Rematch with the Strait of Dover

Alumna swims the English Channel seven years after bad weather stalls her first attempt
by Denton Ketels

Delia Salomon ’14 started her attempt to swim the English Channel from Dover, England, in the dark of night. At hour 10, she was “quite shocked” to have France already in sight.

“I tried not to be looking towards France too much because that can play tricks on your mind,” Salomon says. “Once I realized how close I was, it was really exciting. 

“The finish line itself was stressful because the wind picked up,” she says. “I was trying to land on a rocky beach and not get completely smashed.”

A month after completing the most famous long-distance swim in the world, Salomon recalled her landing at Cap Griz Nez September 7. “I felt a huge sense of relief,” she says. “And also disbelief. It still feels like a dream.” 

Salomon made the 21-mile crossing in 10 hours and 33 minutes — faster than she had anticipated thanks to favorable currents and winds, she says. 

It was her second try. She’d made an attempt in 2008 when she was 16 years old but it was called off by bad weather after 11 hours. 

“I’d read the book Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox when I was 15 and decided I wanted to do it,” Salomon says. “I guess I am just really stubborn, so once I was thwarted by the weather, I wanted a rematch. I knew I had to finish it.”

Open water swimming appeals to Salomon because there are so many ways of defining success. “Sure, there are some who have the records for the fastest or the most or the first of some crossing,” she says, “but it can be more than that. I just wanted to get across. I didn’t care how long it would take.”

Salomon enlisted her own boat pilot to guide her crossing. Pilots typically are fishermen familiar with the channel. They are in complete charge: they choose the day of the crossing and have final say on all safety matters. 

“The days leading up to the swim are nerve wracking,” Salomon says. “You have to be ready to go whenever your pilot says.”

An observer from the Channel Swimming Association made sure that official rules were followed. Salomon was not allowed contact with anyone in the boat during timeouts. At 30-minute intervals she drank a “carb-protein-electrolyte mixture” of her own concoction. She managed to avoid two of the biggest challenges in the channel — jellyfish and tanker ships.  

Salomon trained a full year for the crossing, getting help with open water technique from Tim Hammond, Grinnell assistant swimming and diving coach, the summer after graduation. She sought to be mentally and emotionally fit for the challenge, staying motivated with the support of family, friends, and coaches.

“I’ve been working for years to learn how to deal with negative thoughts because I was so hard on myself after not finishing my first channel swim,” Salomon says. She credits Erin Hurley, head swimming and diving coach, for helping her overcome negativity when she was a student. 

“During the swim there were very few times when I was feeling down or negative,” Salomon says. “I really felt like I was focused and in the moment.” 

The second day after her crossing, Salomon got back in the water. After three days, she felt “pretty normal” except for being scratched up from landing among the rocks.

“Before this I never thought that highly of my capabilities to accomplish difficult things,” Salomon says. “I don’t know that I did this to prove to myself that I could, but in the end I was like, yeah okay, you can do stuff like this if you want to.”


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