George’s son, Charles, will post updates here as often as possible to keep everyone informed. If you are interested in following his adventure, please follow this blog by clicking on “Follow Blog via Email” to the left. You will then get emails when he posts updates here.
Thought you’d like to see this. Dad was named the City of Fort Collins’ first ever "Recreator of the Year."
– Click on "Online Versions" under Get the Recreator
And here’s a nice article on this recognition:
This will be my final posting about Dad’s/George’s English Channel Swim. As promised, this is a bit more about the swim day itself, plus a few final thoughts.
I’ve posted all of the day’s photos here:
We left the hotel at 7:00am and drove to the marina, where the Anastasia and her crew were waiting for us on the loading docks. Several other boats were also there preparing to take swimmers out.
Our CS&PF official observer for the swim was Kevin Murphy. Kevin is known as the “King of Channel,” as he has 34 crossings including three two-ways. See: http://marathonswimmer.com/about/
As we cruised out of the marina, Mom and Joe helped Dad get himself covered in Lanolin, which is a wool grease used to protect the skin from the water, and Desitin on his back and face for sun protection.
Throughout most of the day, we had water temps in the 16.7C – 16.9C range, and air temps in the 16C – 18C range. It was partly cloudy, with few winds — in fact, most of the time the winds were so low that they didn’t register on the boat’s onboard system. The swells were of a decent size, but virtually no waves. In other words, a beautiful day for a Channel swim.
We reached Shakespeare Beach a few moments later, and Dad jumped in the water to swim the 200 yards to shore. After clearing the water and standing up — no small feat, given the beach’s steep incline and shifting rocks — Dad started his swim at 8:50am.
As you can see from his route here,
http://www.lovechannelswimming.com/component/swimviewer/index.php?option=com_swimviewer&view=swimrecord&swimID=64, the current initially took us south toward the town of Folkstone. While we were close to the English coast, it was relatively easy to tell how fast the current was pushing us laterally.
Dad planned on a fueling (feeding) schedule of every 30 minutes, alternating 2 feedings of Maxim (a high energy / high protein drink) and 1 feeding of chocolate milk. Periodically he would also rinse his mouth with Listerine or a chloraseptic. We maintained that schedule diligently by giving Dad a 10-minute warning, followed by a bottle (attached to a rope) dropped into the water for him. The first 2-3 feedings was a learning process for both me, as the bottle and rope handler, and Dad, who would float on his back while kicking his feet so as not to drift too far from the boat. A couple of times we got the water too hot, and a couple of times Dad took in a mouthful of seawater as he tried to drink, but we got the hang of it and most of his feedings went smoothly and quickly.
We had also workout a communications plan in advance. Dad couldn’t hear us while swimming, of course, so we (mainly Joe) used a few simple hand signals to indicate stroke hand position, body position, stroke rate, feeding time, trouble, etc. Dad breaths on his left, so the pilot kept the boat on Dad’s left side and he could see us up on deck fairly well. During feedings, we would shout a few key items to him, such as motivational phrases, “21 for 21″ donor names, names of friends who were “swimming along” with him, data such as time and stroke rate, and so forth. At most of his feedings, Dad would make some joke, talk about the jellyfish he was seeing, and ask questions. At one point, Dad asked us how we were doing, which we all thought was very funny (we were specifically instructed to NOT ask how he was doing).
Throughout his swim, Dad maintained a consistent 52-54 stroke per minute cadence. At one point he dipped to 50, but overall it was a remarkably consistent rate for over 9 hours. Since the feedings came every 30 minutes, those of us on deck didn’t have a lot of “free” time. We always made sure to have at least one person on the railing watching Dad, so he was never “alone,” but most of the time 3-6 of us were there.
We saw several types of jellyfish float by, some as small as a golf ball and others whose bodies were the size of a soccer ball with 3-4 foot long tentacles. Dad mentioned coming into contact with only one jelly, which he said stung him gently on one arm. In the mid-Channel zone that separates the two shipping lanes, Dad swam through a debris field of seaweed and trash — not a lot, but it seemed to be a still area where the stuff collected.
There are two shipping lanes through the English Channel. In the one closer to the English coast, the boats travel southwest (toward the Atlantic Ocean), while in the zone closer to the French coast the boats travel northeast, or toward Northern Europe. After several hours of swimming away from England through the inshore zone, Dad entered the S/W shipping lane at 1:45pm. We saw a couple of tankers, a few large cargo ships, and a barge towing a sea platform pass in front of or behind us. By now we had caught a more northeasterly current. Photos attached.
