The swimmer moved to Kent from Australia to take on the challenge (Picture: Daniel Kukec)
When Chloë McCardel was 11, she realised that she was the only girl in her class who couldn’t swim.
‘I was so embarrassed – everyone else had learned when they were four or five – that I went home and begged my mum for swimming lessons,’ she recalls.
Those lessons opened up a world of freedom, which became her life’s passion, and today, Chloë, now 36, is set to swim the English Channel for the 44th time, breaking the current world record, starting out at 4am with projected finish time of mid-afternoon.
‘Growing up in Australia, everyone swims, and maybe because I was a late starter,
I just threw myself in, starting triathlons when I was a teenager,’ she says.
‘I got to the point where I heard about people swimming the English Channel when I was 22. It took me two years to get to do my first closing, and after that I was hooked.’
(Picture: Daniel Kukec)
Chloë was so keen that she moved to live in Kent, where she still lives for three months every year, and signed up for every swim she could by pushing herself to do double crossings.
‘You swim across the Channel, stand up in France and come straight back.’ I failed my first two attempts, but then the third time I did it, and it was one of the happiest moments of my life,’ she says.
Each crossing takes ten hours or more, and the triple was more than 36 hours of constant swimming, with changing tides adding extra distance and waves often reaching two metres in height.
Then there’s the busy stream of cargo ships and ferries crossing daily, and the threat of hypothermia, which saw Chloë taken to hospital in 2011.
The swim is often decided at short notice, due to weather conditions, so she only gets six to eight hours’ notice that she will be swimming. ‘There aren’t a lot of slots, because you have to be accompanied by a safety boat,’ she says.
The crossing can be dangerous as it is a busy shipping route
‘The conditions need to be right. It can be on and off so many times before it finally happens, so I’m always ready.’
Preparation is minimal – Chloë eats a high-carb diet so she is always fuelled for a swim, and when she gets the call, all she needs to do it lather up with lanolin and dive in.
‘People think the lanolin keeps out the cold,’ she laughs. ‘It really doesn’t. It just stops chafing. One crossing takes me 36,000 strokes, and saltwater can make skin sensitive, so if I went out without the grease, my skin would be red raw.’
On a long swim, the hardest thing can be keeping focused. ‘I try to be mindful and focus on the moment,’ Chloë says.
‘I really try not to think how long there is to go, so instead I’ll watch every second of the sunrise, looking at how beautiful it is, or if I’m really struggling I try to visualise the finish, and think how I’ll feel when I get to the other end.
‘Honestly, there are times when I just think about being at home watching Netflix with Ben and Jerry’s, or think about the cupcakes that’ll be waiting for me in France. Anything to just keep going.’
Chloë’s most recent crossing took her to a grand total of 42 (Picture: Chloë McCardel)
Last year, Chloë completed her 37th swim, which surpassed the men’s world record of 34 English Channel crossings.
Now, she is up to 42 crossings, with two more planned this week and next, which would take her to the target for the overall world record, currently held by retired British swimmer Alison Streeter MBE, who completed the crossing 43 times.
‘Alison Streeter was my idol when I was moving to Channel swimming. She inspired me to continue to push my boundaries,’ says Chloë.
Now, it’s Chloë’s aim to inspire other people, particularly girls and women, to take up ocean swimming.
She has coached 150 people to swim the English Channel since 2013 as relay and solo swimmers, ranging from 14-year-old schoolchildren to executives.
‘We are seeing a big increase in the UK of ocean swimming, and there are groups being set up all around the country,’ she says.
‘Through social media and the internet, it’s now easier than ever to find groups of people who know their local water and can help you get started safely and as part of a community. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
‘‘I have never known a freedom like it. When I’m on land, I have gravity pulling me down, when I drive, I have to stay in my lane, but when I’m in the ocean, I am truly free.’
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