Lives in: Westbrook
Sport: Long-distance swimming
Twenty years ago, the closest Pat Gallant-Charette got to participating in sports was sitting on the sidelines cheering for her kids.
But today, the 60-year-old is setting records as a long-distance, open-ocean swimmer, braving sharks, icy temperatures and even swimming at night in waters so dark she wouldn’t know what direction she was going without spotters to guide her. On Aug. 22, she finally reached her goal of swimming across the English Channel. It was her third attempt at crossing the channel. The first was in 2008, when currents forced her back 1.7 miles from the French coast. The second attempt was canceled in 2009 due to weather conditions.
She was inspired in part by her brother, Robert, himself an accomplished swimmer, who died of a heart attack at age 34 in 1997. Gallant-Charette has gained attention in the swimming world, and has parlayed that into awareness through Swim for Your Heart Feb. 14, an annual swimming event geared toward raising awareness for heart disease research.
How did you get involved with long-distance swimming?
(More than 10 years ago) my son said he wanted to swim the Peaks to Portland in memory of my brother Robbie. I said, “That’s so sweet. I wish I could do that,” and he said, “Well, you could if you tried,” so I did.
What fuels your passion?
I love the sport. It’s a lot of fun. We’re also really focused on the Swim for Your Heart Feb 14. I don’t want to see any other family go through what we went through with Robbie.
What female athletes have inspired you?
Penny Palfrey from Australia. She’s one of the top open-water swimmers in the world. She gave me a lot of tips for swimming the Strait of Gibraltar. Lynne Cox, who wrote “Swimming to Antarctica.” She’s well known in the swimming world. We’ve corresponded a number of times. Barbara Held, from California. She was almost in the Olympics, then she got out of swimming for a number of years. Just a couple of years ago, she started getting back into it. She’s in her 50s.
What are your goals?
I have a lot of things on the back burner. In October I’ll be swimming Catalina (21-mile channel off the California coast). I’m a little bit leery of that one because of the great white (sharks). There’s another swim off the coast of Japan. There’s a lot of other great swims out there.
What advice do you have for a woman taking up your sport?
I’d say if they enjoy swimming, then to give it a try. There are some people who’ve never tried it, and find they love it, and I’m one of those.