Bill Shipp, member of Terrapin Masters, talks about his 2014 English Channel Swim
Bill Shipp is an inspiration on many levels. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, underwent treatment and then began training for the English Channel swim. He is a champion swimmer in USMS having achieved numerous top ten swims in the 400 free and 400 IM. Here is an interview with Bill about training and doing the Channel Swim.
How did you get started doing open water swimming?
Bill: I started by doing the Chesapeake Bay swim. A lot of Terrapins were doing it so I joined in. I also connected with the ABC Swimming group in Annapolis because they focus on the bay and train in Annapolis rivers. I did the bay for a few years and in 2010 I decided almost on a whim to do the 10 mile Kingdom Swim in Vermont. It was a big step up from the bay but I was intrigued to see if I could go to the next level.
What attracted you to open water?
Bill: I like the challenge of it. Unlike pool swimming, you have to deal with the elements and many external factors. Plus the scenery is nicer than the ubiquitous black line on the bottom of the pool. I think the Kingdom Swim really got me hooked. Newport is a quaint New England town. Before the swim the town hosts a swimmers parade complete with the townÕs one fire truck; a flatbed truck with the town band; and a pet parade with animals decked out in swim gear Phil White runs the event and tries to offer something for everyone. There is a 3 mile, 6 mile, 10 mile, and even shorter swims for kids.
What happened after that?
Bill: In the Fall of 2010 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer which kind of put everything on hold. After surgery in January of 2011, I knew my Spring meet season was over but I needed some kind of goal, so I set my sights on doing the Bay Swim and Vermont 10 mile swim in the summer of 2011. I called Phil White, the director, and he said he would hold a spot for me. I completed both swims and was very pleased to have accomplished my goal and to be back in swimming shape. Then again almost on a whim, I decided then to do the 25 mile In Search of Memphre Swim from Vermont to Canada which had started up again as a commemorative swim, 10 years after 9/11. The conditions were rough and I learned that marathon swimming was no joke. I got out after 8 miles, but I was determined to return.
What swims did you do in 2012?
Bill: In 2012 I did the Potomac Swim and the Bay Swim; and then headed back to Vermont to try Memphre again. This time I managed to complete the 25 mile swim with the assistance of my Terrapin crew members, Mike Goodison and Alison Meehan. My friend, Liz Fry encouraged me to do Swim Across the Sound in 2013, from Long Island to Bridgeport, CT to build my marathon swimming resume. The SAS is a salt water swim with conditions similar to Channel including cold temperatures and jelly fish. 5) What did you do to get ready for the English Channel Swim? It was not until I completed the Swim Across the Sound, that I allowed myself to consider looking into the Channel Swim. I applied for a spot which can take a year or more. I emailed six boat captains and found only one available slot for 2014 so I booked my swim for mid-September. In preparation for the Channel, I did the Bay Swim, the 15 mile Border Buster Swim in Vermont (which goes across the Canadian border and back), and the 8 mile Boston Light Swim in cold salt water. Each swim helped me prepare for the Channel. I took cold showers to mentally prepare for the cold Channel water and slept outside on the porch many nights to get my body used to being cold. I completed my 6 hour qualifying swim in water temperatures of 58-60 degrees and swam outside in November of 2013, until the water was 48 degrees, without a wetsuit. I did a lot of long swims (up to 6 hours) in the pool. I often did our 6am Masters workout and then stayed after to do a double workout with our open water coordinator, Maureen Rohrs.
Tell me about the swim.
Bill: I got to England on a Monday and my slot was on Friday. On Monday I settled in and went to the harbor to swim at the swimmers' beach where I swam every day. The first day I walked on the rocky beach is an experience for all soft footed Americans. However, it was an awesome experience and it was just great to be on SwimmerÕs Beach. The main thing I had been concerned about was the temperature. But it turns out the Channel was a balmy 62-64 which immediately boosted my confidence. Sitting in Dover is a waiting game. Some days before my appointed slot, swims were cancelled because of high winds. There's no guarantee of good weather, so I booked a week ahead of time and a week after. Wednesday night my boat captain called and said it looked like the weather would hold. Once I knew my time and got used to the weather I was fine. The night before the swim, I didn't sleep much; I was excited. I met the boat at 5AM on the docks. We motored around to Shakespeare Beach. I jumped out of the back of the boat and swam to the beach. Once I exited the water, my crew signaled for me to start and I walked back into the water and began my swim. You have to have an independent observer and crew. My crew didn't have much trouble with seasickness however; it was really foggy, barely 15 meters of visibility. Although it's one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, I didn't see any boats because of the fog.
