Swimming The Channel: This Time, She's Sure

Pat Gallant-Charette wants to swim across the English Channel in August. On top of her job as a nurse, the 60-year-old grandmother from Westbrook, Maine, follows a rigorous training schedule that includes one- to 10-hour swims along the crashing waves of the cold ocean shore. Gallant-Charette almost crossed the Channel once before, but currents kept her at bay just a mile and a half from the finish. This time, she's convinced she'll make it. Independent producer Patty Wight sends this audio postcard.

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JACKI LYDEN, host: This year, more than 100 people will attempt to swim across the English Channel. Most of the swimmers are in their 20s and 30s. But 60-year old Pat Gallant-Charette, from Westbrook, Maine, is preparing for her third attempt.

Patty Wight has this profile.

PATTY WIGHT: You could easily call Pine Point Beach in Scarborough, Maine, Pat Gallant-Charette's second home. When she isn't working as a nurse or watching her grandkids, she's here - six days a week, from April to November.

Wearing just a black one-piece bathing suit, Pat does a quick toe check before entering the water.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OCEAN)

PAT GALLANT-CHARETTE: It's warm. This is good. I'd say right now it's probably - if I had to guess, 63? Maybe 64.

WIGHT: Of course this feels warm to Pat. Official English Channel swimmers aren't allowed to wear wetsuits. When she first started training for the swim five years ago, she took ice baths to acclimate to cold water.

GALLANT-CHARETTE: So I'd sit and read the newspaper, a book or whatever and, you know, and stay in for you know, a short time. You know, up to an hour.

WIGHT: Pat walks in 'til she's waist-deep, then glides under. She'll cling to the shoreline for the entire swim. It's safer, but it's also more challenging. A treadmill of rolling waves pick Pat up and seem to want to carry her sideways to shore.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPLASHING)

WIGHT: Pat swims from one to 10 hours a day morning, noon and night. When she arrives in England later this month, she'll need to be ready to start swimming at anytime during a 10-day window.

Pat took up swimming 14 years ago. She started in honor of her brother Robbie, an avid swimmer who died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Back then, she wasn't sure she could even swim two laps in a pool.

GALLANT-CHARETTE: And the first time I swam an hour non-stop, my heavens. It was like, I was on cloud nine. And even at that time I never, ever imagined I was going to be going into marathon swimming. It just slowly developed over the years.

WIGHT: She made her first attempt for the English Channel in 2008. She swam for 12 hours through jellyfish stings and biting fish. Then, just a mile and a half from the finish, currents stalled her in place for four hours, and she had to pull the plug. Last year, bad weather prevented her from even getting in the water. This time, Pat doesn't even consider not finishing. At 60, she says she's the strongest she's ever been.

GALLANT-CHARETTE: I thought that, you know, after the age of 50, it's all downhill - and it's not. So I'll be curious what I'll be at 70. Because my mom is 86, and she swims three days a week. So I think I have a few good years ahead of me. (SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WIGHT: There will be more swims. But the English Channel, says Pat, is the biggest swim of her life. This one is for her brother Robbie.

For NPR News, I'm Patty Wight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: This is NPR News.

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