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From England to France: Swimming the channel

DOVER, England (AFNS) -- After approximately two years of training and regimented swimming schedules, two Airmen swam the English Channel from Dover, England, to the western coastline of France Sept. 27 and Oct. 3.

Majs. Simon Ritchie and Casey Bowen, both dermatologists assigned to the 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, said they viewed the challenging swim as the culminating point for swimmers across the globe.

“This is the pinnacle event in swimming,” Bowen said. “It’s been a long-term goal and just a personal challenge that I have been thinking of for a long time. We scheduled a crossing years ago.”

After waiting for a few days for the right conditions for the swim, Bowen leaped off the support boat on Sept. 26, into the frigid salt water of the English Channel, swam to Dover shoreline and began his trek to the French coast. Ritchie had to wait a few more days to start his swim, but began Oct. 3.

Both Airmen successfully landed on the shoreline of France. Bowen finished with a time of 12 hours and 9 minutes while Ritchie completed the event in 11 hours and 24 minutes.

The Airmen said they felt confident in their abilities and dedication to accomplish the task, but also cognizant of the challenges they faced. The duo tackled Mother Nature’s unpredictability with wind, rain, tidal changes and cold temperatures as well as a potential encounter with jellyfish.

Aside from the forces of nature, the Airmen coped with physical exhaustion and mental fatigue as they fought through the sea.

“I try to lose myself in the moment; you really just have to stay in your own moment,” Ritchie said. “Look at your support boat and put your head back down in the water and keep going.”

When they arrived in Dover, the Airmen had the opportunity to speak with several other swimmers from around the world who also completed the solo and relay swims across the channel.

“One of my old coaches from the (U.S.) Air Force Academy had emailed me and told me that it was about the endeavor and not about finishing, try to enjoy it,” Bowen said. “So I did.”