July 30, 2008
CAP GRIS NEZ, FRANCE – On July 28, and after an 11-hour battle from Dover, England to Cap Griz Nez, France, MIT junior swimmer Clara Bennett joined an elite group by crossing the English Channel. Bennett became the third MIT student-athlete to successfully complete the grueling, 21-mile swim.
Beginning her journey at 5:57 a.m. Bennett enjoyed good weather conditions and low tides, although the water temperature hovered around 62 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the swim. Despite a slow start, the MIT physics major settled into a nice rhythm three hours in and fought off shoulder pain and exhaustion en route to an immensely inspiring accomplishment.
“I didn’t have any nerves prior to jumping in and surprisingly I felt good while finishing,” said Bennett. “The first few hours were definitely the toughest. After three hours, there was no concern about making it, just a matter of how.”
Overcoming the mental grind is a critical component in crossing the English Channel and Bennett’s intense preparation enabled her to conquer the circuit. Bennett completed a six-hour swim in 60-degree water to qualify for the attempt while one of her open-water training swims included battling five-foot waves and a 25-knot head wind off the Boston shore. To prepare her body for the physical and mental test, Bennett’s daily workout routine covered four hours per day and included lots of dry-land exercises, yoga and kickboxing.
“The only time I was ever really worried was about a month ago,” confided Bennett. “I was experiencing fatigue after all of the lifting, Pilates and other dry-land exercises while a previous injury to my shoulder led to some doubts.”
It definitely helped that Bennett wasn’t alone as she trained with friend and former club teammate, Mallory Mead. A recent graduate of Western Kentucky University, Mead made the swim across the Channel two days earlier.
“Mallory and I joked that we got most of the bad weather out of the way on our training trips, and I definitely have to give her the credit for planting the seed to make this swim.”
The English Channel is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates England from northern France and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is the smallest of the shallow seas around the continental shelf of Europe, and as one of the narrowest but most famous international waterways lacking dangerous currents, crossing the Channel has been the first objective of a number of innovative sea, air and human powered technologies.
For a detailed recap of Clara’s journey and the events leading up to her historic swim, visit Clara and Malloy’s blog at http://swimmingthechannel.blogspot.com/.