Incoming freshman Tatum Boehnke tandem swims the English Channel
By SCOTT WARD
Northern Colorado Media Relations
GREELEY, Colo. -- To hear her mom describe her, Tatum Boehnke is just a kid from the desert. But the incoming Northern Colorado freshman swimmer from Carson City, Nev., apparently has a little bit of fish in her.
And a big, ol' heart, too.
Boehnke and friend Ryan Hogan, who plans on joining the Air Force swim team this fall, earlier this summer became just the 118th "special category relay" team (and first in 2009) to ever swim across the English Channel.
The duo attempted the 21-mile swim -- widely considered the "Mount Everest of Swimming" -- in mid-June and, in the process, joined an elite fraternity that includes just 4,880 other swimmers, dating to the late 1800s. Their effort also resulted in $4,500 worth of fundraising, all in the name of Caden, a 3-year-old boy with a brain tumor.
"It is a pretty cool thing, something that can be passed down to my children, grandchildren and so on," Boehnke says. "I sometimes still can't believe that we actually did it. It is something that you read about in books and watch in movies -- not really something two 18-year-old kids from Nevada pull off. It made me realize that there are no restrictions on what you can do."
Boehnke and Hogan traversed the historic rout in two-hour shifts and finally reached the French shore 10 hours and 40 minutes after Boehnke's initial dip into the icy waters. Just crossing the Channel is a feat in itself, but that time was the fourth-fastest this year (any category), and the fastest two-person "special category" effort.
It's not an uncommon tale to hear of college-bound kids spending their final days of childhood lounging on the couch and catching up on a number of things -- with Zs and MTV reality dramas on the top of the list. But a supreme test of endurance and a big dose of helping-where-help-is-needed is more Boehnke and Hogan's speed.
"It was incredible being able to swim for Caden," Boehnke says. "He is such a great kid that has had a tough go the past year. We had a picture of him on the boat with us while we crossed and it was great motivation. If a 3-year-old kid can fight cancer we could certainly swim a little bit longer."
The duo started their swim toward history with Boehnke taking the lead at 2:30 a.m. and Hogan hopping in two hours later. That cycle continued for the next 10-plus hours, giving each time to warm up and eat on their "off" shift. All the while, their observer and pilot Chris Osmond kept tabs on them while they trudged on in the 55 degree water. Only a handful of successful crossing attempts have ever been completed in June because of the conditions.
"At one point when Ryan was swimming our observer was concerned about him going into early stages of hypothermia, but I knew that he could make it," Boehnke says. "He is a tough kid, and I think they would have had to literally drag him out of the water for him to stop. We were confident in our abilities and training, and that mentality really got us through the swim."
Boehnke and Hogan, landlocked in the Silver State, did most of their crossing prep work in the pool, with an extra 3,000 yards, three times a week a good place to start.
All the open-water events they were able to take part in (San Francisco and Lake Tahoe) usually ended in fewer than 30 minutes. So, those helped with open-water conditions, but nothing really could have compared them for what they undertook.
Still, Boehnke says that nervous energy that usually accompanies her to the starting blocks was right there with her as she leapt into the early-morning dark.
"My first thought was one of relief," she says. "After a year of preparation and anticipation the time had finally come, and I was so excited and ready. Then I realized I was swimming at two in the morning in 55 degree water, and my excitement turned to adrenaline and fear."
The crossing was one of the most difficult things either swimmer had ever undertaken, but Boehnke says, now that's she and Hogan have completed it, she definitely understands the pull that the Channel can have.
"I think what made it so difficult was that it was not only physically demanding, but mentally exhausting, too," she says. "It is frustrating because your body is telling you one thing and your mind is saying the opposite. It's funny though because it was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I have kind of forgotten the struggles and the hardship. They call it Channel Fever and why people rarely swim the Channel only once.
"This swim has really influenced the way I take on challenges, and I'll definitely carry these memories with me while swimming at Northern Colorado. And who knows? Maybe somewhere down the road I will make a solo swim of the English Channel."