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Gulf & Main Magazine

Fort Myers’ Graduate, Heather Roka, Swims the English Channel Double in 25 Hours

Oct 12, 2021 05:00PM ● By Jessica Wagner

Photo Courtesy of News-Press' Website

Heather Roka completed what only 9 other Americans could do in August; swim the English Channel and back. She did it in only 25 hours and 7 minutes.

The Fort Myers’ graduate swam 42 miles straight - 21 miles between Dover, England to Northern France, and back. She is the 38th person in the world to be able to accomplish this feat.

"I figured it would definitely be the hardest thing I had ever attempted and definitely push me to the limits and really risk failure,” Roka said," according to News-Press.

Roka’s determination and dedication to long-distance swimming are not new. As a part of the Green Wave’s girls’ swimming state champion team and continuing to swim in North Carolina at Gardner-Webb, Roka has been practicing for this since she was a teenager.

“Most distance swimmers, if you’re interested at all in open water, English Channel’s always like that goal,” Roka said. “The toughest people do the English Channel – that just has so much fame and attention.”

This wasn’t her first time swimming in the English Channel. In 2017, Roka finished the single swim in 12 hours and 13 minutes. It didn’t take long for her to realize if she could do the single swim, she could also do the double. Six months after completing the first leg, she signed up for the double-crossing.

Knowing what to expect from the first swim, Roka felt better prepared for the double.

“It really helped mentally – things like knowing I didn’t enjoy night swimming,” she said. “So going into that mindset prepared (me) that it was going to be a lot of time in the dark and how was I going handle it better than the first time.”

The training was a bit of a challenge, though, as being in Florida meant Roka couldn’t train in the 59-to-64 degree water that she would be swimming in.

Luckily, the 10-day quarantine England had in place for U.S. citizens was lifted right before she flew over. This meant she could swim in the Dover Marina for a week before her feat.

The swim began on August 20 at 10 pm.

“The way the swim works is the boat’s captain will navigate and make sure the swimmer stays close. There is also a crew on board, and they are responsible for hydrating and feeding the swimmer. There are observers on the boat as well to ensure the swimmer is following the rules of marathon open water swimming,” according to News-Press.

Roka finished the first part of the swim at 10:16 am in France on August 21.

She then ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and jumped right back in for the second stretch, which she describes as the most challenging thing she’s experienced in life. 

“Just muscle fatigue-wise, things were really hurting around 15 hours and just mentally knowing that, 'OK we’re at 15 hours and your wrist and shoulder are really hurting. Are you going to be able to keep going?'” Roka said.

Keep going she did. At 11:07 pm on August 21, Heather Roka reached the shores of Dover and accomplished her dream.

When asked how she was able to push through, Roka stated “Pick what you’re going to enjoy that’s a challenge and then push yourself, and, when you think you can’t go or complete it anymore, you can,” she said. “Just focus on the very, very immediate, what’s right in front of you. Don’t get caught up in – ‘I’m never going to be able to do this, it’s too hard.’”

Heather Roka is an inspiration to many and although she completed arguably the hardest swimming task, she’s not done yet.

“There are “plenty more swims to come” in Roka’s future, she said.”