Mission accomplished: Catalina solo swim shines a shine light on suicide loss
British endurance swimmer Anna Wardley, 43, completed a crossing of the iconic Catalina Channel in California in 18 hours and 31 minutes on Friday (9 Aug) as part of her mission to shine a light on suicide loss.
The Catalina Channel Swimming Federation congratulated Anna on what they described as a “fantastic achievement” for persevering for more than 18 hours to complete the solo crossing.
This was Anna’s first major swim since being medically evacuated from the Menorca Channel in 2016 after losing consciousness due to extensive jellyfish stings during a swim from Menorca to Mallorca.
She started the 33km swim from Santa Catalina Island towards Los Angeles at 10:51pm local time on Thursday night (8 August) accompanied by a 17-metre pilot vessel, Magician.
“I got into the water in pitch darkness and had to swim for almost seven hours in the inky water before daybreak which was a big challenge as they are waters frequented by great white sharks. I also faced head currents and significant water temperature drop when I reached the Continental Shelf, but I dug deep motivated by the fact that I was doing the swim to shine a light on suicide loss, something I experienced when my dad took his own life when I was nine.”
“Like many who have lost somebody to suicide, I’m familiar with navigating the darkness and nothing I face in the water comes close to the challenges that I’ve faced on land even if that’s swimming through shark territory in the dark. Those experiences give me the resilience to persevere when the going gets tough.”
Throughout the crossing, Anna was also escorted by a kayak, paddled by Los Angeles-based Dan Garr and Robin Hipolito, who rotated every three hours. The kayakers reported dolphins nearby during the night and also a grey whale, which surfaced before diving down below Anna.
Anna stopped to feed every 30 minutes during the crossing and support crew chief Kaeti Bailie was in charge of preparing her feeds which included rice pudding, mashed banana and caramel sauce, fresh mango, Tunnocks teacakes and pasta.
Two observers from the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, Linda Bamford and Patricio Libenson, were also on board to ratify Anna’s crossing. The swim was completed under international marathon swimming rules, which deem that only a regular swimsuit, cap and goggles can be worn, and the swimmer cannot make contact with anyone or any vessel during the crossing.
During her Catalina Channel crossing it’s estimated that Anna took over 63,000 strokes, and towards the end of the swim Anna reported significant pain in her right elbow. She was given painkillers, served up in the end of bananas, at regular intervals.
The water temperature dropped from over 20 degrees at the start of the crossing to a chilly 13 degrees in the final hours as Anna reached the Continental Shelf where the temperature plummets.
“There was a major temperature drop towards the end of the swim, which was a bit of a shock to my system but it felt like an ice pack on my sore muscles which came as a welcome relief,” Anna said.
Anna finished the swim at 5:22pm local time on Friday (9 Aug) at Terranea Beach, a couple of miles along the coast from US President Donald Trump’s National Golf Club Los Angeles, after battling a head current for the final hours as she approached the Californian mainland.
Anna described the finish as a “major challenge” as she had to approach a rocky beach in the Pacific surf, then climb up slippery rocks unaided to get beyond the waterline in order to officially finish the challenge.
“It was really tough getting out in the surf onto the slippery rocks. There was lots of kelp and I couldn’t stand up after swimming for so many hours. My muscles were cramping up in my legs as I tried to climb out,” she said.
After spending a couple of days recovering at her support crew chief’s home in Sonoma, located in California’s famous wine valley, Anna has embarked on the next leg of her Churchill Fellowship travels which took her to Australia in June, and will also take her to Denmark visiting projects supporting children after suicide loss.
Anna arrived in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday where she is visiting the Dougy Center, a world leader in childhood bereavement support, and on Saturday she will travel to Montana where she is assisting on a Camp to Remember at Flathead Lake, a grief camp run by the Tamarack Grief Resource Center.
“I’m here in the USA on my Churchill Fellowship travels to research how we can better support children after suicide loss, and my Catalina Channel swim, challenging as it was, is nothing compared to what is faced by children when they lose a parent to suicide,” Anna said.