A 60-year-old Westbrook woman has set another marathon swimming record, this time becoming the oldest woman to cross the Catalina Channel in Southern California.
Pat Gallant-Charette made the 21-mile swim Tuesday in 14 hours and 12 minutes, according to the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, which monitored Gallant-Charette’s swim.
Gallant-Charette, who in August became the oldest American woman to swim across the English Channel, broke the previous Catalina Channel record, held by 56-year-old Barbara Held.
“It was a very exciting swim, to be escorted to the finish line by over 100 dolphins,” Gallant-Charette said by phone Wednesday night as she ate dinner at a restaurant in California. “It was kind of a mystical experience. I was not expecting that.”
Gallant-Charette and her boat crew, which included her brother Bill Gallant and his wife, Jean, of Windham, joined hands as she prepared to jump into the ocean off Catalina Island in total darkness early Tuesday.
They dedicated the swim to her brother John, who died after being electrocuted in 1972 during a physics experiment at Westbrook High School.
Her brother Robbie died at the age of 34 from a heart attack. His name was printed on her swim cap.
Gallant-Charette said the boat’s captain shone a light onto the ocean’s surface. She saw thousands of flying fish gliding over the water. There were two sea lions nearby, and two pelicans landed on the water in front of the boat. Suddenly, six dolphins showed up.
“My crew said they were giving me a sendoff,” Gallant-Charette said.
The swim wasn’t easy. She had to do the backstroke when she started having dry heaves. “I had quite a few excuses for stopping,” she said, “but I didn’t because I was going for the world record.”
After 13 hours of swimming, she got terrified when she noticed something large swimming beneath her. It had a dorsal fin. She thought it might be a shark because sharks have been seen in those waters.
In her blog, Gallant-Charette said her fear turned to embarrassment when the boat crew yelled, “They’re dolphins, you are being escorted by over 100 dolphins to the finish line.”
Her brother Bill Gallant of Windham said it is hard to find words to describe his sister’s accomplishments.
“She’s pretty awesome. I can’t describe how I feel. It’s unbelievable, to me, that a person could do something like this,” he said.
Another brother David Gallant of Westbrook stayed at home but said his sister, who is a grandmother, “is the most incredible athlete I’ve ever seen or met.”
David Gallant said he is trying to persuade his sister to swim the length of Maine’s Moosehead Lake and back.
But Gallant-Charette said she’s considering a much more serious challenge.
Next year, she plans to swim the North Channel, a 21-mile stretch of frigid, jellyfish-infested waters between Scotland and Northern Ireland. She called the North Channel one of the most difficult swims in the world.
“I believe I can do it because I’ve put in the time,” said Gallant-Charette, who trains five or six days a week.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be reached at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]