Chloe McCardel is fast becoming one of the best known athletes in Australia. She was mentioned in the top 2015 sporting achievements on Channel 7's Sunrise program and has now equalled the longest English Channel swim in history, a triple solo English Channel crossing (non-stop!), the longest unassisted ocean swim in history and she even has the quirky Longest Swim in a Swimming Spa to her name. This has not come easy for the 30 year old, who has been seeking to push herself to the limit in the pursuit of marathon swimming for the past 8 years.
In addition to planning to add more English Channel swims to her tally, she is also coaching other swimmers to complete this marquee feat - but more of that later.
I started swimming competitively as a teenager with my eyes on getting into the Olympics. I realised I wasn't quite going to achieve this so I turned my hand to triathlons. Unfortunately, I fell just short of cracking the elite level there too. I went back to university and decided to run a marathon and complete a swimming marathon - clearly I am a glutton for punishment! I won the swimming marathon (first female) and I loved the event.
So, rather than see how fast I could go, I decided to see how far was possible. The English Channel is the premier marathon swim in the world, so I started off with attempting a double crossing. Since then I've just kept trying to push my own boundaries and the boundaries of the sport further and further.
Marathon swimming seems like such a lonely, solitary sport would you describe it that way?
Yes and no. When you are in a swim, you can't chat to people or listen to music, so you are alone with your thoughts and there is a lot of time to reflect. It can actually be quite a spiritual experience. However, you are never completely alone, as you have a great team out there with you. There are boat pilots, to take the right course, feed organisers, for the 30 minute interval feeds, kayakers and even a shark team to repel sharks without hurting them. Everyone needs to work together and cohesively.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
Finishing the 124.4 km, 41.5 hr marathon to Nassau in the Bahamas which has been ratified as the World Record for the longest unassisted swim in history. My pride is not so much the distance, but the fact I managed to keep going despite horrific welt-sized sun burn, dozens of jelly fish stings, hypothermia and being surrounded by dozens of sharks in the pitch black. In equal measure to these physical challenges, being out there for 41 hours was a big mental strain too.
For the record, Chloe's marathon swims are completed in regular bathers - no wet suits, sunburn protection tops, let alone holding on to anything for a quick breather.
What have you learned about yourself?
I've always known that I am very goal focused and very stubborn – this has certainly reinforced that! Though, I have come to the realisation that self-belief is so important, it is absolutely integral to achieving goals in any walk of life. It gives you the confidence to push forward and the ability to keep going when times are tough. It also gives the people around you the confidence to support you through the good times and the bad.
What is the one quality which you believe sets you apart from those who aspire to achieve big goals but often get stuck along the way?
I'm prepared to risk everything – as I do not fear failure. I see financial security and work life balance as luxuries, not necessities. If you put everything on the line, and live fearlessly, you open up more hours in the day and can take more financial risks.
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?
Relationships. Work life balance is a nice goal, but you can’t achieve that 365 days a year. Unfortunately, marathon swimming is not financially rewarding, so the lack of financial security puts additional stress on relationships. Fortunately, I find marathon swimming and inspiring other people intrinsically rewarding.
Editor’s note: Chloe is on the lookout for more sponsors and would make a fantastic brand ambassador
You now also coach people to swim the English Channel. What is their key to success and what have you gained from the coaching experience?
Coaching is highly rewarding as I get to go with them and be part of their journey. I find mentoring the swimmers’ transformation as people and as athletes truly special. I’ve now taken 10 relays to swim the Channel and all have been successful (the average failure rate is usually around 50%). I believe the keys to success lie in intensive support and a strong sense of team commitment. My swimmers feel they are swimming for the team, not just themselves, and this helps each individual push further. I invest a lot of energy to assist them bond as a team.
Who would you most like in your support team – famous or otherwise?
Simple, my husband, Paul. He has been there for nearly every marathon swim I’ve done since 2009 and he knows me inside and out and what I need during the swims without me needing to ask for it. Money or fame can’t buy that knowledge and commitment. And I can never thank him enough.
Many people in business fear change and/or failure whether that's related to a career transition or starting their own business. You have obviously thrived in very challenging circumstances and bounced back from swims that weren’t successful, do you have any advice for our readers?
I have a quote – “Do not let the fear of failure stand in your way of achieving greatness.”
Fear creates an obstacle to start something or to get up and try again. It’s a very limiting thought process. If we get stuck, it doesn’t mean we are a failure, simply that we need to find a new way to succeed. Something needs to be changed.
So what's next?
Personally, I'm going to try and beat the Australian Record total of 19 crossings of the English Channel set by the great Des Renford. That means 7 more crossings, and I aim to do them all this year. The biggest challenge I see is actually finding extra sponsors as it's quite costly.
I'm also coaching a number of relays and am looking to coach my first business team to guide them through this amazing experience of team bonding and achievement as they swim from England to France together.
We will be watching Chloe's progress closely.