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Swimming For A Cause

Hanover Resident Crosses Channel To Battle Violence

Hanover resident Ika Kovacikova hugs Wellesley College swimming teammate Gabby Cooper-Vespa after successfully swimming across the English Channel on Monday. Kovacikova, 21, swam the 21-mile Strait of Dover section from England to France in 11 hours, 28 minutes as part of an awareness campaign for a Philadelphia-based violence intervention program.
Photograph courtesy Bonnie Dix

Hanover resident Ika Kovacikova hugs Wellesley College swimming teammate Gabby Cooper-Vespa after successfully swimming across the English Channel on Monday. Kovacikova, 21, swam the 21-mile Strait of Dover section from England to France in 11 hours, 28 minutes as part of an awareness campaign for a Philadelphia-based violence intervention program. Photograph courtesy Bonnie Dix

After enduring the sub-60-degree temperatures of the English Channel, Ika Kovacikova no doubt feels ice in her veins. Thanks to the fire in her heart, she was able to cross the venerable strait quite quickly.

Concluding a year-long awareness campaign in support of the Violence Intervention Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Kovacikova swam the 21-mile Strait of Dover section of the channel from England to France in just 11 hours, 28 minutes.

With swift currents extending the route to about 25 miles, the 21-year-old Hanover resident and Wellesley College rising senior’s overall pace was better than two mph, despite rough conditions at both the start and end of the journey.

While becoming one of less than 2,700 documented swimmers to ever cross the English Channel, Kovacikova’s time was 1 hour, 20 minutes faster than the average time for a female swimmer traveling from France to England, according to unofficial data.

The Valley News recently corresponded via email with Kovacikova, a former North Country Aquatic Club, Upper Valley Aquatic Club and Hanover High swimmer who specializes in backstroke and butterfly events for NCAA Division III Wellesley. An edited transcript of the interview follows:

VN: How did you first become involved with the Violence Intervention Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and why was the cause important to you?

IK: I began working at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, which is based at CHOP, in June of 2012. It was Part of an REU (Research Experience for Undergrads) program supported by the National Science Foundation. I worked closely with doctors to begin to develop a new database for emergency rooms to use (in order to) document events of interpersonal violence. Once implemented (the database) would help hospital-based violence intervention programs improve their effectiveness.

Victims of interpersonal violence are 88 times more likely to retaliate, and programs like these help break the pattern of violence.

VN: I understand that your teammate on the Wellesley swim team, Annie Hamilton, originally planned on joining you for the entire swim, but became dissuaded after a six-hour test swim on Mascoma Lake. Is that true?

IK: Yes. Annie instead came as one of my support crew, and helped me by swimming through a rough patch of the swim with me (support swimmers are allowed for stretches every few hours). She also made sure I ate all of my feeds during the swim. Eating was my least favorite part of the swim, even though it’s one of my favorite activities on land.

VN: What was your training regimen like in preparation for the swim?

IK: Swimming competitively during the school year definitely gave me the base I needed to successfully complete the swim. I also competed in triathlons the previous two summers, which helped me build my endurance, but there definitely was a lot of extra training required during the spring and summer months, both in the pool and in open water. I had to learn how to withstand cold water and how to swim through tough conditions like waves and currents.

I also had a lot of trouble with sea sickness when I first began training in the waves, so I had to develop strategies for that.

VN: I understand you specialize in the backstroke and butterfly. For how much of the swim did you employ those techniques?

IK: I actually swam all freestyle during the swim, since it is technically the most efficient stroke.

VN: What were the weather conditions like?

IK: In the beginning it was a bit choppy, but in the middle it smoothed out. The last four hours were definitely a rough time in terms of wind and choppiness. It’s impossible to swim straight because of the currents. Like all swimmers, my course took on an “S” shape. The end was the most difficult because the current was going one way and the wind the other, giving the waves a roller coaster type of effect. I had to try my hardest not to get seasick. The waves got so large that my support crew were knocked off their seats in the boat. No one predicted that weather.

VN: In what ways did the members of your support boat assist you?

IK: I had the best support crew a girl could ask for! My Wellesley swim coach, Bonnie Dix, was there, as well as my teammates Annie Hamilton and Gabby Cooper-Vespa. My training partner, Nial Funchion, also came as a support swimmer, meaning he swam with me during tough times for moral support. They helped mix my feeds, which was a carbohydrate mix with Gatorade or apple juice, every hour or half hour to help keep my energy up.

VN: Do you feel as though this experience will make you a better swimmer for your senior season at Wellesley?

IK: I think it will definitely help me tackle challenges in general in the future. It reinforced the idea that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. I think the rewards will come not just during the next swim season, but also with other future endeavors challenges.

VN: Would you ever take on an adventure like this again?

IK: We will see! Right now I’m just focused on recovering so it’s too early to tell. It definitely was an incredible experience. I don’t believe I have ever felt more “present” in my life as when I was struggling in the end, and that is definitely something to hold on to for the rest of my life.

Kovacikova’s training blog can be viewed at ecadventure.blogspot.com. Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.