At 5:34pm, Dad had cleared the S/W shipping lane and entered the separation zone. At this point, the sun had dipped low enough in the sky that it was no longer providing much warmth. In addition, a breeze had picked up, enough to cause those of us on deck to put on jackets. Also at this point, my perspective on our position changed as we dramatically appeared to be much further from the English coast and much closer to the French side.
That breeze, in turn, started to cause waves to start to build. Dad reported later that around that time he started to struggle a bit with the waves. Joe noticed that Dad’s stroke mechanics started to falter slightly, but that his body position remained solid and he kept making good forward progress.
Still, we didn’t get concerned as there were no other indications of trouble. It suddenly all came unravelled. I wrote about the final moments in my Part 1 post.
The next day, the four of us met for lunch to discuss Dad’s question, “What went wrong?” There are, of course, many factors that can onset hypothermia. Age is a big one. Dad didn’t do the amount of cold water training this year that he did last year. There is growing anecdotal evidence that endurance swimmers encounter a 9th hour energy cycle. Dad’s intake of fuel (calories) had diminished over the final few feedings, as an increasing amount of fluid went into the sea rather than his stomach. Dad’s cancer surgery may have been a factor on 2 levels: first, the internal trauma of the surgery itself; and second, the fact that he no longer has a prostate to produce testosterone. Dad’s stroke rate, while consistent, is relatively slow and therefore perhaps he wasn’t generating sufficient heat. Etc. Obviously, it would be impossible to determine which, if any, of the many factors was the primary culprit.
Though I understand the nature of Dad’s question, I remarked at the time that I thought a more productive question would be, “What went right?” He created a solid attack plan, which he executed. He organized his support crew, and we were ready and there to facilitate his action. All of his logistics were considered and well organized. In other words, he put himself in a position to succeed, and ultimately he swam brilliantly for over 9 hours in cold, northern waters.
Dad took us all on an incredible journey. He set a lofty goal, and strove to achieve it. Many of you have written to me, or posted on Facebook, about how Dad’s endeavor has inspired you. I have read and collected them all on Dad’s behalf. He will want to read them soon, I’m sure.
A good friend of mine reminded me of one of my favorite speeches (it has always been on my Facebook profile), which Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910 in France. This is the critical passage, commonly referred to as “The Man in the Arena”:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Dad will be depressed about not completing the swim for a long time. That’s OK. Those are absolutely legitimate feelings, and should neither be dismissed nor minimized.
Eventually, I believe he will come to realize that it is good to set high goals and then strive to achieve them. Despite the probability and risk of failure, it is worth the time, effort, and sacrifices to reach for the sky. Although we may suffer the pain and heartbreak of not achieving our goals, our lives are most dramatically enriched by dreaming big and going for it.
I shared a few of your messages and inspiring posts with Dad on Friday, and he said that they are no small consolation. Even then he started to believe that if his endeavor inspired you in some positive way, that it made it all worthwhile.
I couldn’t be prouder of my father. He has been one of my true and enduring role models. I love you, Dad.
Reminder: the full blog is maintained here
I thought I would be sending you photos and writing a longer report on yesterday’s big event, but I’m having technical difficulties getting the files from my camera onto my laptop. So, I’ll do that on Sunday.
In the meantime, here are two news articles, both based largely on my report yesterday, and nicely done:
We all fly home tomorrow (Saturday). Dad, Mom, Joe, and I are on the same flight from London to DC, and they continue on together to Denver from there.
Altogether, Mom and I have spent nearly a month in Dover, while Dad and Joe have spent nearly six weeks here (actually, I think Joe may be nearing the 2-month mark, since he stayed longer last summer to crew for another swimmer). It’s a nice little town, but I doubt we’ll miss it.
Anyway, that’s it from England. I’ll send one final report on Sunday, just to complete the story.
THE FOLLOWING IS FROM GEORGE THORNTON:
I did not complete my swim across the English Channel. I am extremely disappointed. Although I failed to swim all the way to France, I do not feel I am a failure. I swam 9½ hour and covered nearly 20 miles.
I just couldn’t go another 9 hours or more. I was feeling good through 8 hours. Then I started to fall apart. I began to get tired—which I expected. My shoulder started to hurt—which I expected. My tongue started to swell up and my throat started to be sore—which I expected. BUT I started to get real cold—which I did not expect. In all my training, I have demonstrated a high level of cold tolerance. The result yesterday was that I ended up with near hypothermia. I started to shiver and then shake in the water. After trying to warm myself by swimming harder, I was just flaying along and veering the right. I got to the boat and when I got on deck I was shaking pretty badly.
