Stripes spotlight: Lieutenant swims the distance to reach her goal
Stars and Stripes December 13, 2004
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — At age 8, Rose Rice boldly told her swim coach that someday she would make the Olympics and cross the English Channel.
She missed the Olympics in the 800-meter freestyle by only a fraction of a second as a high school senior. But earlier this year, at age 30, she fulfilled her childhood goal and achieved the swimmer’s equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Lt. Rose made history Aug. 28 by becoming the first female U.S. naval officer to cross the 24-mile-wide channel. She swam across the body of water in 10 hours and 21 minutes.
The swim was an incredible test of mental toughness for the clinical psychologist from the naval station hospital.
“Part of it is just mental,” she said. “I’ve done the distance before. It’s actually a fairly straightforward, easy swim. There’s the currents and stuff. But that whole psychological thing took on a life of its own.”
Conquering the lifelong goal of swimming the channel changed her life. It is a huge accomplishment, but she has a history of beating the odds.
Rice, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y., graduated from West Point in 1995 with hopes of pinning on her 2nd lieutenant bars. However, the Army would not let her because she has a neuromuscular disorder.
“Imagine going to medical school for four years and then never getting to be a doctor,” she said. “So, I go to the academy for four years to be an officer in the military and they say, ‘Thanks but you have to go.’”
After getting her doctorate in psychology, she still had the desire to be in the military.
She tried for more than a year to convince the Navy to give her a waiver until they finally did.
Although the Army booted her for medical reasons, she proved her athleticism in the pool. The Navy allows sailors to substitute the running portion of their test with the swim. And when she took her physical readiness test, she swam so fast that the computer wouldn't accept her score. She shattered the men’s best score by swimming the 500 meters in around five minutes.
“I couldn’t even pass my age group running,” Rice said, laughing. “Thank goodness I’m in the Navy.”
She thought about giving up long distance swimming, but she decided she couldn’t until she crossed the English Channel. She trained for nearly six months preparing for the distance and the 62-degree waters.
Rice swam nearly seven days a week to get ready. On weekdays, she swam three to four hours in the pool. On weekends, she would swim four to six hours. She twice swam across the bay to the city of Cadiz, a 12-mile round trip.
Her husband, Doron Fields, coached her and made sure she followed the rigorous regiment.
“My training without him would’ve lasted one week,” she said.
He followed her in an escort boat the entire swim across the channel. Every 20 minutes, Rice would drink some water or eat a snack so she could finish.
When she got ashore, she ran around and did a cartwheel before swimming back to the rowboat.
That glimmering moment would be enough for most swimmers, but not Rice.
She plans on crossing the Strait of Gibraltar this summer with her husband. The strait is only eight miles at its narrowest point between Spain and Morocco, but the currents, wind and ships will make it a challenge, she said.
She also hasn’t ruled out another swim across the English Channel.
The fact that she missed her personal goal of crossing the channel in less than 10 hours left her slightly disappointed. She says this even though she reached the channel faster than any woman this year and had the third fastest time overall.
“The fact is that I would rather have taken 15 hours and gotten across than not getting across at all,” she said of her first attempt. “But there is a part of me that it is a little bit heartbroken.”