Alumna Swims English Channel

by Robyn Rime

In the culmination of a longtime dream, Bridgette Hobart Janeczko '84 successfully swam the English Channel on September 18, earning her the World Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, a title now held by only 102 people in the world. In addition to the English Channel, the World Triple Crown includes swimming around Manhattan Island and crossing the Catalina Channel.

"This has been a long time coming, but worth every minute," Hobart says. "It was by far the most grueling 13-plus hours in my life, but I managed somehow to make my other goal of staying in a happy place for the entire crossing. I only swore once—a personal best."

Hobart's first Channel attempt in July 2013 was unsuccessful, thanks to masses of jellyfish and bad reactions to their stings (read about it here). This year, she says, "I didn’t want to fear them, as that would waste so much energy and distract me from my ultimate goal—to reach France. I also didn’t want to ignore them and hope for the best, as that would be just complete stupidity on my part." Knowing that jellyfish reactions worsen each time, Hobart developed multiple plans for dealing with jellies during the crossing. "I knew I had the best crew, weather, and tide I was going to get, so it was up to me to make the most of this attempt."

Hobart's swim began just before sunrise. Bob Janeczko, Hobart's husband and lead man on her crew, gave occasional redirection to her wobbly navigation ("Are you planning to visit Belgium?"). Concerns about jellies and saltwater consumption were outweighed by encouraging messages from the crew conveyed on marker boards ("Toughen up, Princess!" and "Don't stop when ur tired, stop when ur DONE"). This year, Hobart also had a support swimmer, Lisa DeLaurentis, an open-water swimmer from Australia who completed her World Triple Crown in September 2013 and for whom Hobart had crewed on a previous swim. "She couldn’t stay in the water long per the rules, but it is pretty cool to share the adventure and experience with someone."

Past the shipping channel—and past the point where her swim ended last year—Hobart began to long for a glimpse of France. "Those final miles are mentally tough," she admits. When France finally appeared, Hobart realized she wouldn't get the sandy beach landing she had hoped for. Massive cliffs on the shore meant she would need to climb a rock to clear the water—a requirement for her crossing to be official. And after swimming for so long, climbing was an unexpected struggle. "No matter how hard my mind wanted my lower half to move, my mind and body no longer seemed connected, so me telling my legs to come on up for a rock stroll just wasn't happening that quickly," she says. Slowly, carefully, triumphantly, Hobart climbed the rock and entered France.

Hobart completed her swim in 13 hours, 28 minutes, both happy and free of injury. "I was willing to give up my shoulders to achieve this dream, but looking back I think that was a pretty dumb thought," she says. "I can't imagine not being able to continue something I have so much passion for. We've traveled to places we'd never have gone otherwise, and met so many awesome people."

Sporting a suit and cap with the American flag—and wrapped in a swim parka of Nazareth purple and gold—Hobart and her team made their way back to England just after sunset. "I feel we made our country proud on September 18, 2014," she says, "a day that was 35 years in the making and one that I will never forget."

Robyn Rime is the editor of Connections.

Bridgette Hobart

Bridgette Hobart Janeczko '84 in France, having just successfully completed her swim across the English Channel.