Cary woman swims in English Channel, achieving rare feat


Laura Goodwin, 44, from Cary, swam the English Channel on Monday July 11, scoring a lifetime goal

Courtesy of Laura Goodwin

Around the age of 9, Laura Goodwin was enchanted by the idea of ​​leaving one country and swimming to another. This dream culminated on Monday when she put on a pair of rose-colored glasses and set off in the English Channel.

For the next 10 hours and 44 minutes, Goodwin swam the famous waterway separating England and France, stopping only for brief chocolate milk breaks while walking on water.

She suffered four or five jellyfish stings, one in the face and shoulder that were painful enough to leave a mark. But she spent the arduous hours singing to herself, often “You’re the Best” of “Karate Kid” fame.

“I feel really, really good,” she said by telephone from England on Tuesday, “which is not surprising mentally but surprising physically. It’s this impossible challenge and you never know what you’re going to get in. But you never know if you can do something until you do it.

A difficult challenge

Notoriously difficult, the 21-mile channel torments swimmers with cold, choppy water, powerful tides and plentiful jellyfish, providing its most favorable window in July and August.

Since Matthew Webb first walked it in 1875, swimmers have managed only 2,696 successful crossings – much less than the number of peaks of Mount Everest.

Goodwin, a 44-year-old swim coach from Cary, grew up in West Virginia, a state she acknowledges isn’t known for its aquatic prowess.

Laura Goodwin from Cary swam the English Channel on July 11, achieving a goal she had planned since she was 9 years old. Courtesy of Laura Goodwin

But she swam at Washington and Lee University and started competing in open water on a California lake when she was 20.

Later, as she explains in her detailed report swimming blogshe has coached swimmers in San Francisco Bay, where she once taught a 9-year-old to swim from Alcatraz, accompanied by a curious seal.

There, Goodwin learned to her delight that she could endure three hours in 60 degree water as easily as a backyard swimming pool.

Her canal dream took shape in 2019, when she booked a pilot boat. Securing a team of guides, she said Tuesday, takes about two years and more than $3,500.

Swimming practice in Fontana Lake and around Charleston, South Carolina boosted confidence, making Goodwin feel “bulletproof.”

But the pandemic and a variety of other factors slowed progress toward a crawl, and at one point Goodwin considered buying a garage pool to practice in, finding none available.

Then in March, she moved her family, including two children, to Bournemouth, where she was able to practice immersing herself in the beast she hoped to tame.

The waiting is the hardest part

Waiting, she said, was harder to bear than swimming itself. She had a window of days when the water would be calm and warm enough, but she never knew when the departure horn would sound until it actually did.

With calm skies and seas, a temperature of around 62 degrees, Goodwin picked a near-perfect day and passed the time with an introspection she had been too busy to appreciate.

“In 10 hours and 44 minutes,” she said, “you have plenty of time and no one to talk to. I thought of a ton of things. I sang a lot. I sang ‘Playing with the Boys” from “Top Gun” because I swim with a lot of guys and like to beat them.”

Laura Goodwin, 44, from Cary, swam the English Channel on Monday July 11, scoring a lifetime goal Courtesy of Laura Goodwin

She even forgave the jellyfish for the sting in the face because, as she said, “I definitely crushed the little guy.”

Then, before sunset, she reached France, touching the side of a cliff she found too slippery to climb. It mattered.

Now she belongs to a community of around 2,000 ready to brave a murky and seemingly bottomless adversary who relentlessly pushes back.

To paraphrase a quote she finds inspiring, Goodwin knows that swimmers and non-swimmers tend to overestimate what they accomplish in a day. But they underestimate what they can accomplish in a year, let alone in a lifetime.

This story is part of our regular “On the Bright Side” feature. Do you have a suggestion for a story that will make our readers smile? Email Josh Shaffer at [email protected]

This story was originally published July 12, 2022 11:27 a.m.

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Josh Shaffer is a general-assignment reporter on the lookout for “talkers,” which are stories you might discuss over a water cooler. He has worked for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.