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DIG DEEP: Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming

BY DIANA CORBIN

June 1, 2022

When I tell someone I have completed the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, they ask:

  • WHAT is that?
  • WHY would anyone do such a thing?
  • HOW did you do it?
  • WHAT is next?

WHAT is that?

Three specific marathon swims completed in any order, in any timeframe:

  1. Catalina Channel, 20 miles between Santa Catalina Island and the California mainland, governed by Catalina Channel Swimming Federation (August 2013)
  2. 20 Bridges Swim, 28.5-mile circumnavigation of Manhattan Island in New York City, governed by New York Open Water (July 2019)
  3. English Channel, 21 miles between England and France, governed by Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (August 2019)

WHY would anyone do such a thing?

My WHY is because I enjoy the community, challenge, and process of preparing and training for these events. I am a planner but appreciate the universe giving me signals too!

I was born and raised in Southern California, with a lifelong love for swimming and the ocean. I swam in high school, and still get up early to exercise or swim or take zoom calls!

My open water journey started in 2003 with one innocent question: “What’s the Bay Swim?” I attempted my first Great Chesapeake Bay Swim (4.4 miles) from Sandy Point to Hemingway’s in 2004. I did not finish but was hooked on open water swimming! I started training for the next one and did several open water swims in California, Maryland, and during WBG missions like Île de Ngor in Dakar; Lac Léman in Geneva; a lake in Bergen; Robben Island in Cape Town; and Bondi to Watson’s Bay in Sydney.

Around 2006, the movie “On a Clear Day” inspired me to swim the English Channel. Someone recommended the Catalina Channel instead, as a So Cal girl. I did a relay in January 2008 but was disappointed that I only got to swim twice.

HOW did you do it?

In 2010, I decided to do Catalina solo. Training for a marathon swim takes a lot of time and dedication. I am neither a fast swimmer nor naturally gifted. I had to break it down, make a plan (excel SwimLog of all swims since 2004), do research, join discussion groups, find people who shared my passion, and “do it anyway” (getting up early to train). Embracing failures, every training swim is an opportunity to learn.

Catalina Channel consumed my life for three years: training, planning, saving money, hoarding annual leave. I telecommuted from California for a month and took annual leave for another. The 2013 swim was epic. We started at 10:30pm. It was rough and cold, but there was never any doubt about finishing. Despite 17 hours and 9 minutes in the water between 62oF and 58oF, I was not hypothermic.

After Catalina, I tried roller derby and broke my ankle—and rediscovered my first and true love: swimming.

The universe knows. News of my redundancy came in late 2018. I was already registered to swim the English Channel in 2019, so I registered for the 20 Bridges Swim around Manhattan too. I focused on swimming and training for the first seven months of 2019, including various trips to Connecticut with my training partner to seek colder water.

20 Bridges was the second of my Triple Crown. The swim was straightforward due to the current assist, except when I turned from the Harlem into the Hudson River and headed back to the Battery, where conditions were very rough. As I approached the finish, my kayaker said I had to DIG DEEP to finish before the tide shifted!

Most swimmers train for the English Channel at Swimmers Beach in Dover while awaiting their captain’s call. I arrived a few days before my window opened on August 8, to acclimate, but the weather was terrible. I finally got my chance to swim on August 21. The most difficult part was the wait, or DoverCoaster, as we Channel Swimmers call it, but I believe things happen for a reason. I was no longer working and was meant to stay in Dover as long as necessary and make new swimming friends.

My EC swim started at 2am with several boats and swimmers. The waves were loud. I was not sure the horn I heard was for me but started swimming. It was difficult to find my boat as they all looked alike. The first 5-6 hours were rough and motivation a struggle. I had to remind myself to keep swimming from feed to feed, every 30 minutes. If only I could make it to France, I would never have to swim again! The swimming was smooth, until the last half-mile when the captain said he needed me to DIG DEEP and swim as hard as possible: the tide was coming out and would be pushing against me as I tried to land!

Thoughts while swimming? The scariest part of marathon swimming was the fear of failing and letting down my supporters. This motivated my detailed planning and strict training program. This is not a cheap sport, and I did not want to have to pay again—physically, mentally, or financially.

Eating during the swim? I use a liquid carbohydrate and electrolyte mix every 30 minutes. My feeds were warm for Catalina and the English Channel but cold for Manhattan where the water in July is quite warm.

Got to go? This is actually a serious issue. People have been hospitalized after swims if they were unable to urinate in the water. I hear men have more trouble than women.

WHAT will you do next?

I have received much love and support along my journey. Open water swimming can be a lonely sport, but none of us can do it without family and friends, especially those willing to kayak or wait on shore while we train endlessly. When I moved to California in 2019, I had planned to support several friends, but Coronavirus cancelled their 2020 and 2021 swims. I intend to keep that promise in 2022.


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