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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pat Gallantly Navigates The North

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

There are few people on the globe with the persistence and determination of Pat Gallant-Charette.

Arguably, she may be among the most persistent in open water swimming history.

She completed a swim across the English Channel on her third attempt, crossing in 15 hours 57 minutes in 2011. During her first attempt in 2008, currents forced her back only a mere 1.7 miles from the French coast. Her second attempt was canceled in 2009 due to weather conditions so she completed a crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar in 2010 in a fast 3 hours 28 minutes. She continued to save money to make her triumphant return in 2011.

She followed up her English Channel swim with a successful Catalina Channel crossing in October in 14 hours 11 minutes.

The next year, she traveled to Japan to attempt a crossing of the Tsugaru Channel. Tides and winds thwarted her attempts, but she stayed in Japan and extra week and ultimately crossed in 19 hours 36 minutes in 2012.

From her native state of Maine, she headed over to the North Channel this last week. Like her previous attempts of the English Channel and Tsugaru Channel, the North Channel created a huge barrier to success.

In 2013 she attempted to swim the North Channel. After swimming for 16 hours 43 minutes and less than one mile from the finish, the tidal flow changed directions and prevented her from completing her swim. Before she scheduled her next attempt on the North Channel in 2015, she traveled to the Southern Hemisphere to attempt the Cook Strait in New Zealand. After swimming for several hours in the Cook Strait in January 2014, her swim was stopped due to strong tidal flow.

So she has scheduled her next attempt of the North Channel for 2015. But again she was thwarted and started planning for a return to New Zealand in her quest to achieve the Oceans Seven Challenge.

But yesterday she crossed her fifth Oceans Seven channel in 14 hours 22 minutes, setting another record for being the oldest to swim the North Channel. At the age of 65 years 204 days old, she relished the crossing. "I had great conditions. It was very calm water. However, the jellyfish blooms were prolific. I got stung on every inch of my body. I even had a Lion's Mane jellyfish strike my face. I was wearing my goggles and I could clearly see underneath its dome. I had several tentacles on my face.

I shook my head while swimming and it would not come off. So, I had to grab the dome with my hand and pull it off

Gallant-Charette embodies that kind of dogged determination - not only for herself, but with others. She started a Facebook group called Disappointed but Defeated. "This group is to encourage all swimmers of any age to pursue their swim dreams. In the event of a DNF for whatever reason, it's normal to feel disappointed.

But, knowing that many in the marathon swim world have had a DNF in their career and did not feel defeated. They went back and were successful, even if it took several attempts.

And she should know.

Even her experience with jellyfish is inspirational. "I've been stung by jellyfish while swimming the English Channel, Tsugaru Strait, and the North Channel.

During my North Channel swim in 2013, I was stung every inch of my body. Pain was minimal and I did not have any significant adverse reactions from Lion's Mane jellyfish. However, while swimming off the coast of Maine, I was stung by a jellyfish and it felt like I was being electrocuted. I can tolerate a lot of pain but that sting was off the charts.

I did not have any adverse reactions. I did not see its dome, but the tentacles were actually beautiful.....they glistened in the noontime sun. During my Tsugaru Strait swim, I was stung over 100 times. Each sting was variable, from a lightweight tingling sensation to a burning sensation as though a lit cigar was being extinguished on my skin. Again, I had no adverse reactions, but I still have a few scars from the poor little jellyfish stuck inside my swimsuit.

For a first-person description of her North Channel experiences, read here.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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