For marathon swimmers, the possibility of not finishing or postponing a race due to weather is a very real threat.
Westbrook’s Pat Gallant-Charette, a decorated marathon swimmer, is no stranger to riptides and other challenges cutting her swims short, and in late July, she fell victim to Mother Nature again.
Gallant-Charette had been in Ireland since July 18, waiting for a chance to swim the North Channel, a 21-mile gap to Scotland. It’s known as one of the toughest open- water swims in the world.
From a video post on her blog on July 27, she announced that the weather would keep her from attempting the swim. If she had successfully completed the swim, Gallant-Charette, 64, would have become the oldest person ever to do so.
For almost two weeks, the weather was overcast, rainy and cold.
“The conditions were never good,” she said this week. “It was disappointing, but as a marathon swimmer, it comes with the territory.”
Gallant-Charette only began marathon swimming in her 50s, and since that time, she’s completed some of the most challenging swims in the world, and holds world-records.
After two attempts of the English Channel were unsuccessful due to tides and winds, Gallant-Charette completed the swim that had eluded her on her third try, and at 60, she set the record for the oldest American woman to do so. The English Channel Swimming Association awarded her the Rosemary George Award for the Most Meritorious Swim of the Year for 2011.
Not even a year later, she set another record for the oldest woman to swim from Catalina Island to the California mainland – a 21-mile swim.
In 2012, she went to Japan and completed the 33-mile Tsugaru Strait, which took her 19 hours. She holds the age record for that swim, as well.
However, she hasn’t had much luck with the North Channel. Last time she attempted the swim, officials called it off when Gallant-Charette was only a half-mile from the finish, due to strong currents pulling her back.
This time, the weather conditions caused her boat pilot, Quinton Nelson, to call off the swim. The North Channel is known for an abundance of jellyfish, and according to Gallant-Charette, jellyfish rise to the surface in overcast weather, causing difficulties for swimmers.
“You can get stung severely, and he did not want to put me in that environment,” she said about calling off the swim.
She is already re-booked to attempt the swim in August 2016.
During her first attempt of the North Channel, the 21 miles took her 16 hours, and on the way she was stung by hundreds of jellyfish.
She said the availability to even attempt the swim is limited, and the regional open-water swimming association requires a successful English Channel swim to attempt the North Channel.
Gallant-Charette’s crew, which is mostly made up of family, including her brother, prepared each day like the swim would begin.
“All the equipment and everything was ready for a moment’s call,” she said.
Each morning, the crew met with Nelson to discuss the conditions. Gallant-Charette swam for an hour each day in the harbor. She said the water temperature hovered around 53 degrees.
In June, as Gallant-Charette was gearing up for the swim, David Gallant, her brother, spoke about his duty as point man between the boat pilot and swim official.
“As part of my duty of hourly meetings with the pilot, crew and official, I have to balance the negative reports that I am receiving from them with Pat’s earnest desire to succeed,” he said.
Since Gallant-Charette posted that she’d be returning home without a swim, encouraging comments came in on her blog and on social media.
“You came, you saw and now you’ll have to conquer later,” one commenter said.
Gallant-Charette trains daily at Pine Point Beach in Scarborough and the Freeport YMCA. Although she will be 65 next year, she’s not concerned for the yearlong wait until her next attempt.
“I feel as though my career in marathon swimming is just starting,” she said.