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2nd Air Force major completes English Channel swim

Air Force Maj. Simon Ritchie swims across the English Channel to France early Monday morning, Oct. 3, 2016. He successfully completed the 21-mile swim in 11 hours, 24 minutes.

WILLIAM HOWARD/STARS AND STRIPES

By WILLIAM HOWARD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 4, 2016

DOVER, England ― Air Force Maj. Simon Ritchie had perhaps greater challenges to surmount in achieving his goal of swimming across the English Channel than his friend and fellow swimmer, Maj. Casey Bowen, who completed the swim a week earlier.

Ritchie accompanied Bowen, a fellow Air Force Academy graduate and partner in feats of endurance athletics, when he swam across the English Channel on Sept. 26. They had planned to swim on back-to-back days and root each other on. But that didn’t happen. Ritchie had to wait a full week before his turn and Bowen had to return to San Antonio, where both are assigned as dermatologists to the 59th Medical Operations Group.

Still Ritchie made the 21-mile crossing in 11 hours, 24 minutes, according to the pilot boat crew, beating Bowen’s time by almost an hour. His final time was to be posted to the Channel Swimming Association website. Without Bowen — who swam the channel in 12 hours 9 minutes — in the pilot boat to cheer him on and offer support as he had done for Bowen, Ritchie reached out on a Facebook swimming page.

Air Force veteran and Navy spouse Amy Hayes, who hopes to swim the channel next summer, had read about Bowen’s swim in Stars and Stripes and answered Ritchie’s call for help.

“When I read that Casey [Bowen] had difficulty with nausea at the beginning but overcame it and was able to finish, (it) made me feel better about the possibility of dealing with that,” Hayes said. “I had no experience in Dover and no experience on these boats. I got to be here for all of it and witness somebody do it and it will help me tremendously.”

Jason Betley, who successfully swam the channel in 2014, also stepped up to help Ritchie make the crossing.

“It’s just giving something back to other people who want to achieve their dream,” Betley said. “Lots of people helped me along the way when I swam the English Channel.”

A pilot boat with a support crew accompanying Ritchie lef the English coastline around 1 a.m. Monday. On the boat accompanying Ritchie, only the hum of the motor and Ritchie’s rhythmic splashes could be heard in the darkness.

Skipper Andy King and pilot James King guided Ritchie toward France as he battled through five-foot swells and endured four jellyfish stings.

“It’s like swimming through a thorn bush,” Ritchie said later.

Every 30 minutes, Ritchie consumed a meal of warmed Powerade, peaches or sports gels prepared by Betley and Hayes while treading ocean water.

After sunrise, the French coastline came into view as the white cliffs of Dover shrank in the distance.

Shortly after noon, Ritchie stepped onto a beach in France and collected a pebble as a souvenir of his successful swim.

“As optimistic as I wanted to be about today, I can’t actually believe that I finished,” Ritchie told Stars and Stripes minutes after reaching the French shore. “There were a lot of things I was concerned about, but with the help of my support crew I overcame those things and I’m just really happy.”

Although he wasn’t there in person, Bowen monitored Ritchie’s swim from afar.

“I was texting with Jason and Amy most of the way,” Bowen said by phone early Tuesday from San Antonio. “I didn’t really sleep because I was watching the tracker all night” on the Channel Swimming Association website.

“When I talked to Simon, I just told him that I was really proud of him and his awesome performance,” Bowen said.

Although Bowen couldn’t be there for Ritchie’s swim, the friends, who had trained together for two years for their channel swims, were side-by-side in their feat in a special place.

After returning in the boat to Dover, Ritchie entered the White Horse pub, to write his name and swim time on the wall next to Bowen’s.

In 2004, brothers Albert and Peter Bardoel signed their names, swim dates and times from England to France on the pub wall, and since then, everyone who has swum the channel has a spot on the walls or ceiling.

Local pub goers were impressed that he not only swam the channel but made it to the pub for a pint in the same day. Ritchie only wished that Bowen could have been there to share it.

“He sent a picture of our names on the wall next to each other,” Bowen said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”

howard.william@stripes.com
 

Air Force Maj. Simon Ritchie signs his name on the wall at the White Horse pub in Dover, England, next to his friend and training partner Maj. Casey Bowen after his successful swim across the channel from England to France on Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. Bowen swam the channel on Sept. 26. In 2004, brothers Albert and Peter Bardoel wrote their names, swim dates and times from England to France on the pub wall and since then everyone who's swum the channel past or present has a spot on the walls or ceiling.
WILLIAM HOWARD/STARS AND STRIPES

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