English channel swimmer, Chloë McCardel

Hi Chloe you’re about to cross the English channel for the 44th time, breaking another world record in the process. How are you feeling?

I am so excited to have the opportunity to break the world record held by the amazing British woman Allison Streeter MBA. When I first started English channel swimming I never dreamed of even attempting this, and yet here I’m currently at 42 crossings and on the verge of equalling – and then hopefully breaking – her record! I’ve so much admiration for Alison’s achievements, and I’m so excited, thrilled and honoured to be able to equal her number of crossings.

Can you tell us about the 1st time you crossed the English channel?

When I was 22, I decided I wanted to be the best marathon swimmer in the world and I knew then that I would have to go where all the best marathon swimmers in the world go to test themselves. When I first went to the English Channel in 2009 and walked into the water, I felt like I’d finally come home, as if I’d been waiting my whole life for this moment.

In September 2009, I hoped to become the 2nd Australian in history and 22nd person in history to swim a double-crossing of the English channel. When I was two thirds of the way back I got moderate hypothermia. I’d been battling 2m waves for the last 5 hours, so at hour 25 my crew pulled me out of the water. I was about 6 miles from finishing the double-crossing. So, unfortunately, I was unsuccessful and it was very disappointing. I came back the very next year in 2010 and became the 23rd person in history to swim a double-crossing of the English channel.

What was it that inspired you to keep repeating the journey?

There is something really magical about the English channel beyond the fact that it is the hardest ultramarathon organised event in the world. The best marathon swimmers go there and amazing master athletes go and test themselves too. If you go beyond the competitive, it has this kind of ethereal quality that draws people in from all over the world. It’s such a difficult swim and therefore it’s so renowned for its challenges.

I was hospitalised with severe hypothermia from swimming the English channel in 2011. The tides are so strong that they run against the swimmer’s direction at up to 11km an hour, and swimmers have to traverse through heavy International shipping – including cargo tankers and ocean liners running straight through the middle of the channel. You also have the busiest ferry route in the world, so it’s very chaotic.

There are also jellyfish out there, so I have to try and dodge them too. The failure rate is still quite high, and there are many channel swimmers who get pulled out after just two or three hours of channel swimming with hypothermia. It really still is a very, very difficult swim because we’re only allowed to wear a swimsuit, goggles and cap and not allowed a wetsuit or a shark cage. The rules are kept consistent so that the swim is nearly as difficult as it was originally when the 1st person swam it – which was captain Matthew Webb in 1875.

What thoughts go through your head when you are out there in the water?

For the first few hours, I’m just finding a rhythm. I’m so aware of my body, figuring out my pace and getting comfortable with the rhythm. In the middle of the swim, I’m usually looking for a bit of fun, joy and presence. I’ll look at the ferries or have a look at the cargo tanker, or even my crew will throw a joke or two at me to help kill some hours. And then, in the last quarter of the swim, I have to focus quite intensely. I lift my pace because I’m now crossing the fastest tide in the English channel, which is the French tide near the shore, so I have to get my pace up to try and get an ideal finish. If I miss the finish then I can get washed sidewards for hours. At this point, I’m imagining the finish: what it will look like, feel like, taste like; the rush of relief and joy. I visualise the successful finish and transport myself there into that future reality.

Do you think it’s important to keep pushing your limits?

I think that it’s only when we move out of our comfort zone and stretch ourselves that we give ourselves the opportunity to increase our skill set, increase our experience and have a chance of succeeding at our big goals.

Belief in ourselves gives us the opportunity to start and keep working towards our dream, to be able to reach excellence to achieve our goals to create something really special with our lives. I think it’s super important to keep pushing your limits as long as you do take breaks occasionally. I think that some people push their limits consistently for too long, without breaks, and that can lead to burnout. So, in essence, I do believe in pushing yourself but I am also an advocate of finding a balance between big pushes.

What would you like your achievements to inspire in other people?

I’d like to inspire people to really go hard after their dreams, even if they don’t have a good support network around them or they don’t think they have the resources available to achieve what they’re looking for. There’ve been many times that I’ve struggled with a lack of support from my family and a lack of support from swimming in Australia. I’ve still pushed hard and pushed through and found ways to get support from other areas and I’ve kept believing in myself when I felt that others around me didn’t believe in me. So, I think the number one thing is to keep believing in yourself. If you do then you’ll find a way to get what you need, to get the support and the resources and to keep pushing towards your goals. I failed at my first AND second attempts at a triple non-stop crossing of the English channel (102km in 36hrs) but on my third attempt in 5 years, I was finally successful. I was the fourth person in history to achieve that. In comparison, over 4,000 people have climbed Everest.

You’ve talked about how long-distance swimming has helped you overcome difficult circumstances is in your life. Can you tell us a bit about that process?

I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so basically, there’s been a physiological change in my brain where I am triggered into a very high-stress response to things that other people would not perceive as stressful. This disorder can trigger intense anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, inability to sleep etc. Exercising itself has been fabulous because what it does is release a steady flow of good feeling hormones like adrenaline, serotonin and endorphins that help relax me. This is great if you’re highly anxious and also helps me to feel good and positive. I usually exercise with other people, I really get the benefit of serotonin otherwise known as the ‘bonding chemical’ because when I exercised I’m around good people.

What advice do you have for young women who want to push themselves to achieve?

I’ve worked with a lot of professional young women – many of them are already extremely successful – and in all those groups I found that the Imposter syndrome is extremely prevalent. I think it’s really prevalent in women, and that’s so concerning because we make half of the population. If there are people around you that don’t believe in you, go and seek out other supporters: peers your own age, or mentors who are where you want to be within the industry.

Is there anything else close to your heart that you’d like to tell us about?

Just like Gabby Petito, I was misidentified as the primary aggressor by police in a domestic violence incident, when I was actually the victim. People think I’m courageous for swimming the arduous English Channel or swimming for 43hrs non-stop with deadly sharks in the Bahamas. Experiencing domestic violence and horrific treatment by the police is far more terrifying.

Chloë is set to break the World Record within 3 weeks.

Chloë McCardel is a Marathon Swimmer, Advocate against Domestic Violence and Keynote Speaker. She is a vocal supporter of criminalising coercive control across Australia.

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