Suiting up for Channel Challenge

Teacher plans epic swim


Whenever LMC Biology professor Briana McCarthy is not in the classroom, she has been swimming mile-long laps in the San Francisco Bay to train for her swim across the English Channel.

Part of a five-person swimming team, McCarthy planned her English Channel team swimming trip over a year ago and will embark for Dover, England Sept. 14 and stay through to Sept. 28.       

Beginning in English city of Dover, the 20 mile long English Channel swim will finish on the shore of France, and McCarthy and her teammates will be taking turns to complete this journey. Followed by a boat with their captain who goes by the name “Steady Eddy”, McCarthy will swim for an hour at a time and will complete the distance in a relay style with her teammates until they finish.

During her two-week trip to Dover, McCarthy and her team will be waiting on-call for their day to swim the channel. The day that they swim could be any day within the two weeks they are in Dover. If the currents are too rough, they might not get to swim at all.

“It’s really competitive to even get the time block,” explained McCarthy. “We could get called (to swim the English Channel) with only a few hours notice or we might just never even get called.”

If McCarthy is lucky enough to score an early time block to swim the Channel, she could possibly visit Jennifer Saito and the LMC study abroad students in Barcelona, her swim teammate who is traveling to France or her friend who lives in Munich for the remainder of her time in Europe.

While she may be taking on exciting swimming adventures now, her earlier memories of swimming have not always been positive. Starting swimming lessons at the age of 7, McCarthy initially took the lessons to follow in her older sister’s footsteps but soon after discovered that synchronized swimming was her true passion.

  “I actually hated swimming lessons,” she recollected. “I would get sick to my stomach and cry before swim practice — I was not a natural swimmer.  But then I got into synchronized swimming when I was 8 or 9 and got really involved in that.”

McCarthy continued to swim on the synchronized team for up to 20 hours a week until she was 16, and during this time she was responsible to pay for the expenses that came with it.

“We went on trips and had to buy swim costumes; we had these elaborate costumes that I can still remember sewing sequins to,” reminisced McCarthy. “It was really expensive — a big financial commitment. I started working at age 14 at a neighborhood pool to pay for the expenses, so that helped with the cost a little.”

Eventually, after a few years of lessons, McCarthy stopped synchronized swimming due to the hefty time and monetary commitments, but ending her lessons didn’t keep her out of the water.

“I always liked swimming the longer events because I was never a very fast swimmer,” said McCarthy. “When I was 18, my older sister and I did our first ocean race together and I loved that.”

Since her first race in open-water, McCarthy has swam in many locations including a four-mile swim in Turkey from Asia to Europe, along the north shore of Hawaii, Iceland, Copenhagen and more.

With McCarthy’s open-water swimming, she has endured long distances, exhaustion, ocean currents and other natural elements and factors. In the San Francisco Bay alone, there are otters, sea lions, sharks, jellyfish and more that while not naturally aggressive, can always pose danger to swimmers. Despite the vast array of danger in the water, McCarthy’s one ocean fear has nothing to do with sea life, currents or her exhaustion.

“My number one fear is totally irrational and it’s going to sound impossible, but it’s dead bodies,” explained McCarthy. “My mom was really into forensics when I was younger so maybe that had something to do with it. I think it’s also because I saw a bunch of scary movies that had bodies in the water — I don’t know what it is, but I have this fear that I’ll be swimming and a dead body will float up underneath me.”

Despite her fear, McCarthy will be putting everything on the line during her English Channel swim in two weeks. While this may be the biggest swim she will conquer yet, McCarthy already predicts that it won’t be her last.

“I know there will be more after this.”