Crum­pet with but­ter prize for Chan­nel feat

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Fiona To­mas

Con­quer­ing the ocean, and in par­tic­u­lar the English Chan­nel, is noth­ing new for Chloe McCardel. Five years ago, the Aus­tralian ul­tra-en­durance swim­mer com­pleted a triple, non-stop cross­ing be­tween these shores and France in 36 hours and 12 min­utes.

On Sun­day, the Syd­ney swim­mer will at­tempt her 35th cross­ing and, in do­ing so, will sur­pass the men’s record for the num­ber of Chan­nel swims, set by English­man Kevin Mur­phy in 2006.

Such is the sig­nif­i­cance of this swim that the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment granted McCardel an ex­emp­tion to travel to the UK amid the pan­demic so she could add three more Chan­nel cross­ings to her name ear­lier this month, which she suc­cess­fully com­pleted over nine days at the start of Au­gust.

Re­mark­ably, the 35-year-old is still some way off from be­ing crowned the undis­puted queen of the Chan­nel. That ac­co­lade be­longs to Ali­son Streeter, who holds the record with 43.

But McCardel’s 35th cross­ing – and fourth this month alone – is not sim­ply about join­ing an elite tribe of fe­male ul­tra-en­durance ath­letes who have en­tered into ter­ri­to­ries alien to men (for ex­am­ple, Google Sarah Thomas, who be­came the first per­son to swim the Chan­nel four times non-stop last year).

That McCardel had to post­pone her swim un­til Sun­day due to thun­der­storms ap­pears triv­ial com­pared to the scores of mi­grants who have risked their lives cross­ing her favourite stretch of wa­ter in re­cent days – more than 200 reached the Kent coast last week­end alone. She does, how­ever, have her own story of hard­ship to tell. As a vic­tim of an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship, she hopes her lat­est swim will raise aware­ness of do­mes­tic violence, a deeply per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence she ad­mits she has strug­gled to come to terms with pub­licly.

Her record-break­ing swim could not have come at a more poignant time. More than 40,000 calls and con­tacts were made to the UK’s Na­tional Do­mes­tic Abuse Helpline dur­ing the first three months of lock­down. Most, the char­ity says, were by women.

McCardel’s ex­pe­ri­ence was so hor­rific that she was di­ag­nosed with post trau­matic stress dis­or­der and it is why she is us­ing her lat­est 10-hour cross­ing to am­plify an im­por­tant mes­sage for sur­vivors of do­mes­tic abuse.

“What I’m do­ing might seem like a su­per­hu­man feat, but I’m just a nor­mal, ev­ery­day per­son who’s had huge chal­lenges,” she says. “For those go­ing through that re­cov­ery process, stay strong, and re­mem­ber there are oth­ers out there who have been through the same thing. There is light at the end of the tun­nel. France is still there on the other side.”

McCardel is ea­ger to nor­malise her ex­tra­or­di­nary en­deav­our, inas­much as she hopes to in­spire non-swim­mers. When she was 11, she had no idea how to swim and re­mem­bers the trep­i­da­tion of not be­ing able to cross a 25-me­tre swim­ming pool.

Con­trast that to when she set a world record for the long­est rat­i­fied unas­sisted ocean swim of 124.4km (77.3 miles) in 41 hours, 30 min­utes be­tween two is­lands in the Ba­hamas in 2014. Or when, the year be­fore, she swam from Cuba to Florida with­out the pro­tec­tion of a shark cage, only to be at­tacked by swathes of box jel­ly­fish 11 hours into her chal­lenge, forc­ing her to re­tire.

She is happy to view her gi­gan­tic ex­ploits of cross­ing the world’s busiest ship­ping lane through a mag­i­cal, child­like prism.

“Some­times I look up and it’s like be­ing in the bath when you’re a kid,” she says. “You’ve got all these cool toys, and you’re just bob­bing around try­ing to dodge a ship. Or you can get the Rus­sian navy cruis­ing, some­times a ran­dom sub­ma­rine pops up, or the coast­guard comes cruis­ing by. It’s an amaz­ing place, the English Chan­nel, what happens out there on any one day.”

So, how will Sun­day’s cross­ing work? Her crew man­ager, Ja­son, will lower a wa­ter bot­tle down to her ev­ery half an hour which con­tains an en­ergy-boost­ing cock­tail of car­bo­hy­drates and glu­cose. This, along with the oc­ca­sional shot of caf­feine and the thought of a but­tery crum­pet – will sus­tain her in wa­ter tem­per­a­tures of 16C (61F).

“I lit­er­ally sali­vate over the idea of hav­ing a crum­pet with but­ter in the mid­dle of the English Chan­nel,” she says. “I go nuts on it, be­cause it’s all yummy and soft. When you swim in salt wa­ter for hours on end, your tongue be­comes quite raw and sen­si­tive – the last thing you want to eat is any­thing rough or sharp, or chewy. The crum­pet is a golden piece of bread from heaven.”

Aus­tralian? McCardel, it seems, is more like an adopted Brit.

Chan­nel hop­per: Chloe McCardel com­pleted her 34th cross­ing and is go­ing for No 35

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