I gave it my best effort. It was just not enough. Why did this happen? In the post mortem with Louise, son Charles, and coach Joe Bakel at lunch today, we tried to understand, but there a too many variables to pin it down. I certainly have no external excuses: the sea was calm most of the time; there was little wind; the water temp was mild for English Channel swims @16 C (64 F); the sky was a bit overcast; I was taking in fuel fully each half hour up to the end.
So what are the possible explanations? Maybe I didn’t train hard enough; I did only up to a 10-hour swim in late June, compared to 12 hours in 2012. Maybe I didn’t get enough cold-water exposure this year, compared to 12 hours in the 57-58 water in the ocean in La Jolla in 2012. Maybe the prostate cancer last year, the surgery last fall, and the lingering “black cloud” have left me with less energy and stamina. I will never know.
Joe has read about the “9 hour” wall some swimmers confront, which has to do with what energy sources the body is drawing on. There may be a shift that cold water distance swimmers encounter. It happened to him three years ago. He cramped, but dogged through it and went on to completion. The combination of my “maybes” and some increase in wind and choppy seas at hour 8, may have been what led to my hypothermia.
We believe at least 5 swimmers went out yesterday. We see that two were successful, but 2 others did not make it . We do not know those stories.
And now to several important follow-ups for me. I will try to express my substantial THANK YOU to all the great people who helped me on this journey. Louise has been my daily supporter and cheerleader for three years. She sacrificed many regular outings while I “swam, ate, napped…swam, ate, napped……” Charles gave up his work and family time to spend two weeks last year and again this year to be here and do all the communications. I have heard from many of you that he was instrumental in getting many inside and outside our circle involved. Joe Bakel has been my coach and much more for three years: regular planning sessions, companion swims, and the 2 weeks for each expedition. Oh I hate to think of the opportunity costs for Charles and Joe!
My undying THANKS go out to all those who swam in support of me over the years. I will single out only Ann Donaghue. She has done so much I cannot begin to list it all. It culminated in the “virtual” swim that accompanied me yesterday. I know just a little about the folks from Fort Collins, Loveland, Denver, and other parts of the US and even in other countries. THANKS for all of this. Louise told me who was swimming and it was inspiring.
To those of you who donated to “21 for 21”, I know I didn’t go quite that far, and I did not make it to France. But I am know that your contribution was inspiring to me, and confident it will be used to good ends to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse in Northern Colorado.
I have been told, before the swim and afterward, that this adventure has been inspiring to folks. One of these stories: Joe went to the White Horse pub next door last night. This is the oldest pub in Dover, opened in 1365. It is a traditional British neighborhood pub, and the hang out for Channel swimmers. On the walls and ceiling, finishers write their names, dates, and times. Joe met a local bloke who swam the channel at age 17, nearly 40 years ago. He heard about my attempt at age 73, and said, he had thought about swimming again, but thought he was too old. But now he might train again and give a go.
I take no little solace and even great satisfaction that my effort has some outcomes like that.
It was a beautiful day for a Channel swim. The skies were partly cloudy, the wind was near zero, and the seas were almost flat.
Sorry I did not have internet access on the boat and wasn’t able to post live updates. Fortunately, most of you were able to follow along through Anastasia’s Facebook page, Lara’s blog posts, and Ann’s emails.
Dad/George started his swim at 8:50am, UK time. For 9 hours he maintained a consistent 52-54 stroke per minute rate, had high spirits and joked around during most of his feedings, and made solid progress across the Channel.
At his 8 hour 30 minute feeding, we started to notice that he was struggling with his fluid intake, seemed to have some difficulty with his stroke cadence, and was not quite as jovial. During his 9 hour feeding, Dad mentioned for the first time that he may not be able to continue due to being cold. He tried to push on, but at 6:54pm decided to abandon the swim.
From the boat, we were unclear as to why he was in distress. But, upon exiting the water we could see that he was shivering and moaning uncontrollably. Hypothermia had set in quickly.
This was not a matter of training and preparation, nor a matter of mental toughness. Once hypothermia sets in like that, there is no way to overcome it while remaining in a cold, wet environment.
Obviously, Dad is disappointed. Just as obviously, we are as proud of him as we could possibly be.
REQUEST: Dad asks that you NOT send him consoling messages. He knows you are thinking of him, but he would prefer to NOT receive your emails, letters, phone calls, etc. Thank you for understanding. You are welcome to send them all to me, and I will share your messages with Dad if/when he feels up to reading them
I will write more tomorrow, and post photos. In the meantime, Dad appreciates all of your love and support.