“Human endeavour is miraculous. Pioneering spirit is within all of us: our own lives are there to be explored and this incredible planet we live on is an absolute gift to be cherished and learned from. It’s our right to learn about ourselves and our responsibility to do what we can with what we learn.” - Beth French
In October 2016, Beth French, a British ultra-marathon open-sea swimmer, embarked on an extraordinary journey to swim across the seven most dangerous sea-channels in the world, an official challenge called Oceans Seven. For extreme swimmers it’s the ultimate test, comparable to climbing the Seven Summits in mountaineering. Only six people have ever completed Oceans Seven but never in one year, which is what Beth set out to do.
Having suffered from severe M.E. (a.k.a. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) as a teenager, a condition that she wasn’t formally diagnosed with until she was confined to a wheelchair at the age of 17, Beth spent much of her adult life searching for a way of coping with the illness. Beth travelled and studied abroad, learning about indigenous alternatives to healthcare; including Lomi Lomi, an ancient Hawaiian massage technique and she ordained as a Buddhist nun in a Thai monastery, where she learned about deep meditation. But the key for managing her M.E. has been her love for water and her ‘discovery’ of long-distance swimming. As a single mother, Beth cited her motivation for setting out on her Oceans Seven adventure as a way to teach her son, Dylan, who has autism, that you are not limited by your condition. You can overcome your impediments and adversities by facing them head on with confidence and resolve.
Preparing for Oceans Seven was a colossal task. It took years, involved hundreds of supporters and cost tens of thousands of pounds. Eight months into the race, Beth had conquered the first four channels, swimming a total distance of 73 miles. With the Catalina Channel (USA), Molokai, (Hawaii), Cook Strait (New Zealand), and the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain / Morocco) already under her belt, Beth was determined and persistent, growing stronger with each crossing and was ready for the notorious Tsugaru Strait in Japan in July 2017.
It was a historic event; nobody has ever swum five Oceans Seven crossings in one year. But here, after ten hours in the water, something completely unexpected happened, Beth decided to quit the race. Why? Not because of the life threatening dangers or because she was unable to cope physically. She was in great shape and had nearly finished the swim. But with Dylan becoming increasingly anxious about the many long-haul trips and struggling with the constant changes to his routine, he began expressing worries about being separated from his mother during the swims and started fearing for her life. She encountered a profound sense of doubt but it took many more hours of swimming before she found “grace in the water”, offering her the clarity and courage to make one of the most difficult decisions of her life: to stop the challenge for the sake of her son. Perhaps teaching him an even greater life lesson; it’s admirable to know when to stop.
“It was a huge decision, but the lesson I chose today is to let go." – Beth French