Try Try Again, Swimming With Joanna Cain

Try Try Again, Swimming With Joanna Cain

Joanna Cain is an energetic entrepreneur whose open water swimming aim is to achieve the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.

But her first attempt across the English Channel did not go to plan. Disappointed, but undaunted, Cain remains even more motivated to achieve her goals and explains her experiences and motivations.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You own two companies and do so much. How do you balance work and training?

Joanna Cain: It’s not easy owning two companies and training so much. [But] I’m single with no children which means that my time is my own. I can swim for 6 hours on a Sunday morning, go grab lunch, and then go to bed for the rest of the day without disrupting others’ schedules. So that time that my peers are spending at kids’ soccer games, etc. is the time that I’m in the water with no other obligations.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You are a nurse, however, you swam until your heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute and swam until you were unconscious and pulled from the water. How did that happen?

Joanna Cain: I was hypothermic and had lost consciousness very briefly once before I lost consciousness for good. When I lost consciousness the first time and then came to, I swam to the boat and told my father, a retired physician, that I was fading fast. It was dark around 1 am, very cold, and the current was literally pushing me backwards into the Channel. I progressed 50 yards in that last hour I was in the water. The conditions were terrible.

When I swam to the boat, I made the decision that I needed to get out of the water; otherwise, I was going to die if I stayed in that water much longer. I could feel my body shutting down. I so desperately wanted to make it to France, but I knew that my body only had 15-30 minutes left before I was in serious trouble. My father and I discussed the consequences of me getting in the boat. I then started to swim to the back of the boat to climb aboard and that’s when I lost consciousness. One of the crew jumped in and swam me to the boat because I was passed out and sinking. Everyone on deck then pulled me aboard. I faded in and out of consciousness for 20 minutes heading back to Dover before I fully came to. I didn’t understand that I had not completed the swim. I thought that I had made it to France. It wasn’t until much later that same day – after my brain thawed – that it started to sink in.


Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You were pulled unconscious from the English Channel, yet you want to do it again. How much guts does that take? Why?

Joanna Cain: I can’t leave it undone. There is no way I can live the rest of my life knowing I was 1.5 miles from France and leave it there. I can’t even be remotely satisfied with that even though my swim day was a terrible one in terms of conditions. I trained for 3 years – except when I was recovering from surgeries, underwent 2 wrist surgeries in those 3 years, gained 30 pounds, and pushed my body harder than it has been pushed since my 20s. During the most intense training period, from January to August 2013, I was exhausted all of the time. But the English Channel was extremely important to me and was worth putting the rest of my life on the back burner. I was also extremely fortunate to have a tremendous support group both in and out of the water that kept me going. And when I’m ready to start training hard again, I’m hoping they’ll still be there for Round Two. And I’ll keep doing this crazy thing until I stand on the beach in France.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Can you explain what happened during the attempt?

Joanna Cain: My swim started at noon which was a disaster. It is psychologically daunting to swim from sunlight into dark, especially in cold water. It is much better to start a marathon swim in the middle of the night and to swim into daylight. A storm was brewing in the Channel, and my boat captain started me at noon in hopes of out-running the storm as opposed to waiting a few days until the storm blew through. I had 25 mph head winds and rain beating on me once it turned dark. The tide also changed and that along with the tanker swells pushed me back toward England. I swam and swam and swam and made little progress after midnight. The good news is that I was clueless to this fact. My total [distance swum] was approximately 30 miles…I just never made it to France.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What happened afterwards, both short-term and long-term?

Joanna Cain: After the swim, the people in Dover and London were so gracious. They told me that I swam that Channel in some of the toughest conditions they’d heard of and that making it to France was over-rated anyway. Open water swimmers around the country emailed and Facebooked me saying that they were so proud because in their minds the conditions were “unswimmable” and I had hung in there for 14 hours.

I received lots of affirmation in London including several marriage proposals. One man said, ‘If you can hang in that Channel for 14 hours in conditions like that, I guess you can handle putting up with me for 30 years.’

I did have some minor PTSD after the swim…nightmares of drowning and being run over by tankers. Once back in Austin [Texas], I couldn’t wait to swim in my training pool. I was so excited to have walls and a contained space without jellyfish, high winds, and huge boats.

The swim didn’t go as I had hoped, but I just wasn’t meant to be successful on that particular day. I was definitely reminded that no matter how much we prepare for and truly desire a certain experience or result, there are larger forces out there that can thwart our best intentions.


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