Chloë McCardel: swimming legend

Every now and then I read about someone who has done something, or is about to do something, that I find remarkable. The word “remarkable” is perhaps a typically English understated way of saying amazing or crazy or incomprehensible. As I write an Australian woman from Melbourne is about halfway through her attempt to swim the English Channel four times. Let me be clear here: this does not mean that she has swum it three times and is now doing it a fourth time. She is swimming the channel four times in a row. And this seems to be amazing, crazy and incomprehensible all in one hit.

Her name is Chloë McCardel and at 03:35 UK time on 28 August she lowered herself into the waters off the Dover-Folkstone Heritage coast, perhaps saying to her husband “I’ll just do a few laps”. Her website says that the 136km quadruple non-stop crossing of the English Channel and is widely considered impossible and the greatest endurance challenge on the planet. You can follow her progress at although she may well have finished by the time you read this. Only a handful of people have done the three way crossing: two men and two women. Chloë, of course, is one of the women. The other one is a Brit called Alison Streeter. Streeter also boasts the distinction of having swum the channel 43 times. Mind you, we should not scoff at Chloë’s 21 crossings.

Above: About halfway as I write

The first question that always rattles around in my mind when I read or hear about remarkable people like Chloë is “why?” The next question, of course, is “how?” An article in the Guardian quoted Chloë: “It’s the greatest endurance challenge in history and I’ve already got the longest open water swim in the ocean (124.4 kilometres in 41.5 hours), so I need to go further and have this desire to push the human body, mind and spirit,” she said. “It’s been calling me since 2015 when I completed the triple crossing.” So that tells you why. When I compare that to the challenges that I set myself, I have to confess to feeling just a trifle inadequate. The question about how to go about rising to a challenge like this is also interesting for it is not just about physical endurance. Physical endurance, of course, is a critical part. You need to keep swimming for a long time, preferably without going to sleep. You need to have acclimatised your body to swimming in fairly cold water (you can see the water temperature from the tracker; it’s about 18 degree Celsius). But it is the mental fitness and determination that is the aspect that I find more remarkable than the physical. You may have read my piece on my trot the other week in the Sydney City to Surf. I can run 14 kilometres. I could, physically, run the 42 kilometres of a marathon. I have never done so because I know that my mind would not take it. What Choë McCardel has, and she has it in spades, is grit and determination, and that’s psychological. And that’s why she’s going to do this quadruple crossing.

She doesn’t do this entirely for herself. She wants to help other people to reach their potential. She has coached over 70 people, aged 15-65 years, to swim the English Channel in a relay team or as solo swimmers. Not surprisingly, perhaps, she’s in demand as a keynote speaker. I would be front and centre to listen to this woman speak and even more front and centre to meet her. We need people like this. Mad? Perhaps. Driven? Of course. Inspirational? You bet.

Postscript: as I send this in she is on her third lap; she’s been going 24 hours and she’s done 93.4km.

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