Danielle Wahl ’15 prepares for English Channel swim
June 6, 2013 By Mariel Smith
end of the month. Photo by Clay Jackson.
Wahl's teammates celebrate her successful qualifying
swim in the Gulf of Mexico.
Few people would consider swimming over 20 miles of bone-chilling water at the mercy of whipping waves, unpredictable weather and harmful jellyfish, but this summer there is one Centre student who will be doing exactly that. Conditions permitting, rising junior Danielle Wahl plans to swim the English Channel at the beginning of July.
"I love challenges, I love open water swimming and I love distance swimming," she explains. "It's something that I've always wanted to do and I finally got everything together to do it this summer."
A member of the Centre Swimming and Diving team, the Colorado Springs, Colo. native has dreamed of making the historic crossing for much of her life. With nearly a year of intense training and preparation under her belt, Wahl has done as much as she can to prepare for the Channel's icy water, strong waves, and unpredictable wildlife.
"She swam in the Gulf of Mexico in December and during the school year she often swam in Lake Herrington here in Danville," says Assistant Head Coach Nick Thompson. "More recently, she's back home in Colorado Springs training in the lakes out in the Rockies."
Thompson and Wahl's father will be on the boat that follows her across the Channel on the harrowing 11-hour journey. Also on board is a monitor who ensures that Wahl follows the rules and regulations—such as no touching of the boat—that allow her swim to be officially recorded.
Wahl's final preparations revolve around the biggest challenge of the swim: the frigid water, which can plummet to as low as 58 degrees Fahrenheit.
"She can't use a wetsuit or anything like that," Thompson explains. "She's had to gain some weight to help insulate herself, as well as complete extensive cold water acclimation training."
Unfortunately, an endeavor like this is fraught with certain unavoidable risks that even the best training cannot prevent.
"It's impossible to say what will happen with the wildlife," Thompson says. "If a school of jellyfish comes along, I don't care if you're the strongest athlete in the world, 10 jellyfish stings will definitely put you out."
Wahl is less concerned about sea creatures and more about the frigid water.
"You don't ever really warm up," she explains. "I'll lose anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds of fat during the swim as my body uses it for fuel and heat. I'll have a crew with me that will be constantly monitoring me for signs of hypothermia."
Now, in the weeks leading up to her early July swim, Wahl has been upping the training ante, swimming about 50,000 yards per week, alternating between the pool and several nearby lakes. In the last few weekends before her trip, she will be completing six to seven-hour swims.
Wahl credits her time at Centre as a huge advantage in helping her reach such a lofty goal.
"Centre is a small, close community," she notes. "I've received a lot of support from everyone here—President Roush has spoken with me about my swim and my coach at Centre [Nick Thompson] will be traveling to England with me, which is huge."
The Centre swimming and diving team has been one of the most important training aids of all for Wahl, who mentions her English Channel qualifying swim in the Gulf of Mexico as an example.
"It was a six-hour swim in 57-degree water, and in the last hour, my teammates jumped in and swam with me to the end. That last hour is kind of difficult—you're pretty cold and lonely, and I wasn't expecting it at all. Next thing I knew, my teammates were right there beside me."
Even halfway across the world, in the middle of a difficult and uncertain journey, Wahl's connection to Centre will remain strong.
"I'm not just doing this for myself," she says. "Centre is definitely going to be in my thoughts during the swim. It's one of several people and places I want to honor by walking on the shore of France."
Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.