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Swimmer Facing the Channel Challenge

Elizabeth Fry, 52, attempts round-trip, solo crossing of the English Channel

Fights through pain

Fry, a financial strategy consultant, is fortunate enough to have a job that gives her both flexibility and the necessary resources to afford the undertaking. (She says the total cost of her trip is about $10,000.) Still, the training has been intense. She's been practicing in her pool at the Westport Weston Family Y, where she has swum since she was a teenager, and has done six-hour swims every weekend in the open waters of Long Island Sound. She has also competed: In June, she broke the record for swimming from the tip of Manhattan to Sandy Hook, N.J., a notoriously tough, 17.5-mile course, which Fry completed in just over five hours.

Her steadiness, determination and level-headedness — or, she might joke, "empty-headedness" — in the water has enabled her to accomplish a lot. Those traits also have earned Fry enormous respect in the open-water swimming community.

"She's prepared to stick with it and fight through pain," says Morty Berger, founder of NYC Swim, which organizes swim events in the waters around New York City. "She never becomes real emotional out there, goes out there and grinds it out."

"Liz Fry," says veteran Dover pilot Eddie Spelling. "Now there's a woman with heart. If anybody can do a two-way [crossing], she can."

Swimming with a challenge

And she does all of this with a considerable disadvantage. Fry, like endurance swimmer Nyad, has asthma, a condition that was diagnosed in the 1990s, after she had coughed her way through the Seattle Marathon. (She was an accomplished distance runner for several years, before returning to her first love, the water.)

While she uses an inhaler, and will have one along on the boat during her double attempt, she's found that far from aggravating the problem, swimming has had a beneficial effect on her condition. "It's almost therapeutic, being close to the water," she says. The asthma "feels better when I swim."

Of course, there's swimming — and then there's swimming 42 miles. Anything can happen, especially in the Channel, notorious for its changeable weather and stinging jellyfish. While it may be a solo endeavor, one doesn't tackle the Channel alone. In addition to the pilot boat, Fry — who, by Channel-crossing rules and tradition, will not wear a wet suit — will have a support crew of family members and friends. Her sister Peggy will take care of her "meals" — energy gels and sports drinks every 45 minutes — and keep the world updated on her sister's progress.

Next: How to dive into exercise. >>

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