In August 2017, Sarah Thomas, then 35, of Colorado, swam into the record books with a staggering 104.6-mile unassisted, current-neutral swim in Lake Champlain, and quickly turned her attention to training for an unprecedented four-way English Channel crossing scheduled for September 2019. But in November 2017, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Throughout her treatment, which included chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, she swam as much as she could and kept her eyes on the other side – her goal of becoming the first person to complete that 84-mile quadruple English Channel swim.
In March 2019, just seven months after finishing active treatment for cancer, Thomas completed a challenging Cook Strait crossing in 14:09. On 10 August, she completed a 32-mile, two-way crossing of Colorado’s largest lake, Blue Mesa, in 15:36. Outdoor Swimmer caught up with her two days later as she began final preparations for her upcoming four-way Channel attempt.
What was your Cook Strait swim like?
After Cook Strait, I definitely had some demons that came up. I desperately wanted to quit in the middle, and that’s never happened before. It was my first swim back and I was expecting to be excited and happy. But the conditions were miserable and I was sick, and I began doubting whether I had the drive or mental capability to keep swimming.
How did your 32-mile Blue Mesa swim fit into your training plan?
I’ve also been slower since cancer. And I was worried I wouldn’t be fast enough anymore. That piece was bugging me, and that’s why it was important to me to do this Blue Mesa swim. Thirty-two miles is a long way, and I knew it was going to take at least 16 hours. That’s a good, solid swim and longer than Cook, so I figured I could come to terms with that demon and know whether I still have that mental edge.
How do you feel about your upcoming quadruple Channel attempt?
In Blue Mesa, I was really proud that I was able to swim 2 miles per hour over 32 miles consistently. I had some pain in my right arm [the side where she had surgery], but I know I can push through that and keep swimming. I know that I’m strong right now.