Braving the high seas in battle against cancer

China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-24 08:40
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Elizabeth Beisel, pictured in 2012 at the US Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska, will attempt to become the first woman to swim from Port Judith, Rhode Island to Block Island, which is situated 20 kilometers off the northeastern coast of the United States. The three-time Olympian lost her father, Ted Beisel, to cancer in July, and is undertaking the challenge in order to raise funds for cancer research and clinical trials through Swim Across America. AP

Inspired by her father's plight, Olympian embarks on perilous charity swim

When Elizabeth Beisel's dad got the awful news-pancreatic cancer-the Olympic swimming medalist knew she had to do something, anything, that would give him a reason to get up every morning.

Off the coast of her native Rhode Island is a popular vacation spot where Ted Beisel and his family had spent so many treasured moments over the years. Voila!

Elizabeth Beisel decided she would swim to Block Island-20 kilometers from Port Judith, Rhode Island-to honor her ailing father and raise money for cancer research.

Never mind that she had retired from competition after three Olympics. Never mind that she had done all her serious swimming in the pool, never in treacherous open waters like the Atlantic Ocean.

"Go big or go home, right?" she said over the phone this week.

Sadly, her father won't be there to cheer her on Saturday when she attempts to become the first woman to complete the grueling swim to Block Island.

Ted Beisel died July 1, roughly seven months after his cancer was diagnosed. He was 71.

But his daughter has no doubt that her quest made his final months a bit more bearable.

"He knew that he and his fight was going to help somebody else beat cancer, or maybe just spend an extra few weeks with a loved one," she said. "This entire swim gave my dad a sense of new meaning. That's all you can ask for as a daughter."

Ted Beisel's spirit will be looming when Elizabeth steps into those cool Atlantic waters for a daunting journey that figures to take up to seven hours to complete.

If she actually makes it.

"There's definitely some trepidation, only because it's something I've never done before," Beisel said. "I believe I can, but I haven't done it. That's something mentally I will have to overcome-especially in the middle of the swim, when inevitably I will want to quit."

The 29-year-old Beisel competed in three Olympics over her long career on the US national team, becoming as well known for her booming voice and uninhibited personality as she was for her excellence in the water.

She was the youngest member of the American team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a few weeks shy of her 16th birthday when she just missed out on medals in her two events with fourth- and fifth-place finishes.

Four years later in London, Beisel claimed silver in the 400-meter individual medley and bronze in the 200m backstroke. She closed out her Olympic career with a sixth-place finish in the 400 IM at the 2016 Rio Games.

She won't be racing the clock on her way to Block Island, but she is following all the rules and regulations of marathon swimming.

Beisel will be wearing a regulation one-piece suit, similar to the one she used to practice in as a pool swimmer. She'll only have one cap and one set of goggles. She can't grab onto either of the two boats accompanying her to get in a little rest.

The water temperature is expected to be in the upper 60s (roughly 20 degrees Celsius), a good 10 degrees colder than she was used to in the pool. She's been taking cold showers to acclimate her body to the chilly conditions.

Beisel is most concerned about the winds and potential swells that could throw her off course or make her swim even more strenuous than she's already expecting.

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