Back in September 2009, I had the incredible fortune to meet one of my all-time favourite couples: Chloe McCardel and Paul McQueeney, two fearless and completely adorable Australians who love endurance swimming just as much as they love each other. You see, I had been asked my a good ultrarunning friend to join her in crewing for Paul’s English Channel Swim crossing…while Chloe was attempting a DOUBLE crossing! Talk about a power couple. (See my post on that experience entitled “Guts, Glory and Goose fat” here). I was completely taken aback by Paul and Chloe’s perseverence and strength. Some people tell me that they think ultrarunning is crazy… but believe me, when you see someone battling through choppy, freezing waters from morning to night without a break, THAT is crazy. I said at the time that as much as I had enjoyed supporting Paul in his journey, I would never, ever, EVER attempt long-distance swimming. I believe my exact words were that I’d rather “run 1000 miles with sandpaper shoved down my pants while running through vinegar sprinklers”. You get the idea.
Crewing for Paul was inspiring, emotional and humbling. More than three years after the event, I still get shivers when I think about the moment we helped pull his weary body into the support boat after 15 hours in the water. The experience of helping someone achieve a lifelong dream was profound and I’ve kept in touch with Paul and Chloe ever since….
…which is why I JUMPED at the chance to support Chloe as soon as I heard about her next challenge!!!!! In June this year, Chloe will be attempting to break a WORLD RECORD by swimming through shark-infested waters without a cage all the way from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida. You read it right. That is 170 km (or just over 100 miles) non-stop. Sharks, jelly fish, and salt water up the nose for days on end (okay, I think she will actually wear some kind of nose plug to prevent this from happening, but for me, salt water up the nose is right up there with shark attacks on the nightmare scale). The entire swim is expected to take between 60 and 70 hours. I’m pretty sure if you sat me in a bathtub full of water for that length of time, I would break down into tears as my body turned into a giant gooey raisin. I don’t even know how to put this swim into context. The longest I’ve run for is 20 hours. How do you even begin to describe a challenge of this nature?
Let’s start by pausing for a moment on the fact that this distance has only been completed once before by another fellow Australian named Susie Maroney in 1997. However, she used a shark cage, which you have to think adds a fair amount of comfort. NO ONE has ever completed the swim without the protection of shark cage. The longest distance set so far for an ocean swim without a shark cage is 108 km. Chloe is aiming to smash that record by over 60 km…. The thought makes me want to jump on a couch and scream out my love and affection for this woman ala Tom Cruise on Oprah. GO GIRL! The only thing potentially world-record setting that I have ever done is when I accidentally ate 3.7 kgs of raw carrots in one sitting when I was working hard on an econ assignment in university (I actually started to glow in the dark afterwards). I thought that was pretty impressive at the time, but Chloe is taking the meaning of the word ‘impressive’ to a whole new level.
You may remember reading about a woman named Diana Nyad, an American swimmer now in her 60s who attempted to complete the Havana to Key West swim four times and failed. She first tried in 1978 at the age of 28 with a shark cage. Her most recent attempt was last year, that time without a shark cage, and she had to be pulled out of the water after 60 hours due to multiple jelly fish stings, hypothermia and wild lightening storms that threatened to put her life and the life of her crew in danger. She was about halfway… but she was never able to complete her dream of making it from Havana to Key West.
Chloe will now be attempting to finish what Diana couldn’t. She will be faced with the same challenges – waves, weather, sharks and jelly fish. Oh yeah, not to mention the 170 km of ocean territory she’ll have to plough through without being able to set hand or foot on the support boats that will be following her. No protection, no snorkels, no fins, and no wetsuit. I think I need a mojito or two just thinking about it.
Over the years, I have followed Chloe in admiration as she completed two solo double crossings of the English Channel in 2010 and 2012. I cheered from afar as she collected swimming awards and praise from all ends of the globe. I watched in awe as she took on challenge after challenge without fear or hesitation. There is no doubt in my mind that if anyone can do it, it is CHLOE. In the words of Tyra Banks, this girl is FIERCE.
As I finish up my last few weeks in Afghanistan, I’m starting to look at the challenges and adventures that lay ahead. I’ve got some exciting runs of my own planned and some seriously cool potential job opportunities on the horizon… I have my family to look forward to, reunions with friends, creature comforts of home (the essentials like hot baths, ice cream and continuous episodes of law and order and the bachelor on demand – I’m in withdrawal). However, all I seem to be able to think about right now as I sit in my little armed compound is endless ocean and the sight of the Florida coastline. I am so excited to contribute, even in some small way, to Chloe’s goal. I will be assisting with her feedings (not to sound like a zoo) and hopefully providing some commentary to the film crews that will be following her epic swim. And general good cheer. I’m going to bring out every ounce of positive energy that I can and throw it into the ocean around her to will her forward. I have so much respect for anyone involved in endurance sports, but I’m particularly biased towards fearless females… not to mention fearless females setting out to accomplish the impossible in support of a good cause.
Allow me this shameless plug on Chloe’s behalf as she is doing this swim on behalf of cancer charities. As some of you know, cancer charities have a particularly soft spot in my heart because of the way in which my own family has been affected. My biological dad died of cancer when I was quite young (but thankfully, my mom was blessed to meet a man who also lost his wife to cancer at a young age, and he has been the most wonderful dad to me and my siblings ever since! #shoutouttodad). I’ve lost grandfathers, Angie (my former roommate in New York), Dougie (my university date to the Arts/Sci formal and Scottish drinking partner), and countless others… I could go on. We all have some connection with cancer. Which is why I encourage you to have a peek at Chloe’s charities and think about supporting her efforts – click here!!!
For Chloe’s recent interview on CNN, click here!
I’m off on my LAST R&R from Afghanistan at the end of next week and I’m headed to hill country in Sri Lanka to find my running and hiking legs again. I’ve been pretty down the past month or so and instead of running out my stress as usual, I have found myself motionless. As you know, this is completely out of character for me. Time for the pity party to end – I’ve got to buck up and get out on some trails! Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading your comments!
Hugs from Kabul xx