Vail Doc Swims English Channel

Original Post by Randy Wyrick on August 31, 2012

If you’re Dr. Tom Hackett, swimming the English Channel is the second most fun you can have in the dark.

It really was a dark and stormy night when Hackett, orthopaedic surgeon with the Steadman Clinic, swam 34 miles across the English Channel in 62-degree water, starting at 3 a.m. in 6-foot seas that tossed him around like the flotsam he kept colliding with.

Through the first four hours or so, he stopped every 10 or 15 minutes to vomit and wretch from the seasickness.

“It was miserable. I loved it,” Hackett said smiling.

Hackett has been a carpenter, a ski patroller and mountain guide. The orthopaedic surgeon gig with the Steadman Philippon Clinic is pretty much his first indoor job.

“I’m used to being cold,” he said.

While he was heaving and retching and trying not to die, he took two direct jellyfish hits. They hurt as much as advertised. The first was in the pitch black of pre-dawn. The second was at dawn. He had one of those moments – several actually – when he thought this might not have been his best idea ever.

“I couldn’t get that idea out of my head,” he said.

Select swimmers

You hear about people swimming the English Channel, the first was Captain Matthew Webb in 1875, but almost no one ever does. When you’re done you get to add your name to a list of channel swimmers written on the wall of the White Horse Pub in England. That’s the whole payoff, and it’s a short list.

It’s 25 miles in a straight line, and the shortest distance between two points remains a straight line. But ocean currents don’t run in a straight line, and neither do you if you’re fighting to swim through them.

To make it an official Channel swim you work through the Channel Swimming Association. You have to hire a certified boat pilot, someone who knows the water, the currents, and who’ll do as much as possible to keep you alive – even if you’ve apparently abandoned your sense of self preservation. Stuart Gleeson captained Hackett’s pilot boat.