UConn alum becomes first person to swim English Channel four times non-stop

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UConn alum, Sarah Thomas, becomes the first person to swim English Channel four times non-stop on Sept. 15 within 54 hours.  Photo by Julie Spillane / The Daily Campus

UConn alum, Sarah Thomas, becomes the first person to swim English Channel four times non-stop on Sept. 15 within 54 hours. Photo by Julie Spillane / The Daily Campus

Sarah Thomas, a 2004 University of Connecticut graduate and cancer survivor, became the first person to swim across the English Channel four times non-stop.  

Thomas began the swim on Sunday, Sept. 15 and completed it within 54 hours.  

“It was definitely a tough mental battle to get through this swim…it was a good hard battle, and it really feels like a really good accomplishment to have come out and been able to finish,” Thomas said. 

Thomas started pool swimming when she was a child and began competitively swimming in high school and at UConn. In 2007, it was suggested that she try open water marathon swimming, a form of open water swimming defined by long distances.  

“Nobody can touch me, I can’t hang on a boat,” Thomas said. 

The sport only allows for a swimsuit, goggles, a swim cap and earplugs, Thomas said, meaning she could not wear a wetsuit. 

The swim was originally planned to be 80 miles, but due to strong currents, Thomas ended up swimming over 130 miles from start to finish. 

“It’s pretty neat to be able to say that you are the first to do something,” Thomas said. “It’s cool to be a woman and [to be] the first to take on really hard challenges.” 

Being able to surmount such a challenge comes with many hours of training and preparing. 

“I typically make a training plan, it kind of highlights how much I want to swim each week,” Thomas said. “For this one in particular, I definitely had a training plan that went out a year in advance. I knew where I needed to start, where I needed to build, so that I could be at my peak performance when my swim came around.” 

Thomas’ swim did not come without a set of hardships. One of the toughest to overcome, Thomas said, was that she constantly felt sick throughout the swim. 

“I threw up quite a bit, which is not something I had ever dealt with on any previous swims,” Thomas said. “So mentally recovering from that and physically recovering from being sick so long was a huge challenge.”  

Thomas attributes a lot of her energy and motivation to her team that followed her and cheered her on from a boat. 

“I really wanted to quit a lot, in particular between hours 24 and 30, that was the hardest chunk of time,” Thomas said. “And in that time, my team was fabulous, just telling me about all the positive things that were happening to keep me motivated.”  

This is not the first time Thomas has broken records. Throughout her open-water swimming career, she became the first athlete to complete a current-neutral swim of over 100 miles and she holds the record for the longest unassisted open-water swim. 

“I’m proud of all my swims, even my shorter ones,” Thomas said.  

Thomas just completed treatment for breast cancer in 2018, a process she described as “mentally challenging.” 

“When you are faced with a cancer diagnosis…It really stops you,” Thomas said. “[I pushed through] by hav[ing] a goal, to have something that gave me hope and a reason to keep pushing even when things were really, really crappy. It was really hard to push past self-doubt, believe in myself and believe in my process, believe that my body would respond.”  

Thomas encourages her fans and fellow Huskies to believe in themselves and push toward a goal. 

“I think when you have something important to you that you can be passionate about, it makes you happier and more successful in life,” Thomas said. “Keeping true to what you believe in, it’s really valuable.” 


Amanda Kilyk is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at amanda.kilyk@uconn.edu

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