US Cancer Survivor Swims England Channel 4 Times in Record-Breaking Swim

By Reuters

U.S. endurance swimmer Sarah Thomas has become the first person to swim across the English Channel four times without stopping, refueling only on a liquid formula during her 54-hour feat.

The 37-year-old woman from Colorado performed her record-breaking swim a year after receiving treatment for breast cancer, and dedicated her achievement to fellow cancer survivors.

She came ashore on a beach near Dover, on the south coast of England, on Tuesday morning, exhausted and with a sore throat from all the saltwater.

“I was throwing up, I was sick,” she said, huddled in a towel.

endurance swimmer Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas reacts after she arrived to Shakespeare Beach, Dover, Britain on Sept. 17, 2019 in this still image taken from social media video. (CHANNEL SWIMMING ACADEMY via Reuters)

“I was really just pretty numb,” she told the BBC soon afterward in a croaky voice.

“There were a lot of people on the beach to meet me and wish me well. That was really nice of them, but I feel just mostly stunned right now, I just can’t believe we did it.”

In theory, the route that Thomas swam should have been 80 miles (130 km) long, but due to strong currents in the Channel, she in fact swam 130 miles (210 km). She said she saw lots of fish and jellyfish along the way.

Previously, four swimmers had crossed the water between England and France three times without stopping.

Thomas consumed only a liquid diet during her swim. Her support crew, following her in a boat, would throw her a bottle containing a mix of carbohydrates, electrolytes and some caffeine, with a little apple juice to improve the flavour.

Record-breaking swim 1
Endurance swimmer Sarah Thomas’ support crew, following her in a boat in this still image taken from video. (Jon Washer via CNN)

“That’s what I ate most of the way,” she said.

Upon arrival, she tried to celebrate with champagne but found it did not go down well. She did manage to eat some M&M chocolates.

“Hopefully I can sleep the rest of the day. I’m pretty out of it and pretty tired right now, for sure,” she said.

She dedicated her swim to “all the survivors out there” and for all those starting their “cancer journey.”

“This is for those of us who have prayed for our lives, who have wondered with despair about what comes next, and have battled through pain and fear to overcome,” she wrote.

Thomas’ achievement has drawn praise from leading figures in the swimming world and beyond. Lewis Pugh, an endurance swimmer who is best known for undertaking the first swim across the North Pole, described her as “extraordinary, amazing, super-human.”

Endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh
Endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh arrives on Shakespeare Beach after completing his 350 mile swim along the English Channel on Aug. 29, 2018 in Dover, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“Just when we think we’ve reached the limit of human endurance, someone shatters the records,” he wrote on Twitter. “Huge congratulations to Sarah Thomas on swimming the English Channel 4x continuously.”

He added: “Sarah Thomas has overcome 5 major hurdles to become the first person to swim the English Channel four times non-stop: 1. The cold. 2. Jellyfish. 3. Sheer exhaustion. 4. Keeping her mind going. 5. Believing that it was possible.”

Documenting The Feat

Thomas’ historic achievement is set to be featured in the upcoming documentary “The Other Side” made by filmmaker Jon Washer.

Washer told CNN that he met Thomas through marathon swimmer Elaine Howley. “Elaine, one of Sarah’s crew members, is a good friend of mine and introduced me to Sarah,” he said.

“We just knew her story needed to be told and began producing The Other Side via a successful crowd-funding campaign. And here we are.”

Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas after she arrived at Shakespeare Beach, Dover, Britain on Sept. 17, 2019. (Courtesy of Jon Washer)

He said that filming the crossing for the last 60 hours “was a nightmare.”

“But Sarah is so tough and inspirational, there was just no room for failure on my part. And we’re not anywhere close to finished,” he said.

By Estelle Shirbon

The CNN Wire contributed to this report.