Australian Chloë McCardel, 36, hangs up her marathon swim cap after completing a world record 44th Channel crossing on October 13 – she tells The Mirror about nearly dying of hypothermia and to be paralyzed by jellyfish
Image: Daily Mirror)
During her swimming career, Chloë McCardel nearly died of hypothermia, swam in shark-infested waters and was paralyzed by deadly jellyfish.
But after achieving a world record for the 44th crossing of the Channel on October 13, the 36-year-old Australian is ready to hang up her marathon swimming cap for good.
“When I was 19 I decided I wanted to be the best in the world at something, and the English Channel is known to be the pinnacle of marathon swimming,” says Chloë.
“Breaking the record was really surreal. I haven’t really figured it out yet, but I’m so glad I finally made it.
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The former record holder was Britain’s Alison Streeter, now 57. Known as ‘the Queen of the Channel’, Alison finished her 43rd race in 1995, breaking the men’s record of 34 held by Kevin Murphy, before stepping back.
But on October 6, Chloë matched Alison’s feat when she completed her 43rd swim, and she was back in the water – as always covered in a mixture of petroleum jelly and lanolin to prevent chafing – again a few days later to complete his 44th, swimming the 20.5 miles in 10 hours.
And Chloë says that although she has never met Alison, the British swimmer has been there to give her advice in the past.
“I would absolutely love to meet Alison – she retired from the swimming community before I started but I have been in touch with her,” she explains.
“I have great respect and admiration for her. She is a pioneering marathon swimmer and has done so much for women’s sport. However, if she were to return to do another Channel crossing, my intention would be to return and to try again to break the record.
Chloe, who lives in Sydney. Australia, but who spends three months of the year living in Deal, Kent, was late to swimming, learning at the age of 11.
After discovering that she was a natural in the water and became an elite junior swimmer, she decided she wanted to pursue marathon swimming.
But Chloë says her family were initially unhappy with her choice, telling her to “find a real job” and even kicked her out of their home as they were unable to support her financially.
She says: “Originally, when I started, my parents were not at all enthusiastic.
“They wanted me to go get a real job and finish college.
“They even kicked me out of my house when I was 20 and said they weren’t going to support me financially. They said if I wanted to do it, it was up to me. The first three years I started swimming were very difficult.
However, after completing her first Channel crossing in 2009, she proved everyone wrong and went on to inspire a generation of swimmers – and she says her family have now changed their minds about her achievements and are very proud of her.
In 2015, Chloë became the first Australian and one of only five people in history to complete a triple Channel crossing – from England to France, then back to England and back to France – without worrying. Stop.
It’s a feat that took her 36 hours, made even more impressive by the fact that she didn’t have a break in between.
“It was direct without stopping,” she says. “I stopped to eat and drink in the water, but I had to walk on water all the time, so I was always moving my arms and legs to stand up.
“It was no rest because I couldn’t sit or lie down. At the end of the Channel laps you are technically entitled to 10 minutes rest on the shore but best not to take that as standing on the waters edge without creating heat is disadvantageous and just makes you more cold and more prone to hypothermia.
Her first attempt to complete the grueling treble in 2011 almost proved fatal after Chloë suffered in 16 degree water.
“When I was taken to Canterbury Hospital, my core temperature was just 28C,” she recalls. “A doctor told my crew that if I had been left in the water for half an hour longer I would have died.
“At that time I also had another condition called swimming-induced pulmonary edema, where plasma seeps into the lungs and you drown in your own fluid.
“I was having trouble breathing and was coughing up pink phlegm. I was in intensive care and it was horrible – but that didn’t deter me from wanting to try the triple pass again.
And that’s not the only close shave for Chloë. She holds the world record for the longest unassisted ocean swim in the Bahamas in 2014, swimming through shark-infested waters, seeing the deadly creature but saying she was not afraid.
But the previous year, she was swimming from Florida to Cuba when she was stung by several poisonous jellyfish and had to abort her attempt after 11 hours.
Chloë, recalls: “This type of jellyfish has killed dozens of people over the years – I was completely paralyzed from the poison from the stings and had to give up my swim and be pulled out of the water. J I even had tentacles ripped out of my mouth. The pain was excruciating. I just wanted to die because the pain was so bad.
Despite these experiences, Chloë says the positive impact of swimming on her mental health is what has led her to return to the water time and time again.
She is a survivor of domestic violence and says negative experiences with Australian police when she sought help contributed to her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder in 2018.
“Being in a big open space like water has always given me a sense of freedom, which I don’t always feel on land,” adds Chloë.
“PTSD is such a serious anxiety disorder that I had trouble sleeping and woke up screaming at night. But every time I went swimming I felt so good afterwards, even though I had a day really rubbish.
“Because swimming is quite a repetitive motion, I go into a pretty meditative state.”
Chloë has now turned to becoming a motivational speaker and also works as a coach and boat guide helping others swim across the English Channel. “I love to inspire and support people, and help them through their own journey,” she says. “I want to continue to have a very strong connection with the English Channel even if I have no intention of swimming it again.”