Two and a half years, 25 pounds and more than 1,000 water-logged training miles later, Katy Dooley is ready to stick her toes in the English Channel and go for a swim.
Dooley, 45, a former University of Texas swimmer and Ironman triathlete, is heading to Dover, England, this week. Sometime between Sept. 7 and 14, depending on weather and water conditions, she'll start her mission to swim across the channel.
We sat down this week at Whole Foods Market, where she told me that she's feeling "extra special surly." In Katy-speak, that means anxious and excited. And who can blame her?
Dooley purposely gained 25 pounds for insulation for the swim. ("I've think I've mastered the gaining of weight," she says.) She's logged hundreds of miles swimming under the guidance of coach Whitney Hedgepeth at Longhorn Aquatics, and many more gliding through the cold water at the low-water crossing below Mansfield Dam. Even a broken foot in April didn't slow her down.
She made a six-hour swim up Lake Austin, joined a four-woman relay that swam 28 miles around Manhattan and, a year ago, swam through the night from Catalina Island to the California coast.
She's tough. And brave. And confident.
When a support kayaker in that Manhattan swim asked how he'd find her after the group start, she said, "I'll be the one in front." And she was.
But the English Channel is different. "I think this is the pinnacle for me," she says. "It's kind of like saying ‘I'm going to climb Mount Everest.' "
It's 21 miles from Dover to the French shore as the crow flies, but that's not how you swim it. Because of tides and currents, channel-crossing swimmers cover a snaking course that adds several miles to the route.
"Ten hours would be a screaming perfect day," Dooley says. "But if you miss the cape you swim another 3 hours. You have to pretend you're Nemo and keep swimming."
Luckily, she loves to swim. She's strong and aggressive swimmer, with a whirling, windmill stroke.
"Everyone who swims with Katy loves her attitude and her unforgettable lively personality," says Hedgepeth, her coach. "She brings great humor to our workouts at Longhorn Aquatics."
In some ways, she says, the swim will be less daunting than last year's Catalina Channel crossing. "I know what being in the middle of nowhere feels like," she says. "I know I don't need to fear that. I'll have a boat full of people right there watching every move."
Her crew will feed her by tossing a bottle on a rope to her periodically. She'll also gargle with mouthwash every hour.
Water temperatures probably will be around 63 or 64 degrees, and she won't be wearing a wetsuit. To make sure she's braced for that cold, she plans to take some ice baths this week.
Cold water isn't all that's on her mind. Sharks aren't usually a problem in the English Channel, but jellyfish can be. It's one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. She knows the pain will come, but isn't afraid of that, either.
"Inevitably you're going to have pain, but you can control pain," she says.
Prepared for the worst and hoping for the best, she's tapering now, bringing down the intensity of her swims. She says she's ready.
"It's not something simply done. It took a lot to get to this point," she says.
The support boat is paid for — a roughly $4,000 investment — and hotel rooms booked. "I could be driving a BMW instead of swimming across the English Channel," she jokes.
Dooley is using her swim to raise money for Safe4Athletes, an organization that works to prevent bullying and harassment in sports, and Colin's Hope, which works to prevent childhood drowning.
She plans to tweet when she finishes the swim. Follow her on Twitter at @kdirish.
Contact Pam LeBlanc at 445-3994.