Marathon swimmers Cheryl Allcock and Cooper Zak, who maintain their health with expert guidance at Pacific Pearl La Jolla, are swimming across the grueling 21+ mile English Channel this summer. They will be joined by their two relay teams affiliated with Sea Change Prep in Del Mar, California. The teams include two students, plus Sea Change alumni from Vermont, Maine, and Michigan, along with six others. Sea Change Founders Cheryl Allcock, Head of School and John Allcock, Director of Mindfulness, created their small private school based on enriching educational experience of proven academics, mindfulness, fine arts, travel and, especially, inspiring physical fitness. Their open water swim team has earned five world records, including a first-ever swim between the islands of Ischia and Di Santo Stefano, off the coast of Naples, Italy; and a relay swim to the Santa Barbara oil rig in 14 hours.
Pacific Pearl La Jolla is excited to be represented during the cross-Channel swim by team swim caps and sweatshirts emblazoned with the Pearl name and logo.
The English Channel is a demanding swim considered by many to be the ultimate long-distance challenge. The distance is coupled with variable conditions from a mirror surface to wind force 6 and wave heights in excess of 2 meters. The water is too cold for most sharks, but it is common to encounter jellyfish, seaweed and an occasional plank of wood. With 600 tankers passing through and 200 ferries and other vessels crossing daily, it is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
The swimming distance changes according to the current, which can move a swimmer many miles from side to side as the Tide ebbs and flows. Most English Channel swimmers tackle an S-shaped course. Recorded swim times are between seven hours (record time) and 28 hours.
Cooper, School Principal and Humanities Instructor at Sea Change, has participated in numerous open water competitions. He said, “Our team has been helped for five years by our Ocean Swim Coach, Dan Simoneli.”
They secured coveted spots to swim the English Channel in July 2019 to complete this course. After training for a year, three days per week in open water and pools without fins or wetsuits, per Channel Swimming Association regulations, they head to Dover, England. Their race slot is anytime between July 19 and 31, 2019. Their actual swim date will be based on weather and water conditions and with the “go-ahead” of their pilots. Since this is an Official race, as they will have Observers on hand in their two small boats.
This is the second time some of their team members are tackling this course. It follows a successful race in 2015 at the invitation of record-setting international marathon swimmer Chloe McCardel from Australia. Their team competed against a relay team from Australia and won.
Since the chilling water temperatures of the Channel are between 57 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit, with a potential drop to 43 F, they are using ice baths and cold showers to get used to the cold water. Cheryl credits their cold-water preparation in 2015 for giving them an edge against the Australian team, who practice in much warmer waters. She saw their competitors recoiling in shock and begin shivering when they entered the Channel.
For the upcoming relay, each team member swims a leg for one hour. With six people on a team, that means each swimmer has five hours to rest in the boat. Depending on the tides and how much distance they can cover per leg, each member will swim three or four times. They will begin at night, so swimmers are equipped with a glow stick and head lap in the black water. While on the boat, swimmers wrap up with hot packs and replenish with oatmeal and tuna and hydrate with hot tea.
“It is a fatiguing swim, but what a thrill when you see France!” Cheryl said.
By regularly incorporating meditation into classes and their open water swims, Cheryl says students have learned how to manage fear, cold temperatures, distance, and fatigue. They learned to focus through meditation when swimming in 10-foot waves and heading out to deeper water, and to handle cold temperatures by visualizing their body as being warm. Cheryl described the aspects of successful open water swimming as one connecting with one’s body and breath; having to be very present when in the water; and knowing it is temporary. The benefits include learning to trust oneself and to develop mindfulness. After many years of guiding students, Cheryl is closing this chapter and Sea Change Prep. She is looking forward to this exciting competition to begin something new.
You can follow the Channel swim team in real time this July on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SeaChangePrep/