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2016 WOWSA Man of the Year – Nejib Belhedi
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Thursday, October 10, 2013
Kathy Batts Going Solo With Friends
In the 1970's she crossed paths often with the channel swimming legend Kevin Murphy, both through swimming and in their professional careers as they both worked in the same area of London.
The ties became greater over time as Batts’ father subsequently became Murph's trainer. Both father and friend tried to persuade Batts to swim the English Channel when she was a fast 20-year-old but she always resisted.
“I knew my head wasn't in the right place,” Batts recall. “I still think this was the right decision, but desperately regret the fact my father died many years ago so he will never know I achieved the swim.”
But the English Channel still pulled at her heartstrings in other ways. “For years, I have concentrated my efforts on [doing] relays - 14 in total including one double, plus The Loveleys, the first Ladies team to swim around the Isle of Wight.”
Years turned into decades and life rolled on as Batts stood on the deck of escort boats taking turns swimming relay legs instead of swimming alongside the boat from shore to shore. But life sometimes offers pleasant turns at unexpected times. “Finally Kevin and Paula Foreman, the fifth lady to do a two-way solo convinced me I could swim the Channel.”
The timing was right and so was her head. “I succumbed on the condition that they would both be on my boat as support, as well as my long-term friend Dr. Chris Stockdale, himself a solo Channel swimmer, Mike Ball was the observer, another solo Channel swimmer, and my friend Janet Gifford, the Secretary of my swimming club. My team had in excess of 41 Channel crossings.”
Support was definitely not the issue for the woman who had given and trained so much and who had engineered such an All-Star crew. But Mother Nature was. “I was due to swim last year, trained for mile upon mile. I didn't go on holiday with my family, but chose to train in Dover Harbour. My slot came and went in September and finally my pilot on October 8th said I wouldn't be swimming in 2012 due to the severe weather we were experiencing.”
It was a crushing blow. After finally embracing the idea of a Channel crossing after dismissing the concept three decades earlier, it was an emotional rollercoaster. “I cried and cried. This was not the outcome I had ever thought about. So I had a long wait until Christmas to see if Eddie Spelling my Pilot had a cancellation for 2013. Thank goodness he did.” Back into the water she went, enduring another winter of pool training and getting back in the sea in April.
While her swimming colleagues understood the desire to endure another season of sacrifice and winter of workouts, her non-aquatic-minded friends at work were less understanding. “At times it seemed an incredibly long journey with people not understanding the desire to train and swim the Channel whilst being stung by jellyfish, getting the most gorgeous of hat tan lines, and being in salty water for hours on end. The Channel swimmers understood, but work colleagues didn't.”
Weeks went by, months of sacrifice passed, and the daily grind of working out finally led to The Call. The Call from her Pilot led to The Day of her attempt that ultimately set into gear all the little things that go on before and during the first step into the Channel. “The day finally came. I had asked each person to have a role whilst I swam, from preparing feeds, answering my phone (if anyone rung), texting, writing messages on my white board, greasing me up, and looking after one another.
So I entered the water, focused on 15 hours although Kevin is telling me 14 hours. He reiterated this is 'one day in your life'. Paula tells me to go for it and she would swim with me at the finish and around the 8-hour mark. I had a large photo of my dad laminated on the side of the boat which was taken of him feeding Kevin on his River Thames swim.” But the photo was doctored. “I chopped Kevin out of the picture so I just had a lovely picture of my dad leaning over the side holding a cup.”
This was The Day for the 53-year-old. “So off we go. What I hadn't envisaged was the effect the Maxi drink would have on me. 7 hours at half strength in the Harbour is fine, but full strength on my swim made me feel so bloated like I was 9 months pregnant. Several hours in for 20 minutes I was so sick. In this time I missed the tide and started to go back to England, I didn't know this though. I swam on and on, counting every feed knowing that one hour was turning into another. The team was amazing. Eddie Spelling was amazing; he earnt his money that day.”
22 hours 30 minutes after stepping off the English coast, she became a Channel swimmer. “I constanty get asked why didn't you fall asleep, give up, or complain. Well it's simple, I had one chance and one chance only of fulfilling my dream. I was doing this for my Dad and all those people on that boat who believed in me. They made me cry into my goggles with the antics on the boat, cartoons on my wipe board, and hitting me on the head during at least two of my feeds.”
Characteristically, Batts was appreciative of those around her. “I have said it all along and I will continue to say it: a swim is only as good as your helpers. Get helpers who are sick, who want to give up when the going gets tough, and who do not know the swimmer, you might as well not start. You must choose your helpers with care, follow your head, and not your heart.”
That is a smart woman with a lotta heart.
Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming
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