Sask. teen swims English Channel raising money for juvenile diabetes

REGINA – Seventy years after a soldier from Saskatchewan joked about swimming the English Channel, his teenage granddaughter has actually done it.

Her successful attempt was also a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Canada.

Meghan Chisholm, 19, of Swift Current made the crossing from Dover to the French coast on Tuesday in 14 hours and 39 minutes.

“I was really proud of her. That’s a real challenge,” Denis Chisholm, 90, said Wednesday from Regina.

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“Meghan, when she makes up her mind to do something, she does it.”

In the summer of 1944, he was standing on the shore at Cap Griz Nez in France. Chisholm was a member of the Regina Rifles Regiment and it had only been a few weeks since the D-Day invasion.

He was 20 at the time and was with the Canadians as they fought their way inland from Normandy, crossed the Seine River and turned out to the coast.

The region had heavily fortified German coastal batteries and was also used by the Nazis to launch the dreaded V1 flying bombs, also known as buzz bombs, which hit English cities late in the war.

“I remember standing on Cap Griz Nez and talking to an old buddy from Winnipeg. I said, ‘Johnny do you think we could swim that?’” Chisholm recalled.

“You could see the white cliffs of Dover. It was a beautiful day.”

“We were just kidding around. We were in the middle of the war. And England looked very enticing with the white cliffs.”

A few months ago, Chisholm learned that Meghan would attempt the swim that he and his friend had only chuckled about.

Meghan has been swimming competitively for years and is a lifeguard, swimming instructor and coaching assistant for the Swift Current Barracudas swim team.

She had always wanted to do a long-distance swim. But despite long months of preparation, surprises happened Tuesday morning when she set out.

Her father, John, explained in an email that Meghan wasn’t the only swimmer to depart and was slated to start fourth. But the swimmer in the No. 2 slot backed out, bumping her up to an earlier start time.

Meghan and her family made their way to the Dover docks at 5:30 a.m. She had only had four hours sleep. At 6:09 a.m., she slid into the water and started swimming for France.

The waves in the channel sometimes swelled to three metres high. Jellyfish stung her leg, arm and even her nose. She ate soup, chunks of banana and other high-carbohydrate mixtures that were passed to her in bottles.

She wasn’t allowed to touch the escort boat at any time.

That was the easy part. Ten kilometres from the French coast, the tide shifted and she was forced to reduce her speed.

“Am I swimming in circles? Where are we going?” she said of her thoughts during the swim. “I actually missed the tide to bring me in, so I was going against the waves,” Chisholm told CJME radio in Regina from Dover.

He father said they could see Cap Griz Nez to the east of them and a couple of French towns directly ahead.

“We shouted words of encouragement to her as she had come this far and now she was in grasp of the French coast,” he wrote in the email.

“The last four kilometres seemed like an eternity.”

Three strangers on the beach rushed to congratulate Meghan when she finally stepped out of the water on Tuesday evening. After chatting briefly with them, she waded back in to reach the escort boat.

Her total distance was 48.6 kilometres – 14 kilometres longer than planned due to the tides.

Her father said she told him she had wanted to give up, but remembered advice from an Australian swimmer who had already completed a successful crossing.

“He said to her that he felt the same thing, wanting to give up, but if he failed, he would only have to come back another time and do it all over again.”

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall congratulated Meghan on Wednesday on becoming the first person from his province to swim the channel.

The accomplishment was one her grandfather said he never could have imagined as he gazed out over the water decades ago.

“No, I never dreamed that 70 years later … I’d ever have somebody that would swim the English channel, or even think about it.”

©2014The Canadian Press