When Pat Gallant-Charette lost her brother Robbie at only 34 years old to a heart attack, her 16 year old son Tom told her that he would like to swim the 2.4 mile ‘Peaks to Portland’ swim in his tribute. Having won it twice before, this was a rather fitting tribute to Robbie.
Upon hearing her son’s decision, Pat turned to him and said “I wish I could do that”, in which he replied “Ma, you can if you try”. That was the moment Pat turned from a spectator mum, to a marathon swimmer, living by her own mantra – You can if you try!
At 46 years old, Pat was a mother of two, as well as a full time nurse, needless to say, she had very little time to herself. After 20 years away from the pool, Pat recalled the moment she was reunited with her old friend:
“My aim was to simply gain endurance, but I remember looking at the pool and then asking the lifeguard to keep an eye on me as I was afraid that I couldn’t even manage two laps.”
Pat however did manage the two laps and continued to swim 4 times a week for about an hour a time, admitting that the first time she swam solidly for an hour, she felt like a gold medalist!
It was tough at the beginning, but as her training increased, as did her endurance.
Successfully swimming the Peaks to Portland, Pat fell in love with distance swimming.
At the age of 50 she noticed that her energy and endurance levels were increasing dramatically! She realized she could swim further than 2.4 miles, so with further training, doubled the distance, swimming across the 6 mile, Big Sebago Lake.
Upon reaching 60, Pat was in the best shape of her life, recalling:
“When I reached 60 , I thought to myself it was time to start slowing down, thinking that it would all catch up with me, but I was wrong! At 61 years old I had the strongest swim of my life, I swam the 33 mile Tsugaru Strait in Japan, in which I broke the World Record as the oldest woman to ever have swam it.”
Among her many swims, including the Gibraltar Strait and the English Channel, when asked of her most memorable swim, Pat was quick to respond:
“It was the Catalina Island swim, a 21 mile swim across the coast of California. It was beautiful! I experienced a lot of marine life, including a 6 dolphin send-off and an orchestra of whales. The last mile I was joined by around 100 dolphins, they came from the north, south east and west!”
Japan’s 33 mile Tsugaru Strait was Pat’s most challenging swim:
“There were swirling currents that kept pulling me back, and on the 8th hour I remember seeing the finish line, thinking that I was going to make a really fast time. Half hour later however, the finish line was no longer in sight, and when I asked what had happened I was told that I had been pushed back far and fast, and had another 21 miles ahead of me. I completed the swim in a time of 19 hours and 36 minutes.”
Following the tragic death of Pat’s beloved brother, Robbie, she has made it a lifelong mission to bring awareness of heart disease, as well as to encourage more people to swim. Through her ‘Swim for your heart’ a global swim event, Pat is able to do just that. Here she explains more:
“In 2010, I posted on the English Channel website, asking swimmers to join me by going for a swim on February 14th and to send a donation to their favourite heart charity. I heard from many swimmers from England, Japan and Mexico, and so began the annual swimming event.”
This year Pat was a guest of honor at the ‘swim for your heart’ event in Mexico City, which saw a total of 21000 participants, all willing to swim and make awareness of heart disease. The goal for 2015 is to hit 50,000 people.
“Not only does it bring awareness of heart disease it also promotes the sport” says Pat “ Swimming offers a great cardiovascular workout for the heart, as well as keeping the body healthy. Unfortunately, even with swimming’s many benefits, many people may not be aware that they have high blood pressure or genetic problems, so at these events we encourage swimmers to get checked by their local healthcare providers. During the ‘Swim for your heart’ In Maine, a High school swim team were screened, and 2 (15 & 16) teenagers were found to have high blood pressure. Fortunately, they are now able to seek the right treatment.”
“It’s all about perspective! I can remember asking my brother Robbie, how he overcame fear, such as shark attacks. He said: Pat, how many people die in cars every day and how many people have you ever heard of die from shark attacks in Maine. I also ask myself whether I want to reach 80 and have done nothing, or to take a chance and live a life of adventure and pleasure.
When I am in the water I have this carefree feeling….the sun on my face and skin, it’s a beautiful experience, a feeling of absolute oneness with nature. It’s my waterinstinct.”
“No way! My plan is to swim all the major marathon swims around the world. Until I can no longer do it, but I imagine being in the water many more years.”
Pat is a 63 year old grandmother, who works 32 hours a week as a nurse, looking after her grandchildren another 40. She is not a gold medalist, who devotes her time purely to her sport, nor is she someone who has time or money to spare. Nominated two years in a row for “World Open Water swimmer, woman of the year, Pat is an inspiration, life’s real Working Class Athlete.