Sunday, May 26, 2013
SCARBOROUGH — Several days each week, Pat Gallant-Charette is content to swim laps along Pine Point Beach, her arms churning slowly, purposely, pulling her forward like a paddle wheel.
Open-water swimmer Pat Gallant-Charette of Westbrook trains at Pine Point Beach in Scarborough on Friday. Pat's next big outing is a 12-mile swim in the Tsugaru Strait of Japan later in September.
Portland Press Herald photo by Carl D. Walsh
The 61-year-old Westbrook grandmother was there again Friday morning, training for her fourth Oceans Seven swim, following successful solo crossings of the Strait of Gibraltar, the English Channel and the Catalina Channel in the last two years.
Later this week, if all goes as planned, Gallant-Charette will slip into the warm coastal water of northern Japan and brave the treacherous tides and unpredictable swells of the Tsugaru Strait. She flies out Tuesday and hopes to complete the estimated 14-hour swim sometime between Sept. 7 and 14, depending on weather and water conditions.
"It's a very difficult swim," she said Friday. "It's 12 miles with strong currents and strong headwinds, and only two people have made it this year."
One of those people is Stephen Redmond, a 47-year-old Irishman who is the only person to complete the Oceans Seven challenge, which he did on July 14, crossing the Tsugaru Strait on his fourth try.
Oceans Seven is an open-water swimming challenge created by Steven Munatones, a marathon swimmer and coach who founded Open Water Source, a website (openwatersimming.com) that tracks open-water swimmers and races around the globe.
In addition to the Tsugaru Strait, which lies between Japan's Honshu and Hokkaido islands, Oceans Seven includes the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain-Morocco), the English Channel (England-France), the Catalina Channel (California), Cook Strait (New Zealand), the Irish Channel (Ireland-Scotland) and the Molokai Channel (Hawaii).
Gallant-Charette has set records as the third-fastest woman to swim the Strait of Gibraltar, in 3 hours, 38 minutes (2010); the oldest American woman to swim the England Channel (2011); and the oldest woman to swim the Catalina Channel (2011).
If Gallant-Charette succeeds in crossing Tsugaru Strait, she will be only the 11th person known to do it and she'll set a record as the oldest person to complete the swim.
Gallant-Charette started open-water swimming 15 years ago, at age 46, after her brother Robbie died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 34.
About a month later, her son, Tom, announced that he would swim the annual Peaks-to-Portland race in memory of his uncle, who had been a star swimmer at Westbrook High School. She decided to join him in the 2.4-mile challenge and fell in love with open-water swimming.
As her commitment to the sport has grown, Gallant-Charette has remained dedicated to other areas of her life, including two full-time jobs. She's a registered nurse who works with dementia patients at the Barron Center in Portland, and she cares for her three grandchildren about 40 hours a week.
She trains year round, 10 to 20 hours each week, at the YMCA in Freeport in the winter and at Pine Point Beach spring through fall.
With each Oceans Seven swim, Gallant-Charette has gained experience that she hopes will help her in Tsugaru Strait, which may be her toughest so far.
It's certainly her most expensive swim, costing more than $11,000 for boat rental, government permits, airfare, accommodations, car rental and food. If she doesn't complete the swim this time, she doubts she'll make a second attempt, because she and her husband, Jim, who operates an import business, finance her efforts.
Her husband won't be joining her on this trip. She'll be accompanied by friends and crew members Pat Whitney, of Freeport, and Yoko Aoshima, of Falmouth. Aoshima is visiting her parents in Japan before Gallant-Charette's arrival and she'll act as interpreter and tour guide throughout their stay.
During the swim, Whitney and Aoshima will be in the boat, riding alongside Gallant-Charette, holding up signs with encouraging words, such as "Pull Harder" and "Go, Go, Go." Some signs will feature names of people who inspire her, such as Sherri Kelley, a neighbor who's battling cancer.
(Continued on page 2)