About 3.5 hours into her successful bid to become the 14th New Zealander to cross the English Channel, Tracy Clark spent five minutes throwing up pretty much everything in her stomach.
The problem was the weather. When she left Samphire Hoe in southeast England about 8am Sunday (local time), conditions were “pretty flat”.
But three hours later that changed dramatically, the wind blew up and the waves were 2m high. Clark became seasick and vomited.
“After that … the only think I kept down was a little bit of sport drink, two pineapple lumps and a banana,” she said.
“I was so afraid to eat because I felt so ill, but I think that made me dig in more.”
As she was being violently ill the possibility that she might not complete the swim entered her mind.
“But I kept telling myself over and over ‘stopping is not an option’,” 43-year-old Clark said.
She was inspired by her sons Connor, 10, and Alexander, 12.
“I didn’t want to stop and let them down.”
Then about four hours before the end of the 12-hour 46-minute swim her left shoulder started causing her trouble. Fortunately there was not much pain when she was pulling the arm through the water.
“But lifting it out of the water to bring it forward again I was getting stabbing pains into my shoulder and down my arm,” Clark said.
At that time she had thought of two friends dealing with cancer – one for the third time and the other for the second.
“I just kept saying their names over and over in my head … I thought, ‘get your shoulder moving’.”
She was also encouraged by text messages coming in from around the world that her husband Andy was writing on a whiteboard on the support boat.
After successfully crossing the channel inside her target of 14 hours, landing at Cap Gris-Nez in France, Clark had to get into the small support fishing boat for the three-hour trip back to England.
“You have to because technically you’re entering France illegally,” she said.
“I threw up constantly on the trip back and fainted three times.”
Clark, who lives in the Netherlands with her family, spent about 18 months preparing for the crossing.
She had realised she preferred swimming longer distances while growing up in west Auckland and being a member of the Avondale Swimming Club, then later the Mt Eden Swimming Club.
“I’m not built for speed,” she said.
She had become involved in longer distance swimming in her 20s, although that had faded away when she travelled and had a family.
With a challenge such as swimming the channel it was necessary to be at a point in your life where you had time to commit to the training, Clark said.
“That’s why a lot of people who attempt the channel successfully are older.”
In her immediate future she saw only light swimming, along with some gym classes to try to lose some of the 12kg she put on to keep warm during the swim. Wetsuits were not allowed.
Despite the demands of the channel swim, Clark was not ruling out the possibility of another long distance swim.
“I would love to think I could do Cook Strait.”
Clark decided to swim the channel for charity after raising almost 2000 Euro in the Amsterdam marathon.
The three charities to benefit from the swim are human trafficking organisation Fairwork, Breast Cancer Research Charity, and Dalyan Dog Rehabilitation Centre based in Turkey.