Jon McArdell on the California Coast with Dan Simonelli

Jon McArdell Crosses Catalina

Courtesy of Jon McArdell, Catalina Channel, California.

Jon McArdell recalls his 10 hour 16 minute crossing of the 32.8 km Catalina Channel from Santa Catalina Island to the Southern California mainland yesterday.

It’s taken me a while to reflect on yesterday’s swim partly because I have only begun to feel human. What an experience.

I stepped onboard Bottom Scratcher around 7:30 pm. I met the crew paddlers and observers, and they instantly made me feel at ease, cracking jokes and taking the mick out of me which helped me to relax. We had a boat briefing where we were read the riot act as well as a briefing from the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and we were off.

On a 2 hour 30 minute boat ride to the start, we organized the feeds, slept a little, applied sunscreen grease, and then were in place. The kayaks [were] launched and then it was jump time. I entered the water, swam to shore, stood up [on land], the hooter went, and I was off.

The first few hours were a bit difficult to get into a rhythm and my goggles were uncomfortable and giving me a bit of a headache. I ended up changing them after a few hours. The water was nice and warm and it was the first time that I had seen bioluminescence in the water.

[It] was so cool to see the green flickers of light. Every time breathed, I could see three stars just in front of the kayak which reminded me of a good friend of mine who had posted about her Catalina Channel swim and how it had reminded her of good friends.

Minutes turned in to hours and I felt like I was keeping a good pace. I was in good spirits and feeling really strong so I went with it and felt like I was keeping a good pace. Before I knew it, we were almost 5 hours in.

Suddenly, I hit a brick wall of emotion and had to dig deep.

I started to feel a little tired and my head started to play games: you’ve gone out too hard, you’re not going to make it, the usual stuff. Each time these negative thoughts came up, I just stuffed and flushed them and kept swimming knowing that as long as I kept swimming that I would make it. I was panicking that I had gone out too hard and that I was gonna fall apart.

Shelley Taylor-Smith told me at about 5 hours that I was halfway. I was pretty ok with my progress. I just put my head down and started to dig deep. The sun came up and I resisted the urge to look up [at the shore] as I know it always seems closer than it actually is. Stroke after stroke, feed to feed, I was just holding on, starting to feel a bit fatigued and wanting to really dig in – but not wanting to go too early.

We had a paddler swap with about 3 hours to go. When Dan Simonelli started paddling again, I looked up and said, “Dan take me home.” This was where I really started to dig in and started to find my rhythm. By this stage I could see land, but I knew it was still a long way away. I asked Dan to give me an idea of how far to go. The boat relayed that it was 6 nautical miles – which meant nothing to me. I asked for it in english and it was 11.5 km – that was doable.

I had swam many times that distance at a solid pace. Each stroke felt more powerful than the last. As I kept telling myself, “Let all the training pay off now in the last 10 kilometers as I powered on to the finish. Dan said, “You have just under 2 kilometers to go.”

When I heard that we were at 9 hours 30 minutes, I just really pushed hard to try and get as close to 10 hours as I could. It was just a matter of maintaining the positive head space. The closer and closer I got, I started to ask for feeds that would keep me kicking – the last feed electrolytes I knew I couldn’t have more than 30 minutes to go. So I said no more feeds; let’s go get this done.

I picked up the pace and powered into the finish [in 10 hours 16 minutes]. I remembered that someone had said to get your legs to stand up at the end. You need to bring in a six-beat kick at the end which I did. Dan thought I was crazy, but it worked. I cleared the water and walked onto the beach. I had conquered the Catalina Channel, number 2 in the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.

I can’t begin to explain how incredible an experience it was. I have the best team around me, starting with none other than my coach Shelley Taylor-Smith who has been an incredible support throughout. Her knowledge of open water swimming is second to none . I have been so blessed to have had her input in this and other swims that I have done.

Also to Claire Evans who has provided me with heaps of encouragement and support.

To all of my buddies at STS squad who have stuck by me and encouraged me when the training was tough. I really appreciate all of your support. There are so many others but I couldn’t go without thanking my incredible parents who have supported me through his whole thing.

What’s next? New York City’s Manhattan 20 Bridges Swim. But first an 8-day rest, relax and recovery (and some swimming) in San Diego, California.

I will leave you with this: Find your passion and pursue it with everything you have because that is where the most fulfilment will come in life.


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