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Staying Calm in Rough Waters

Although the Manhattan island marathon swim was canceled last June when heavy rains stressed New York’s sewage treatment systems, MIT junior Nicholas Sidelnik jumped into the Hudson River anyway. Swimming 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) in cold, choppy, and perhaps even sewage-laced water was just one of many elements of a training regime that included, not only another marathon swim, but about 30,000 meters of swimming per week, to get him to his ultimate goal: swimming the English Channel.

Sidelnik, who has been swimming competitively since childhood, is a distance swimmer on the MIT swim team. Between studying aerospace engineering and economics, he trained last spring in the more hospitable environs of the Zesiger Pool, Walden Pond, and occasionally the ocean with his training partner Chris Lucas ‘03. On July 26 Sidelnik plunged into 16 C (60 F) water off Dover, England. He chose his course to Calais, France, with the aid of a book called Dover Solo, which pegged the distance at 38.12 kilometers (23.69 miles). Sidelnik estimates, however, that due to rough water, wind, and currents, he swam a 64-kilometer (40-mile) course. “You have to time your stroke and your breathing-make it match the rate of the waves,” he said. “Sometimes it felt like I was swimming in place.”

The English Channel swim is considered the Mount Everest of open-water swimming. Now Sidelnik is setting his sights on climbing the real thing.

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