outside since he got back.

“Smell this,” he said, holding them up.

I know, I know. Probably not the smartest move, but seeing as how Mr. Coach is not the type to abuse the privilege of telling me to smell random things, I thought, “OK, what the heck.”

The shoe smell was a doozy, immediately summoning childhood memories of when our dog Bobo went swimming in the creek.

“That’s the English Channel,” Mr. Coach said proudly. The shoes were the ones he wore for David’s relay swim on Thursday, Aug. 6. They had gotten soaked but good, not during the 13 hours and 25 minutes it took to get to France, but on the 3-hour boat ride back. He had spent it on the back end of the boat, getting splashed by the waves. We agreed he could pitch the shoes and get new ones.

So little pieces of the story keep dribbling out. There’s been the story about running into a guy from Chicago who swam for him 10 years ago: They were all visiting Dover Castle at the same time. That was a little surreal. I’ve also heard about the meat pies and the hikes through the English countryside.

If you followed along on Facebook, where I was posting the URLs from GPS pings that David’s mom sent out every 15-60 minutes, you know that we were following the team’s progress across the Channel (they showed up as a little green arrow on a Google map). They started at about 9:30 a.m., their time in Dover (4:30 a.m. my time) and went until 11 p.m. their time (6 p.m. mine). The relay consisted of 21-year-old David, 71-year-old Stanley (founder of the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in Florida), Clive who is British and that’s all Mr. Coach is remembering right now, and Ann, another Brit about whom he also remembers little except she’s dreamed of swimming the Channel since she was a little girl (I wonder if that’s a British thing).

Toward the end, we noticed that the little green arrow started drifting south and further away from Calais, France, which is the traditional destination. Anne, a veteran Channel swimmer, was serving as our online expert analyst. She’s done several solo crossings herself, including a “there and back” double. Ouch.

Anyway, Anne explained to us online that currents and winds out of the ENE were probably pushing the swimmers southwest. They would be aiming for a small bit of beach just south of the lighthouse at Cap Gris-Nez called “Dragon’s Teeth.” If they didn’t make it, she explained, they’d have to either head further south toward Boulogne-sur-Mer to find land-able shoreline or wait until the tides change and double back around the Cap toward Calais. Either way, it would be another 5 or 6 hours of swimming if they didn’t make it to Dragon’s Teeth.

We watched online as the arrow finally righted itself and began heading due East toward the Cap. If you clicked on the satellite version of the Google map, you could see this was where the water color changed from dark blue to light blue, but you could also make out how rocky and steep the French coast was with one small clear spit of sand.

“now is where the swimmer must sprint to make land…if they pass Cap Gris Nez it will be a while…”, posted Anne.

And at that moment, Mr. Coach remembered a couple of days later, David was indeed sprinting across the strong current. He got them to within 400 meters of shore, and then in went Stanley who was the swimmer to make land. He picked up souvenir rocks for his teammates, tucked them into his swim suit and then rode the accompanying dinghy boat back out to the waiting Viking Princess fishing boat where everyone else was.

They ate scones and jam on the boat ride back (during which time the weather disintegrated). But David’s mom’s Dramamine worked this time and she was fine. Wet and cold, but otherwise fine. David was very sore the next day, but now Mr. Coach has something to heave in his face the next time he complains about fly day during the college season.

And Usman did his long-distance swim in solidarity with David, two days later in a 25-meter pool in Pakistan. He swam for 8 hours and was probably a babbling idiot by the time he was done. I saw what he was like, back in April, when he and David did a four-hour swim in the university’s pool, and it was not pretty.

It still doesn’t make much sense, why the British government wouldn’t issue Usman an entry visa to swim the Channel, but I'm not going to dwell on that. Instead, I’m going to dwell on the fact that Mr. Coach just told me that he thinks the university team should make this a biennial or triennial thing, to take a relay over and swim the English Channel. They want to keep the Channeling Peace movement going. That’s great, I said. I just want to know who’s going to pay for all the new sneakers.


  1. Thank you for keeping us updated on this wonderful and inspiring story! Even with all the glitches and bumps in the road, the fact that your husband and the boys persevered and made it work is even more impressive. Bravo!

  2. I will confidently position the Horsetooth 10k Open Water as a Channel training event!

    We currently have two Masters swimmers training for the Channel, Joe and Eliz. Joe swam Horsetooth this year (2:31:05), while Eliz opted to ditch us for the Pennock Island Challenge in AK - 8.2 miles of 50-60 degree water.

    We would love to have Mr. Coach and his Channel Relay out for the 2010 swim!

  3. I'll put the offer to them, TJ, but I know they'll insist on a few riders in their contract: a carpeted floor to sleep on, blackberry pie for Usman, a 4-layer chocolate cake for David, and an interesting microbrew for Mr. Coach. ;-)


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