Former Lewisburg woman, 55, swims across the English Channel | News

Three summers ago, Jeannie Zappe made a commitment to swim across the English Channel.

The former Lewisburg resident and Bucknell University employee did just that overnight.

Zappe, 55, entered the water at Samphire Hoe, England, just after 10 p.m. on Sunday. She freestyled 21 miles in 14 hours and 55 minutes, in a Z-shaped course due to the strong currents.

“I swam until I hit the sand. My whole body hit the sand,” Zappe said by phone from England. “I just wanted to do something unique in this lifetime. I wanted to show people what 55 looks like. You didn’t die at 55.

Pressing his hands and knees into the sand beneath the waters of the English Channel, Zappe rose to his feet and took a few steps along the shore of Wissant, France. She achieved her goal, and she only had 2 minutes to enjoy the moment.

“That was the rule,” Zappe said, referring to COVID-19 protocols. “I took a few pictures, said ‘Bonjour, France’, turned around and swam to the boat.”

The mother of two is a swim coach in the Mechanicsburg area where she lives with her husband. His practice gigs once included the Sunbury YMCA program. And, she has competed in open water races for the past 20+ years.

Zappe grew up in Elysburg and attended elementary school at St. Edward’s Catholic School in Shamokin. Her family moved to the Bloomsburg area and she attended schools in central Columbia before enrolling at Penn State University.

She competed in swimming competitions in high school, but was hesitant to pursue the sport in college. It bugged her all these years later. She called it “unfinished business.”

With that always in mind and inspired by three loved ones in her life who have battled cancer, Zappe booked a guide boat, the Optimist, in July 2018 to cross the English Channel.

She persevered through a regimen of strength training and swimming for three years. She prepared for the night swim and the distance.

A team of three friends joined Zappe on the trip: Deb Henson, the team leader, Susan Bianchi and Kathy Wingert. They named themselves after the boat, calling their group the Eternal Optimists. It’s the same name they gave to a support page on Facebook.

They all helped prepare Zappe for the challenge and from the boat they did what was necessary: ​​toss him an extra water bottle, engage him to avoid mental lapses, count his shots, crack jokes to lighten up the vibe, even dancing to music to help push it.

“Every 30 minutes they throw my drink at me, a combination of electrolytes and carbs,” Zappe said. “They throw it at me in a bottle on a rope.”

Henson watched Zappe practice. She attended her friend’s 10k sessions in the pools, helping her however she could.

Driving the boat across the English Channel, her best friend swimming in the dark of night and then daylight, Henson said it was stressful. Even leaving at 10 p.m. pushed him. Swimmers crossing the channel have specific windows to complete the challenge. Zappe’s would have closed at midnight on Monday.

“You are worried, you are stressed. You have to hold on,” Henson said. “To have that climax, it’s very emotional.”

The water temperature was around 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Dressed in a Wonder Woman swimsuit – her teammates dressed in Wonder Woman costumes as well – Zappe had sunscreen and chafing cream on as well as little lights on her head and back. She followed the guide boat but there was no exit from the water. She swam.

“It’s mostly mental,” Zappe said. “A lot of people told me the hardest part I did was all that training. … If you do all that, once you get here it’s mental. I just needed to be stubborn enough to stay, and I was. I was confident.

The open water felt isolated even with his team on the nearby boat, Zappe said. The first eight hours passed in near total darkness. The winds blew as she pushed through the water. The noise of the boat was loud and the fumes from the engine held her nostrils as she breathed between strokes. The waves shook her up and down. She said she thanked God for the sunrise. She could finally see the faces of her friends.

“Their connection to everything is the people on the boat,” Henson said. “You don’t want to let them down. It’s a big moment in his life. »

As the sun rose, the day progressed and Zappe approached the French coast. She could see him. She was careful not to get too excited. Being in French intercoastal waters, the current can block a swimmer, she said. Zappe described staying focused and was again inspired by her team when she rolled onto her back for a while and heard the sounds of a favorite ABBA song playing from the boat.

Zappe continued and when she came ashore, a couple she had befriended from France were waiting there, camera in hand to record the moment. She appeared elated and exhausted, stunned by the moment.

“I think this is all too big to really understand,” Zappe said. “I swim. I probably swim easier than I walk on land. Swimming for me is like second nature. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s another swim in the ocean. It was the hardest I have ever done.

Zappe made the short swim to the guide boat. It was a 2.5 hour drive back to England. The celebrations would wait. She needed rest. She slept on the boat. When she returned to the house where they were staying, she crawled on her hands and knees into her bed. The next day, food and drink would take priority.

Zappe said she could barely raise her arms above her head. His shoulders wouldn’t allow it. It’s getting better, she says, and overall she felt good.

Henson said she hopes Zappe’s story can inspire others.

“Never say I can’t. You don’t know until you try. Everyone has something they dream of doing. They should at least try,” Henson said.

The Eternal Optimists group page on Facebook is open to the public. Find him for photos, videos and messages about Zappe swimming.