The challenges most college students face on a day-to-day basis include writing papers, running late to class and choosing what to eat at the caffeteria, but Centre College sophomore Danielle Wahl has set a challenge for herself that reaches beyond the college norm.
In June, Wahl, who is from Colorado Springs, Colo., will attempt to swim the English Channel, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean between England and France that will constitute a non-stop swim of about 21 miles.
As a member of Centre’s swimming and diving team, Wahl is no stranger to the water. However, she noted that “open water swimming is completely different from pool swimming” and not only because of the lack of lanes and chlorine. There will be massive waves, sea animals, ocean currents and boat traffic to contend with, and she will have to take breaks to eat in the water.
If it’s so dangerous, why make the attempt?
“I’ve wanted to swim the English Channel for a while,” Wahl said. “It’s a big item on my bucket list.”
She also comes from an extremely athletic family: both of her brothers have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa, and one brother has competed in Iron Man marathons. Wahl already has made her mark by swimming to success in high school and college — in October, she was named Swimmer of the Week by collegeswimming.com — but swimming the English Channel will push the boundaries of that success.
Wahl has been training since August and feels prepared to tackle the English Channel head-on.
“I’m only a little nervous ... I know that if I train the right way I’ll be alright,” she said.
Her biggest obstacle will be a mental rather than physical one; she will have to psychologically overcome the fact that she will be swimming for hours in water as cold as 58 degrees Fahrenheit.
To give herself extra motivation, Wahl plans to donate money to Save the Children — a foundation that aims to help children fight poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease — for every mile she completes. If she cannot complete the full goal, Wahl said, “I will look at the factors as to why I wasn’t successful, regroup, and try again next summer!”
Wahl’s friends and family are supportive. Both her assistant coach at Centre, Nick Thompson, and her father will be following her swim by boat. Thompson noted that swimming the English Channel is something one grows up hearing about in the swimming community, but that actually meeting someone attempting it was special.
He said, “I’m highly impressed about her goal to swim the Channel and the way she hasn’t simply made it a goal but is following through with something she wants to accomplish.”
Her Centre teammates are also incredibly supportive. During a preliminary swim of six hours at a beach in the Gulf of Mexico, about 10 of her teammates (who were there for pre-season training) also jumped in the water and swam alongside her for the last hour. Their jokes and the tight-knit, family-like feel of the team were what got her through the task, Wahl said.
Centre swimming and diving coach Dean Brownley is confident in Wahl’s abilities to reach her goal. “She has a great work ethic,” he said. “She is a hard worker, sees things through, and has a great attitude.”
In his 41 years of coaching, Brownley has never had a swimmer attempt such a goal, but he is honored to have Wahl on the team and said, “We’re behind her 100 percent.”
Elise Murrell is a Centre College student who is interning at The Advocate-Messenger.