Vermonter Bethany Bosch swims English Channel

Bethany Bosch at start
Bethany Bosch at the start of her English Channel Swim

Wallingford — Bethany Bosch became “initiated” in the world of long distance swimming when a friend who was training for a triathlon asked her to complete the swim portion with her. For a person who last swam competitively with the Rutland Rec. Department as a child, the opportunity got her back in the pool.

“Once I jumped in the pool I started to wonder how far I could go and I steadily increased my swimming until one day I did 400 laps in the pool and thought, “maybe I should train for something,” she told Phyl Newbeck,” in her Reader Athlete Q/A with Vermont Sports.

Since then, Bosch, 29, has steadily built a swimming resume including that has brought her from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom to Tampa Bay, to Cork, Ireland, where she trained with renowned water polo goalie and distance swimmer, Ned Denison, who runs a distance swimming camp complete with frigid waters, stinging jellyfish and traditional U.K. weather.

Bosch’s training and swims came to a culmination on August 31, when she jumped into the water off of Shakespeare Beach in England and started what would be a 17 hour and 34 minute crossing of the English Channel to a sandy beach on the French coast.

Bosch joins only about 1,500 others (500 of whom are women) who have successfully made the solo journey with strong currents and cold temperatures. The swim was her first long-distance international swim and is the latest on her already extensive list of swimming accomplishments.

Vermont Sports: You’ve said in the past that you wanted to attempt the Channel from a very early age. How long had you wanted to complete this swim and what was it that made it so appealing?

Bethany Bosch:  As a child, I had seen some movie where somebody’s mother swam the English Channel. It was a small part of the movie, but that was the first time I remember thinking that people actually did this. But it wasn’t any kind of a reality until the past couple years when I really started thinking I could do it, training for it and realizing that I am a long distance swimmer. I always had an adventurous spirit as a kid and it was on my list of things to do in my life. I don’t think I always thought it was possible, but it was always a dream.

VS: Describe your training leading up to this. Did you receive any tips or advice from swimmers who had completed this swim?  

BB: There are a lot of people who helped me train for this and everything that I did before was leading up to it. I swam with Charlotte Brynn in Stowe, Vt., she’s a tremendous resource and a fantastic swimmer herself; Ned Dennison, who now lives in Ireland and runs the Cork Distance League (was also a help) as was the Kingdom Swim events, run by Phil White. Once you get into the marathon-swimming world, there are so many people who are so talented and so generous with their talents. The person I consider my coach, David, is from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and he was instrumental in helping me improve my speed and technique. Everything before the Channel was in some way or another a stepping stone to me getting in the Channel – long distance swims, salt water swims, night swims, coldwater training – all of those kinds of things.

VS: When you arrived in England, you had already done your training and just had to wait for the optimal conditions for the swim. What was that waiting period like?

BB: I arrived in Dover on August 27 and I wasn’t supposed to swim until sometime on September 1, but they had an opening early and I jumped on it. [The waiting] is intense. You get over there and you rest for a little bit and then you’re just sort of on stand-by. I called my boat captain every night at 7:30 and chatted with him. I didn’t know I was going to go until 9 p.m. the night before so I had twelve hours’ notice. I knew I was going to swim so we were already ready. We had done any last minute shopping, measured marks, packed, made checklists and went through the checklists. I had a go-bag already packed; we were just waiting for the right time. I found out at 9 at night that I was going and we had to be down in the marina at 9:30 in the morning to load the boat and then we started the swim at 11.

Lots of people – even over there – had never met someone who had swum the channel, but the place where I stayed is frequented by a lot of channel swimmers. A lot of people there were going to be swimming or had been swimming. There’s a close-knit community, everyone was very excited for me.

VS: What were the water conditions like when you started – the temperature, winds and currents? How did these affect your performance?

BB: I went a little before my tide, so it was a little stronger. The water temperature was a comfortable 64 degrees. I didn’t feel cold, I could feel a chill in my fingers and my toes, but not anything significant. When we got closer to France, it got a little colder and I thought that was me getting tired, but it was 62 over there. When I was done I didn’t shiver, so I think I was pretty well acclimated to the water. It was a pretty comfortable swim; we had the opportunity to swim because the temperature was so good and there was no wind during the night.

Swimming into the night was a little more mentally challenging, but the conditions were just gorgeous. I couldn’t have had a better night. I watched the sunset over the boat, which was spectacular and the wind calmed down. It was a little lumpy in the morning, but nothing I’ve never swum through before. I was comfortable the whole time and my shoulders held up well. I wasn’t battling anything extreme and it was beautiful – I even saw a few shooting stars.

The hardest part was fighting the tide. While the swim distance is only 22 miles, my track is actually 41.7 miles long. I got clotheslined and was swept past the finish so what was supposed to be a 15-hour swim became closer to 18.

For the last seven hours of the swim, I was really sick. I was vomiting and having a hard time keeping anything down. It was tough for my crew and it was definitely hard for me. It’s hard, but you don’t ever think about stopping. You think that this is what you bargained for and you go until you stop.

VS: What kind of support did you have on your escort boat? Who was there and what did they do to help you?

BB: There was the captain and his crew person as well as a third party observer who makes sure that everything is done officially and according to the rules and ratifies it at the end. Then I had my crew, which was four people. I had my coach, David, and my crew chief, Natalie. She has crewed for me on all my swims and supports me with all my training. She really makes the whole thing possible. My minister, Apostle James Schneider, he came along, and his wife, Katherine Schneider, who is a nurse at the Rutland Hospital. I wanted those people specifically because they’re important to me and of all the people that I know, they’re the ones that are going to let me do all that I can do and be all that I can be. They were the best support crew I could hope for.

On the way, I had an energy drink mix, fruit and water. I would stop every half hour and they would feed me and check in on me to make sure I wasn’t hypothermic and still coherent. They made signs that they would hold over the side of the boat that I could read while I was swimming so I could be encouraged and keep swimming. They made jokes and kept me in really good spirits.

I didn’t want to know where I was in the channel because you never can really tell how far you are from shore or how long it will be until you get somewhere. They were very respectful of that and I didn’t know how far I was from shore until they told me, “Hey, you’re only three-quarters of a mile from shore.” And I was like, “Really? I’m going to make it?” and they said, “Yes! Yes, you really are!”

VS: Now that you’ve checked this one off, what comes next?

BB: As far as swimming goes, I want to focus my energy on helping start swim programs in my community here in Rutland. I really want to help Intrepid Athletics and their vision of having an indoor pool built. For a while, I’m taking a break from really long distance swimming and focusing on building up the community that has supported me so much.

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.