SATELLITE BEACH (CBSMiami) – A 61-year-old Florida woman is the last person to successfully swim across the English Channel.
Gina Harden, who lives in Satellite Beach, has always loved the ocean.
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“I just loved the sea. I loved the water. Being there has always been where my soul is,” Harden said.
Harden was one of the first women in the Navy to become a diver. During her 12-year career, she served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait and received the Bronze Star.
Ever since she was little, she has wanted to swim across the English Channel.
“I didn’t want to leave my life knowing there was something on the table that I wanted to do that I didn’t do,” she said.
On July 18, at age 61, Harden took the plunge after more than two years of training.
With a pilot boat by her side and friends cheering her on, she swam more than 16 hours in freezing water.
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The only time she slowed down was to grab a drink, eat a banana, and devour a Twinkie.
“Boy, and that was good too. I’m like it’s wet but I put it in my mouth,” Harden said. “You got so much time. You’ve been in your head for so long. I was singing – I was praying.
During her 33-mile swim, Harden cramped up, became tired and cold, but kept going until she reached the shore of France.
“First I got up and fell flat on my stomach. It took me forever to be able to get up,” Harden said. “All these French people, these families, a dog came running towards me. I think there’s a picture of me holding the American flag and I’m completely dazed.
Harden said it wasn’t until she sailed back to England that she realized what had happened.
“Watching the French shore recede, I thought to myself, ‘Yes, I did it! ‘” Harden said.
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She has a bulletin board full of photos, a roadmap of her hopes and dreams, and now, a reminder that dreams never die for the young at heart.