‘If I don’t end up in intensive care, it’s a bonus’: the beauty and pain of being the world’s best endurance swimmer

From jellyfish in the Caribbean to hypothermia in the English Channel, swimming hasn’t been easy for Chloë McCardel – but can feel ‘so wild and free’

We’re not off to a good start. I’m fumbling with my cap, the rubber clinging to my head lopsidedly, my hair straggling out. I take it off to start again and the woman who has swum the fickle English Channel more times than any other human, the “Queen of the Channel”, instructs me in how to correctly apply a swimming cap.

Chloë McCardel and I are going for an ocean swim at Bondi. She dives into the foamy sea ahead of me – more slender mermaid than broad-shouldered Amazonian. Knee deep, I feel the current suck at my flesh. It’s not one of Bondi’s better days. Chest deep, I realise I’m being dragged out and my very amateur ocean-swimming abilities are no match for this surf. Panic rises. McCardel is an impatient white-cap in the distance. What was I thinking, suggesting a swim with superwoman?

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