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Persistence Pays Off: 60-Year-Old Swims Channel

SCOTT SIMON, host: Pat Gallant-Charette swam across the English Channel this week. She's 60 years old from Westbrook, Maine. And she did it on her third attempt, so she now holds the record as the oldest American woman to swim the channel. She joins us from studios of the BBC in London.

Thanks so much for being with us.

PAT GALLANT-CHARETTE: Thank you for asking me.

SIMON: And I guess we should begin by saying congratulations.

GALLANT-CHARETTE: Thank you. Thank you so much.

SIMON: You know, but they have, like, boats and planes. I mean why did you swim?



GALLANT-CHARETTE: Well, I started swimming about 14 years ago as a tribute to my brother, Robbie. He had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 34. And at that time, my son Tom was on the high school swim team. He wanted to swim a 2.4 mile ocean swim in honor of Robbie. And at that time in my life, I was 46 and I was not swimming. I knew how to swim but I decided to take the challenge.

And after I finish the Peaks to Portland, I found that I absolutely loved open water swimming. And from there, I just continued to compete in other events. And I went to England in 2008. And when I reached 1.7 miles from the finish line of France, the tide changed and I had to return home.

SIMON: Why was it so important to you?

GALLANT-CHARETTE: For marathon swimmers, the English Channel is the Mount Everest of swimming. And to complete that, it gives you like a notch in your belt. And at the age of 60, I still felt strong. And I figured my mom, who is 86, is swimming three days a week, so I still have plenty of years ahead of me.

SIMON: And, Pat, the English Channel ain't exactly the Caribbean. Is it?

GALLANT-CHARETTE: No. No. It was - the water temperature was about 63. However, in Maine, I start my open water training in April when water temperature is 42 - and that's without a wetsuit. So I was well prepared. I was never cold for the 15 hours and 57 minutes that it took me to swim across the channel.

I really thought I was going to have a very fast swim, but I got stuck in a current and it swept me around Cape Gris Nez. And that added a few more hours. It was just so difficult of a swim with the currents that I was just very happy to make it to France.

SIMON: How does your son feel?

GALLANT-CHARETTE: He was so excited that I finished. And he was the one that told me many years ago, you know, when I said I wish I could do it and he said: Ma, you could do it, you know, if you tried. And I can't thank him enough for those encouraging words. And every swim that I have, I always say I can do this if I try.

You know, I put my time in training. I still work 32 hours a week as a nurse, and I babysit my grandchildren full-time. I have a very active family life and swimming comes second.

SIMON: So in October, you're going to swim the Catalina Channel?

GALLANT-CHARETTE: Yes, I'll be going for the world record for the oldest woman - unless someone breaks it before me who's older than 60.


SIMON: Pat Gallant-Charette joined us from the studios of the BBC in London. To read her blog about her amazing swim across the English Channel, you can go to our web site, NPR.org.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.