Heather Smith helped the Sacred Heart Prep girls water polo team win three straight Central Coast Section Division II titles. That was easy compared to what she endured last week while becoming the 452nd woman in recorded history to swim the English Channel.
The 21-year-old Smith made the 21-mile swim from Dover (England) to Audresselles (France) in 11 hours, 10 minutes. While it was faster than the average time of 14 hours, Smith was hoping to make the treacherous trek in 10 hours.
"The swim itself was incredibly hard," Smith said. "It took everything I had mentally and physically to get through it."
Smith got her marathon day under way on July 21 at 6:30 a.m. She said the water was warmer than expected, 63 degrees instead of 57 or colder. She swam in sunlight the entire stretch and was aided by a favorable tide for the first six hours, until it turned sooner than expected -- thus the slower time.
Upon completing her swim in France, Smith returned to Dover via boat to rejoin her mother, Carol, and brother. She completed her remarkable trek by signing her name on the wall of the White Horse Pub, Dover's oldest bar.
Smith's dream to swim the English Channel began at Sacred Heart Prep.
"I decided over five years ago, when I was in high school, that I wanted to swim the Channel," she said. "After my first Alcatraz swim, when I was 16, I was hooked on open water swimming.
"Prior to the Channel swim, I had not done any really big swims. I have done five Alcatraz swims (she was the second-fastest female at the 2009 Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim), two Bridge to Bridge swims, and a 10k Lake Del Valle swim (in the East Bay)."
Smith started her training for the Channel swim in January of this year.
"However, I was at college at Bucknell (where she played water polo) and was only able to train in the pool," she said. "It was not until May, when I came home for the summer, that I was able to go to the Bay (Aquatic Park) and train in the cold water. On May 21, I did my first Aquatic Park swim and only could handle 40 minutes in the 56-degree water. Becoming acclimated to the cold was my biggest worry."
A swimmer is only allowed to wear a Speedo suit, goggles, and a cap during English Channel attempts -- in addition to be liberally covered in grease to fight the cold.
"My time in the water slowly improved and, by early June, I could handle two hours. On June 21, I did my six-hour qualifying swim in Aquatic Park. That was the longest swim of my training."
Then it was off to England to achieve a dream.