Swimming the Channel

by Robyn Rime

It all came down to luck.

On July 7-8, Bridgette Hobart Janeczko ’84 made her first attempt to swim across the English Channel. A longtime distance swimmer, she had previously earned the U.S. Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming (Tampa Bay, Manhattan Island, and the Catalina Channel). To complete the World Triple Crown—an honor held by fewer than 80 people in the world—Hobart needs to conquer the English Channel.

It’s a formidable feat. The English Channel swim is 30 to 40 miles, depending on currents, with early July water temperatures in the low to mid-50s. But Hobart wasn’t cowed, and her swim last summer started strong.

“I couldn’t believe how awesome it was swimming in the channel, and how fast time was going between feedings,” she said. “I was just so excited to be there—33 years after I first said I was going to swim the English Channel one day.”

Hobart felt confident and energetic. Everything was going well …  and then suddenly, it wasn’t. About halfway between England and France, she encountered the jellyfish.

“When I spotted my first one I recall thinking, ‘Huh, jellies in the channel—I thought they liked warmer water,’” Hobart says. She felt the stings but dismissed them, assuming she felt little pain because she was numb from the cold temperatures. “I last remember swimming through what seemed like endless jellies and thinking, ‘Wow, so many and so cool.’”

But the stings took their toll. Disoriented, unresponsive, and having difficulty breathing, Hobart was pulled from the water by her husband Bob, the lead man on her crew.

“I always hoped when the day came for my first DNF [did not finish] that I’d handle it well, and I think I am,” Hobart said a few days after the attempt. “I honestly feel mentally and physically great and feel nothing but gratitude for Bob’s call. I was feeling nothing but pure bliss for my entire swim, and I just felt so strong and positive.”

Post-swim, Hobart offered a special thanks to her parents and in-laws for their constant support. “I’m sure they thought their worries were over when we became responsible adults, and now they find themselves following a GPS tracker in the middle of the ocean and wondering what went wrong when the boat suddenly turns rapidly back to shore and we’re out of cell range!” Though she regrets those few hours of stress given to loved ones, Hobart left England healthy, injury free, and content—and ready to try again. Her next English Channel swim is scheduled for September 17-18, 2014.

Robyn Rime is the editor of Connections.

Bridgette Hobart swimming the Chanel

Bridgette Hobart Janeczko ’84 midway through her English Channel swim.