Caellach Gibbons ’12 completes the English Channel swim


Cait Gibbons

Caellach Gibbons, class of 2012, completed the English Channel Swim in July. “Sometimes I find myself marveling at the scope of the accomplishment, but more often that not I just think about how crazy I was to think I could do it,” she said.

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Her limbs fight the current, straining to cut through another cresting wave. She navigates changing tides pulling at her feet and hands, and winds whipping up the water’s surface with help from the pilot boat bobbing nearby.

Between that first instant the English Channel enveloped Caellach Gibbons’ body at 11:40 PM on Jul. 21 to when she climbed out with torn muscles 15 hours later, she swam through a grand physical and mental test of endurance, and of discovery.

Gibbons, a St. Paul Academy and Summit School ‘12 Alumnus and founder of Swim for  Survivors, completed the English Channel Swim the summer of this year. Gibbons talked about her goal for Swim for Survivors last May in an article for Aureus, describing how her experience as a sexual assault survivor impacted her.

“Slowly, one stroke at a time, I am reclaiming my body. Swimming has helped me realize that here’s a difference between being victimized and being a victim. I was victimized, and I am not a victim. I am a survivor,” Gibbons stated in the Aureus article.

At the time, she had been training for over a year and, now, Gibbons reflects on her experience during the swim. The English Channel is a stretch of water – the Strait of Dover – of 21 miles in a line from coast to coast. Swimmers get pushed up and down the straight due to winds and currents, overall increasing the distance and time taken to complete it. Even if swimming the channel in a straight line were possible, the task is daunting to most.

“I know that I had swum the Channel more than 10 times over with all of the training that I had been doing. There was never any doubt in my mind that I could finish the swim,” Gibbons said.

Her confidence and training put her in a good mental position to swim, despite the extreme physical pain and endurance. Nine hours into the swim, Gibbons’ right shoulder gave out, and then as the swim went on she continued to tear muscles in her arms and either side of the torso.

“Whenever the shoulder pain felt unbearable, I just thought about all of the people who had reached out, and who had supported me along the way. I wasn’t just swimming or myself; I was swimming for every single survivor of sexual violence,” she said.

After completing the swim she hopes to continue her journey by perhaps completing the “triple crown” – swimming the Catalina channel in California and around Manhattan island.

Gibbons’ desire to change the conversation around sexual violence and the word victim, to show how strong she and other survivors who fight every day are, motivated her to swim on. This, and the view of France’s coastline as her body and mind fought through the water shook off any discouragement, pulling her limbs forward and back to complete just one more stroke.

“I wanted to make it abundantly clear that survivors are strong, powerful people. We actively have to fight to get through every single day, just like I had to fight to get through that swim. But ultimately we are survivors, not victims.”