What were your thoughts?
Bill: I had a full range of thoughts. Although at times I was cold and faced some physical challenges, I never thought of getting out. I got a little discouraged because of pain in my legs; my IT bands and flexors were aching terribly and I had to stretch out at every feed. I tried to focus on swimming to my next feed which was roughly every mile instead of swimming 22 miles. My crew, Elaine Howley and Alison Meehan, observed my stroke count and mental status at each feed to monitor me for hypothermia or other problems. A couple of times they told me to speed up so I wouldn't have trouble with tide shifts. With the fog, I didn't see France until I was almost to land. When I got to within a mile the crew made a big deal about my last feed and that I was almost there. France was less than a mile but I couldn't see it. The boat went as far as it could and then the first mate and Alison got into a dinghy and accompanied me to within a few hundred yards from shore. When I saw France I was excited but exhausted and ready to finish and get out. I swam to shore looking for a beach but it was just rocks and I had to climb out past the waterline. I found out afterwards they were not sure I was going to be able to land because the fog was so thick. But when I got close to shore I could see everything. When I finished, they put me in the dinghy and transported me to the boat for the trip back to England. I wrapped up and relaxed for the 3 hour ride. As is the tradition, after some rest we all went to the Whitehorse Tavern where I signed the wall and had a couple well-earned pints.
What is your next challenge?
Bill: There are so many open water opportunities to choose from. I'm looking into the remaining legs of the open water Triple Crown - Catalina Channel and Manhattan (MIMS). And of course I will probably continue to do the Bay Swim and travel to Vermont for more adventures.
Embrace the kick set
by Natalie Ferdinand
Have you ever walked onto the deck, seen a kick set on the board for practice and wondered how you can make it back to the locker room without anyone noticing? If you have, you are not alone. Several swimmers cringe at the thought of a kick set. This is especially true if the kick set doesn't have social possibilities and isn't easy.
Instead of trying to hide, or becoming dejected the next time coach writes a kick set up on the board, try embracing it. Look at the set as an opportunity for you to challenge yourself, and improve not only your swimming fitness, but also your overall health and well being.
Kick sets are a great way to build strength in the lower body muscles we use every day for various tasks. In giving a valiant effort when coach writes those 100s fast up on the board, you are making a commitment to walking taller in life. The fatigue you feel after a difficult kick set, is your muscles getting stronger. When we push our muscles past the point of comfort, we force them to adapt to new circumstances. That is why coach was asking you to kick fast, not because she enjoys your struggle. In fact, it is usually quite the opposite. She wants you to use the kick set as a mechanism for getting up those stairs at home or work with greater ease. For some, this increased muscle strength can also translate into better balance and a reduced risk of injuries from falls. As we age, reduced muscle mass and decreased bone density are real problems. Kick sets may slow some the effects of these realities.
Working at that kick set can also have a positive effect on flexibility. Flexibility is often the most overlooked aspect of total fitness, but it is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Without flexibility, the range of motion of our joints is significantly reduced, which can lead to injuries like tendinitis, strains and sprains. Increased flexibility also allows our muscles to function more effectively. While the hip flexors and ankles benefit the most from kick sets, they are also extremely vital to daily locomotion so why not embrace the kick set?
Another reason to embrace the kick set is as a tool to evaluate progress. When we are able to improve our kicking technique and lower body strength, the results are tangible in kick sets. It becomes easier to achieve the prescribed intervals and distances. No longer are you moving backwards while kicking, instead you are now leading your lane and the envy of everyone. All of this progress will also help your overall swimming. Improved kicking technique and increased muscle endurance will prevent the dreaded leg drag which can occur as we get tired. Now you will be able to better maintain correct body position and generate more consistent propulsion in your strokes.
I encourage you to look at the kick set from a new perspective the next time coach writes on up on the board. It is not meant to instill dread, instead, coach is trying to make your daily journey through life, just a bit easier. DonÕt shy away from the kick set, embrace it for all of its opportunity.
PV Delegates at Convention
photo by Jeff Strahota
We are missing a few delegates but thats the crew!