Friday, November 3, 2017

Local marathon swimmer proves it’s never too late to live your dreams by Matt Pascarella

Pat Gallant-Charette
Pat Gallant-Charette is not your typical 66-year-old grandmother. Not only is she a marathon swimmer, but she is a six-time world record-breaking marathon swimmer.
Last month, she spoke to students at Windham Middle School about being stereo-typed for being “too old” to do some of the things she’s done. She proved you are never too old to go after the things you want.

A Westbrook resident, Pat Gallant-Charette did not aim to become a marathon swimmer, or even a swimmer, until later in life. 

“[People] ask how I got into swimming, and it’s really kind of a remarkable story,” Gallant-Charette began. “I was a good swimmer as a teenager, got married at 21 and started having children. Then I got my BA in nursing and worked as a nurse.”

It was after tragedy that the idea of swimming came about. “My youngest brother, Robbie, at the age of 34, died suddenly…of a heart attack,” Gallant-Charette continued. “At the time, I was 46 and was absolutely devastated. He was such a remarkable young man. Robbie loved swimming; he was the captain of the Northeastern University Swim Team and won Peaks to Portland twice.” the time, her 16-year-old son was on the Westbrook High School swim team and she considered herself a spectator mom while she cheered on her son at swim meets. He decided to swim the Peaks to Portland as a tribute to his uncle and she wished she could do the same. “You can if you try,” her son said to her.
Her son’s remark inspired Gallant-Charrette, but it took effort and courage to reach that goal. “You get filled with a lot of self-doubt about your swimming ability,” Gallant-Charette said. “I didn’t like swimming in the ocean. I spooked easily. I’m only going to do [this] one time, and that’s it. I trained, it took me over a year before I even qualified.”

Then she qualified for the Peaks to Portland, she recalls the day in detail: “I remember standing on the island, here I was 47, and filled with self-doubt, I’m looking at all these young, slender athletes and I’m thinking, ‘Pat, what the heck did you get yourself into?’ Then I said to myself, ‘I don’t care if I come in last. You’re here as a tribute to Robbie. Just finish the swim because it’s the last time you ever have to swim in the ocean again.’”

Something happened on that first swim in the Atlantic. “As I was swimming across Casco Bay, something special happened that morning. I saw the beauty of Fort Gorges… a lobster boat went by and the seagulls up above, and it was just incredible. It was beautiful! Any fear [of open water] was gone, and all those young fast swimmers were probably at the finish line, so I didn’t have to worry about [competing against them]. And when I finished, my brother, Robbie’s widow and her now 4-year-old son greeted me at the finish line. I said to my husband, ‘I really enjoyed this, I’m going to do it again.’”

She continued on with the Peaks to Portland swim on an annual basis and by the time she reached the age of 52, Gallant-Charette noticed that her endurance improved significantly. “I was stunned,” Gallant Charette stated. “I didn’t think I could improve at the age of 52.” 

Gallant-Charette decided to swim Sebago Lake which is twice the distance of Peaks to Portland. When she finished, she wasn’t tired. After another year of training and swimming across Big Sebago and back, she told her husband, “I think I’m one of those endurance athletes.” Her husband suggested she swim the English Channel. Gallant-Charette thought that was a great idea. did swim the English Channel but it took a lot of self-coaching and training. In August 2001, she jumped in and swam the channel. Gallant-Charette shares a moment from that swim. “It was about the 16th hour of the English Channel and I could see France, and I said to myself ‘I don’t care how cold this water is, I’m going to make that finish line! And I did. Once I saw France, it was like, the worst is behind you, what’s another 2 miles?’”

For the fourth time since she turned 60, Pat has been selected as one of the nominees for the Women’s World Open Water Swimmer of the Year. She is among 12 nominees worldwide. Says Gallant-Charrette, “To be among these talented women I feel very humbled and honored.”

For the time being, it seems Gallant-Charette is enjoying the ride - or the swim rather. She doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. “I really love the sport of open water swimming. My pet peeve is when people say, ‘when are you retiring?’ I have no intention of retiring from this sport. My intent is to bring this as far as I can.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.