Q&A With Triple Crowner Izebel Sierra Arenas

Q&A With Triple Crowner Izebel Sierra Arenas

Courtesy of WOWSA, English Channel.

Izebel Sierra Arenas of Mexico completed the Triple Crown Of Open Water Swimming with her 14 hour 21 minute crossing of the English Channel on July 26th.

The 38-year-old is coached by Nora Toledano and Salvador Sánchez. She explained her English Channel swim and discussed her Triple Crown journey.

Swimming the English Channel has been my most wonderful experience so far. The Channel required my very best effort, it made me go beyond my limits and helped me discover new ones.”

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When and where did you start to swim?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: I started swimming when I was 5 years old. My parents took me to swimming lessons in Mexico City. I liked it very much and my instructors discovered that I was talented at it. One thing led to another from there. When I was a teenager and after many years of training, I had the opportunity to represent Mexico at the Central American Games and went to one FINA World Championships with the Mexican National Synchronized Swimming Team. I retired after the World Championship to begin a career and then I began swimming again in 2012.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was your first adventure in the open water?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: My first adventure in the open water occurred back in 2013. I swam my first 3 km swim in Cancun.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What attracts you to channel crossings and marathon swims?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: It is mostly because of how swimming in the open water makes me feel. While swimming in the ocean or a river, I am strong, confident, truly content, alive, awake, proud, free and natural. I am simultaneously in the middle of everything and nothing. I have to constantly overcome myself, one time after another. It is very rewarding for me to set a challenge as big as a cross or a Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming and work hard every day towards reaching it. I truly enjoy the training in spite of how much effort and discipline it requires.

That said, it is sometimes twice as hard for me because I am not a full-time athlete, I am also an accountant at a bank in Mexico City so trying to find the balance to reach my dreams can get tough at times. So, when I achieve something, the joy and happiness it gives me is indescribable and helps me to continue dreaming and believing in myself.

I really think there are no limits, we are all capable of achieving anything.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Who did you have on your escort boats for the English Channel, Catalina Channel and 20 Bridges?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: During my three swims, my two coaches Salvador Sanchez and Nora Toledano, together with my sports doctor, Ursus Gonzalez, were in the escort boats.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you eat the same foods and consume the same drinks on all three Triple Crown swims?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: Yes, I usually eat gels, hammer and baby food every half hour; however, in the English Channel, the gels made me feel sick so I had to eat baby food and some chocolate.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was the lowest point of each swim, mentally and/or physically?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: Honestly and fortunately, the three swims were wonderful. I wouldn’t change anything about them. I enjoyed each stroke, each breath, each hour, each moment, I loved looking at the sea, the sunsets, the dolphins, and feeling the water and the changes in it.

In Manhattan, I don´t remember having real low points, the swim was great and very fast.

But during the Catalina Channel, I remember seeing the land at some point and feeling it was near. These moments can be very tricky because they give you a fake feeling that you might rest soon but the land might be very far away still, even if you can see it. This is when one must keep a cool mind and continue stroking without paying attention to how tired one might be already.

In the English Channel, I can recall two moments that were undoubtedly the lowest points. One happened after the first five hours of swimming, I got stung by a jellyfish and it was very painful. The pain made me feel sick and I had to throw up. Then, almost at the end, there were two hours during which I was already tired and had to swim against the current without being able to stop for food or drink. It was really tough to keep my rhythm (81 strokes per minute) and add strength but I kept going until I touched French land.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you get out of those depths and finish?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: In Catalina, I just focused on continuing to enjoy each part as I had done from the start. I focused on the beauty of the sun reflections in the water. The strong feeling of each stroke reminded me that I was physically and mentally well prepared for it and that I could continue for as long as this cross needed me.

The English Channel was another story. The jellyfish sting was truly painful, even though it all happened very fast, I had to stop for a moment and take the time to understand that I was experiencing a crisis. Once I understood it, I allowed my body to react. Throwing up made me feel liberated, then I took several deep breaths and I was ready to continue.

When we were about to arrive to France and the current became heavier against me, I remember it had already gotten dark and I couldn’t see anything except for the boat’s light and France at the distance. I had to focus on the goal, literally. I continued trusting my captain’s route and hearing the cheers my coaches were throwing at me enthusiastically from the boat. Their voices made me very emotional and filled me with the strength needed to continue without stopping.

Once more, I remembered the preparation I underwent, all the hard training sessions and knew that all the previous swims had led me to that moment. I was certain inside that there was no way I would give up, I could feel how my friends (especially the JJ team, my parter and my family) were there with me in each stroke. And that is how I just made it to the end, with them in mind.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Where and how much did you train for each of your swims?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: I trained every single day. From Monday to Friday I swam 6 to 7 kilometers in the pool. It would take me from 1:45 to 2 hours daily. Then, Saturdays and Sundays, I would go swim for 6 to 8 hours to some nearby open waters like Las Estacas (a river) or la Laguna de Achichica (a lagoon), or sometimes I would fly to San Diego to swim in the sea. This weekend trips were very helpful because the temperature at these places is usually around 15º to 18º C; it can even reach the 12ºC in winter.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Did you ever have any doubts of your successes before the swims began?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: Honestly, no. I had some fear, like anyone would when facing something new or a real big challenge. I was also aware of the possibility of not being able to achieve it for all the things that are not within my control. But at a personal level, during my trainings, I tried to work heavily on every fear or insecurity that would come up. I would talk about it with my coaches and they always had the best advice I needed.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What advice do you have of others, especially working adults, when setting out to achieve certain goals in the open water?

Izebel Sierra Arenas: I consider that discipline is key. One needs to have a truly strictly ordered life to be able to handle both the professional responsibilities as well as the athletic ones. It is really important to be in every training, so being able to wake up as early as needed to make it was basic for me since I had to be at 9 sharp at the bank for my job.

On the other hand, resting and eating properly is another important part for that is what gives you the optimal performance during training and ultimately during the crosses.

And, finally, I must add, the people who have surrounded me during these intense years, especially my partner, are my most important pillar, they have supported me in each and every moment filling me with positive energy to keep going even in the middle of adversity.

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Steven Munatones