My name is Leora Dahl. And next July I’m going to attempt to swim the English Channel as part of a relay team. That’s a 35km swim (in a straight line, which the currents generally don’t allow for), in 15—18°C water. We are not allowed to wear wetsuits. Our 6 person team must each swim for an hour at a time, cycling through until we either reach France, get pulled out because of hypothermia, or get pulled out because the weather is too bad. Fewer people have successfully swum the channel than climbed Mount Everest. Over the next year I’ll be writing about my experiences (the good, bad, and ugly) training for this with my fellow “OMSC Lake Monsters.”
Today I’d like to introduce you to myself and my teammates and why each of us has decided to take on the challenge.
“I have had a very long love affair with all things swimming. Please do not think for one second that I am elite athlete and winner of tons of medals, oh no, just a regular person who loves to swim. Jimmy Buffet sings a favourite song of mine called “First Look” it is what happens to a person when they see the ocean for the first time. I did not just love the sea I adored it! I moved to the Cayman Islands where I taught Scuba Diving. Hours on a rocking boat, heavy seas, cold, yes, cold water, jelly fish and dragging someone back who is too exhausted to swim, that kind of experience tends to toughen you up a bit! What possessed me to take up this challenge to swim the English Channel? I remember reading as a teenager about people who swam the English Channel. Flash forward 40 years or so… Hubby and I have moved to Kelowna and I decided to do a very Kelowna thing, sign up for the Across the Lake Swim. Because swimmers are just a friendly bunch of people in bathing suits, before I knew it, I was asked would I be interested in training as part of a relay to swim the Channel and I was nodding my head and saying YES! My opportunity to realize a childhood dream! You just never know, when you get to live your dream, just grab it and go for it.”
“Growing up in the boating community in Vancouver and working as a lifeguard for many years, I am no stranger to the water. I’ve always had a love/fear relationship with it. I love the water, but fear the things in it. Fortunately, swimming with the Okanagan Masters Swim Club, the only things I have to fear are tight speedos and jamming my fingers into the lane rope, but open water swimming presents a whole new world of scary creatures lurking beneath the surface. I currently work as a counsellor at UBCO and am forever spouting the health benefits of exercise and facing one’s fears to my students. Training in the lake for the channel has provided plenty of opportunity to follow my own advice as I encounter endless debris in the brown turbid water. There have been many moments when I was certain Ogopogo was reaching for me only to discover a tree branch sticking out from the lake bottom. The lure of the channel is both exciting and terrifying: a challenge I knew I could never do alone but actually seems possible as a part of my relay team. Swimming the English Channel is an opportunity to travel abroad and achieve a unique challenge that tests both my physical and mental limits.”
“I have always loved to swim. When I moved to Kelowna everyone kept telling me about the Across the Lake Swim. I finally decided to try it, but given that I hadn’t been in a pool for years I figured I’d better start training again. I joined the Okanagan Masters Swim Club and my competitive spirit came back full swing. Within 3 months of joining I competed at the Provincial Masters Swim Championships, made amazing new friends, and had signed up for the Across the Lake Swim as part of a team with 3 of my fellow OMSC teammates. Before long, I heard Paul and Phred talking about the Channel. A fellow OMSC member (and successful solo swimmer of the Channel) Brent Hobbs was putting together a relay team. Did I want to join? No. That’s right, I said no. I hate cold water, HATE it. But the more Paul and Phred talked about it, the more I thought about it. This was pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to do something exceptional. How much would I regret turning that opportunity down? So I changed my mind and we’ve been training since April in 6°C water (and I still hate the cold water).”
“I have always believed that it is important for me to face my fears. My greatest fear has always been drowning. I was never comfortable in water, especially open water. In early 2009 I decided I wanted to try a new sport, something new, something different – it was time to face my fear. I started small only being able to do 25m at a time, resting at each end of the pool. A friend suggested I join the Okanagan Masters Swim Club. Over time, I became more comfortable and efficient in the water. I improved – I was able to do 50m without stopping, then 100m, then 250m, and 1000m, and even 1500m. Having now swum across Okanagan Lake several times I decided I needed a new challenge. Paul, a good friend and fellow swimmer, suggested we put together a relay team to swim the English Channel. At first I thought he was daft (he is English) – but after a while I thought why not? Having faced my fear I’m now comfortable in open water, have made some great friends, I’m in the best shape of my life, and I eat can eat anything I want without gaining any weight!”
“Christmas day 2006 was the day that changed my life forever. A photograph was taken of me that day and I weighed almost 320lbs. I was shocked at my appearance and vowed that from that day on I would make positive changes to my lifestyle and improve my health. I began walking to work and started swimming again after many years of avoiding the pool because of the way I looked. Over the next 18 months I lost 84lbs and became a new man. My Doctor told me that by losing so much weight and improving my health I had extended my life by many years. I had given myself a new lease of life and was determined to live each day to the fullest. I continue to make the best of every day and grasp every opportunity to challenge myself. One of my favourite quotes comes from the late hockey coach Herb Brooks: “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” The chance to be part of this team that will attempt to swim across the English Channel is one of the greatest opportunities of my life. I am sure there will be many great moments along the way.”
(We have a 6th team member Mike who is currently recovering from shoulder surgery and has been unable to train with us. I’ll introduce you to him once he is recovered.)