Removing my goggles that are now filled with tears of joy and astonishment, I marvel at my surroundings. Eyes swollen from the salt water and tears, I take a moment to adjust to what I’m seeing: I am standing on French land, and I swam here - from England! Blown away by this accomplishment, though barely able to even begin to try and comprehend the ability of my mind and my body to fulfill this dream, I relish these precious few minutes on land before returning to the dinghy.
As the landscape reveals itself in slow motion, I take mental notes. I don’t want this moment to end. The soft dry sand interspersed between the scattered rocks feels inviting and comforting between my toes under my bare feet. The sun is barely peeking through the clouds, and a mild breeze drifts gently over my arms. While the air temperature feels slightly warmer than the water, my depleted and chilled body is now covered in goose bumps.
Remembering to bring a little rock or two from France as a souvenir of my journey, I scan the ground intensely for just the right one. A couple walks by with their dog, and wisely refuse to engage with this bewildered woman wandering the shore in her swimsuit crying uncontrollably. Looking for rocks, my mind is clouded in a fog of a post-adrenalin high, making even the simplest of decisions difficult. I see two rocks that look particularly interesting. Stowing them strategically down the front of my swimsuit for the ride back to the Louise Jane, I realize I didn't exactly pick the smallest rocks. I look like I have a couple of strange odd-sized growths extending from my lower abdomen, but I'm oblivious. A blissful sense of pride undulates through my body.
Having patiently allowed me to indulge in these moments on French land, Phil now waves at me coaxing my return to the dinghy. It's time to go. Anticipating a brief swim as I watch the tiny dinghy rocking side to side in the shallow waves 25 yards away, I do my best to place my goggles over my eyes. My hands are trembling from exertion so the ill placement of my goggles becomes more of a prop than anything else. It's all about the outfit, I remind myself.
Stepping in the water, I notice how much cooler it feels. A gentle swell pressing against my legs feels stronger than it really is. Drained of any elegance and self-awareness, rather than dive gracefully, I flop triumphantly onto the next wave. A few quick strokes and Phil is hauling my body - head first - into the rubber confines of the dinghy; an on-boarding of my bloated and bulky body so clumsy, you'd be surprised to learn I am a classically trained ballerina. Now crouched towards the bow, my body serves as a much-needed ballast against the incoming waves as we potter towards the Louise Jane.
Approaching the Louise Jane, seeing my crew grinning magical smiles, I am overwhelmed with emotion. Assisted onto the boat, my crew embraces me with towels and cheers. I continue to cry. Emma and Melissa bundle me up in my swim jacket, and I am surprised to notice that my body is not shaking to warm up. A nice reminder that all the time and effort I put into training and preparing for this swim paid off. Though mentally and physically depleted, I feel fine, until the boat motors back to England and mild seasickness ensues.
The English Channel is regarded by many as the Mount Everest of open water swimming. I haven't pursued enough mountains to make that personal determination, and for me that's not the draw. To quote Sir Edmund Hillary, I know that like Everest, "it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” With each ascent, we conquer our fears, our self-doubt, and our own personal limitations. Standing on this summit, marveling at a goal I never thought possible for myself, I know I am capable of far more.