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Vancouver woman waits for nod to begin swim across English Channel

Lora Grindlay

Jessi Harewicz trains in the waters at Kitsilano Beach in preparation for an attempt to swim across the English Channel. Photos by ryu.com [PNG Merlin Archive]

Jessi Harewicz trains in the waters at Kitsilano Beach in preparation for an attempt to swim across the English Channel. Photos by ryu.com [PNG Merlin Archive]

Jessi Harewicz is biding her time touring around pretty little English towns, checking out ancient castles and trying not to worry because at any minute she could get the call telling her to prepare to dive in and swim.

The Vancouver-born and bred 34-year-old is in Dover, England, already a few days into a seven day window where she will attempt to swim across the English Channel.

She has her pilot boat waiting, her food packed, and hours of training in the cold waters of B.C. behind her. Now she waits for the weather to co-operate and for her to get the nod that the swim is on. She will learn by 7:30 p.m. the day before her swim will start.

"I'm trying not to worry," she said yesterday from Kent, not far from Dover where she is camping with her dad, waiting for the Channel Swimming Association to give her a chance to prove herself.

"We have rented a car and are driving around the countryside. It's a mental mind game. You just have to follow your boat."

And you have to do it all under your own power. Under international marathon swimming rules she is not allowed to hold onto the boat or anything else. She is allowed one swim suit, one swimming cap and one set of goggles. She must start and end the 32-km swim on dry land.

She will be thrown food from the pilot boat — peaches, gels that provide energy, peanut butter and jam sandwich pieces and chunks of bread to control the nausea.

She has enough food for 20 hours of being in the water. She hopes the swim won't take her that long but she's not sure how tough the conditions will be.

"I want to finish," she said Sunday. "There is no guarantee. I could get turned away. We're waiting on the weather."

If she finishes, she will be the second British Columbian to complete the swim this summer.

Kelowna teen Emily Epp swam across the channel earlier this month. The 17-year-old, who trained by swimming 30-km around Bowen Island, swam for almost 12 hours. Last summer Harewicz swam 30-km across the Georgia Strait — from Sechelt to Nanaimo — in 11 hours and 20 minutes.

Epp and Harewicz had dinner together in England recently and commiserated. "She's a sweetheart," said Harewicz.

Harewicz said the English Channel swim — known as the Everest of swims — will be in much tougher conditions than the Georgia Strait. The water is very salty, it's windy, in open ocean, and the currents are so strong that you have to swim across them.

"All the routes are curved," she said.

And while she's in the water, Harewicz said she will pass the hours with her "internal radio."

She gets into what she calls "repetitive mind patterns," which are rhythmic and resemble the pace and movements of her stroke.

"It's just a rhythmic pace for hours. That's all it is," said Harewicz, who used to be a synchronized swimmer. "You have to get used to being in your own head space."

Harewicz will have live updates of her swim on her Facebook page.

lgrindlay@postmedia.com