About a month shy of her 50th birthday, Australian marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her team. The intrepid swimmer and her escort team are about to set off on their greatest journey to date: Cuba to Florida.
She calmly answered a variety of questions about her 103-mile (166 km) swim, which she estimates may take her anywhere between 40 and 60 hours.
Q1. How do you possibly prepare mentally for the swim?
Palfrey: That starts a long time out from the actual swim with the pre-planning. Organization is part of my preparation for the swim. Looking at charts, maps and the body of water itself are all an important part of preparing for my swim. Once it gets closer to the swim, my focus shifts to the job at hand: the actual swim. Handling what comes at me — the weather, the marine life, stingers, and waves [with the] awareness that all of these and more are part of [the swim] and being ready to handle it all.
Q2. How do you push through the pain and fatigue?
Palfrey: A lot of it is mental. I try to manage things. At times I back off through a rough patch, then I may push harder to get through. I work the problems as they come. I rely on my strength and know that I am prepared. I draw on my 20 years of experience to help me push through.
Q3. Is there anything you think about while you swim that you want to share?
Palfrey: Music. I usually have a song in my head, sometimes it is the same song for 40 hours. During my Cayman Islands swim, it was the Led Zeppelin song Stairway to Heaven. I am also very aware of my immediate surroundings: my team, the kayak, the support boat, the wildlife, if there is any around, the sun, the waves. This becomes my world. I am zoned out completely, yet completely aware.
Q4. Describe a typical training day.
Palfrey: I usually swim for 3½ hours in the morning, [then have] a massage or physio (depending on the day). Then I go home and do some chores, nap for an hour, then to the gym. I work out about 5 hours per day. On the weekends, I get a 6 or 7 hour swim in on Saturdays. I try to take at least one day off per week, usually Sundays. I have spent 30 hours a week training for this swim.
Q5. How will this swim be different than the Bridging the Cayman Islands swim?
Palfrey: The Gulf Stream will have a big impact on the swim. Another difference is starting in one country — Cuba — and swimming to another — the US. In the Cayman Islands, it was a swim from island to island within the same country. The other differences remain to be seen.
Q6. What kind of swimsuits will you wear?
Palfrey: I wear a porous Lycra swimsuit. No wetsuit. During the swim, I may put on a long sleeve/ long leg porous Lycra suit to protect me from marine stingers.
Q7. Tell us about what you eat/drink while swimming.
Palfrey: I take in carbohydrates, electrolytes chocolate, some coffee and oats throughout the swim.
Q8. Which food is your favorite?
Palfrey: The chocolate and the oats are my treats. I have them at 4 hours and 8 hours. It is something I look forward to.
Q9. How long do you think the swim will take?
Palfrey: Between 40-60 hours.
Q10. When do you expect to start the swim?
Palfrey: Between June 23-30, weather permitting.
Q11. What is the largest logistical challenge for this swim?
Palfrey: You mean apart from swimming 103 miles, the extreme heat, sun exposure, marine stingers and the Gulf Stream?
Q12. Tell us some of the things your support crew do while you are swimming.
Palfrey: The kayakers escort me. The medical team looks after all the medical needs of me and the crew. The handlers feed me, change and recharge the shark shields, send information to shore, organizing illumination at night. I keep them very busy. I need to add that they are also very supportive and positive during my swim.
Q13. Where will you start?
Q14. Where will you end?
Palfrey: I will finish the swim in the Florida Keys possibly somewhere between Marathon and Key West. The Gulf Stream will determine where I will finish, along with my boat Captain and crew.
Q15. Estimated cost of the whole adventure?
Palfrey: The budget of $166,000 was our staring point. We have good local support from my hometown of Townsville, Australia. Sponsors are always welcome. We financed most of the swim ourselves.
Q16. How did you research weather/currents?
Palfrey: We have been looking at that for close to a year, researching the Internet, talking to pilots and weather guys. Dan Boyle, a crew member, has done a great job of consulting weather experts as it relates to the wind and the Gulf Stream.
Q17. How do you taper for the swim?
Palfrey: I have eased up over the past 4 weeks and will continue to do that right up to the swim.
Q18. Why Cuba to Florida?
Palfrey: I was successful in the Cayman Islands swim. It seems like a natural since I live and train in the tropics. It made sense to me, after I set the world record of swimming 67.25 miles (108 km) to attempt this swim. The wonderful view from shore to shore during a fly over one trip had me saying “I think I’d like to try that swim.”
Q19. What other swimmers do you admire?
Palfrey: My support team. I admire them for their commitment and continued support. I mainly concentrate on my own swims; however, I must say that the marathon swimming community is a wonderful group of people where I have developed many lifelong friendships.
Q20. What do you love most about open water swimming? Least?
Palfrey: The freedom in the water, the travel, the challenge, the friends and the beautiful places that I get to see are what I love about open water swimming. My least favorite is being forced to abandon a swim before the completion due to conditions and/or marine life after I have put in all the effort and training.
Q21. What drives you to swim?
Palfrey: The challenge. I find a challenge, I have a look at it find out all the information I can about the swim then I am halfway there. The completion after all the hard work and training is part of the driving force.
Q22. Who or what is your inspiration?
Palfrey: My team is my inspiration. They are a wonderful group of accomplished people in their own right. They are up for an interesting challenge. And find the time in their busy schedules to help me.
Readers can venture a guess how long Palfrey’s swim will be in hours at the Daily News of Open Water Swimming.
Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association