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Air Force major completes swim across English Channel

Air Force Maj. Casey Bowen, dermatologist, 59th Medical Operations Group in San Antonio, swims in the ocean near Folkestone, England, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, to prepare for his solo swim across the English Channel. Bowen swam the channel from England to France on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in 12 hours and 9 minutes.

WILLIAM HOWARD/STARS AND STRIPES

By WILLIAM HOWARD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 27, 2016

DOVER, England — Air Force Maj. Casey Bowen fulfilled his dream of swimming across the English Channel Monday, completing the 21-mile distance to France in 12 hours 9 minutes.

Bowen and his friend Maj. Simon Ritchie — both Air Force Academy graduates, both passionate about swimming and endurance athletics, and both assigned to the 59th Medical Operations Group in San Antonio — had been waiting five days since their arrival in England for their turn to surmount a challenge they had trained two years for.

Bowen succeeded, becoming one of 1,406 people to swim solo across the channel since 1875, according to the Channel Swimming Association.

It wasn’t easy. Bowen said he almost quit after just two hours, overcome with nausea and seasickness, but Richie urged him on from the pilot boat that accompanied him across the channel with a safety monitor and an observer from the Channel Swimming Association.

“I told Simon that I didn’t think I could go on if I couldn’t keep any calories down, and our official observer echoed this sentiment,” Bowen said Tuesday.

But he made it through thanks to anti-nausea medication, Ritchie’s coaching from the boat, and thoughts of his family and friends rooting for him back home.

“It was exhilarating, especially with such a rocky start,” Bowen said. “I was very emotional when I finished. I thanked God for keeping me safe throughout the swim and thought of how much time with me my wife and girls have given up so that I could have this chance.

“When I got back to the boat Simon high-fived me and told me what a phenomenal job I had done. I certainly couldn’t have done it without his help. He got me through the darkest parts and kept me on target.”

Ritchie, who is still waiting for his chance, applauded his training buddy.

“He overcame some major adversity out there and put in a truly amazing performance,” Ritchie said. “My confidence got a huge boost from Maj. Bowen’s successful attempt.”

The two servicemembers arrived in England Wednesday, full of anticipation. Then they sat in their hotel room and waited for the call telling them it was their turn.

“There was a lot of tension building with the multiple times that we thought we were going,” Bowen said. Weather, tide and the number of other people hoping to swim the channel during the set window of time all play a role in determining who swims when.

Early Monday, they finally received the call, arriving at the Dover marina before dawn. The friends had previously agreed that Bowen would swim first.

Phil Collins, the association’s official observer for Bowen’s swim, said that even though each boat is equipped with a system to avoid collisions with other vessels, clear skies are required.

“Fog is the main factor because it can give you false readings on your equipment,” said Collins, who has three decades of experience as a boat skipper and has been an association observer for four years. “You’ve got to have 3 miles of visibility because you’re crossing the shipping lanes.”

“At the end of the day, peoples’ lives come first,” he said. “The channel will be there tomorrow.”

Ritchie is waiting and hoping the Channel will be there for him tomorrow, or maybe the next day, or the day after that. When he does swim, Bowen will be in the boat beside him.

howard.william@stripes.com

Air Force Majors Simon Ritchie, left, and Casey Bowen, dermatologists assigned to the 59th Medical Operations Group in San Antonio, on a pier at the marina in Dover, England, early in the morning of Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, before Bowen swam across the English Channel in 12 hours, 9 minutes.
WILLIAM HOWARD/STARS AND STRIPES

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