Pregnant Mukilteo swimmer crosses English Channel

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Sunday, August 26, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

The best athlete in Snohomish County is not some 18-year-old high school phenom.

Not a football player. Not a basketball player. Not a wrestler. Not a gymnast. Not a track and field star.

The best athlete in the county doesn’t yearn for multi-million dollar riches and guest spots on The Today Show. Oh, she wouldn’t turn them down if they were to come her way, but she knows that isn’t likely to happen and that’s fine with her.

The best athlete in the county is 27 years old, squeezes in two workouts a day around a fulltime job and still finds time to spend with her husband.

The best athlete in the county did something over the weekend that most of us can’t even fathom: She swam the English Channel.

Mukilteo’s Regan Scheiber said several years ago that swimming the Channel was a “flighty little dream thing” of hers. She said it in an offhand manner to a reporter for her college newspaper, and the next day a story appeared under the headline, “Stacey (her maiden name) determined to cross English Channel.”

At the time, she was a student/athlete at Penn State University, which is better known for its football teams than its swimmers. But even Nittany Lions football coach Joe Paterno would be impressed with what Scheiber accomplished on Saturday.

By itself, crossing the channel is a grueling challenge. “Point-to-point, it’s roughly 21 miles,” Scheiber said back in April, before a workout at Mariner High School, “but because you swim in an S shape because of the currents, it ends up being about 30 miles.”

It is a test not only of one’s physical endurance, but of one’s mental stamina. The athlete must have the willpower to finish. That Regan Scheiber did tells you about all you need to know about her and what kind of person she is. She is driven. She is determined. She is goal-oriented.

Her former swim coach at Penn State said Scheiber exemplified what the true student/athlete is all about. “The days weren’t long enough for her to learn everything she wanted to learn,” said Bob Krimmel, now an assistant athletic director at Penn State. “When you think of her as a coach, you just smile.”

In her first 20some years, Scheiber graduated from Penn State with a degree in biology, became a certified cardiovascular technologist and earned a Grand Diploma in Pastry Arts from The French Culinary Institute and the International School of Confectionary Arts.

Even with all these achievements, she felt that something was missing. That casual remark she made about the Channel swim wouldn’t go away. It took root and continued to grow. She became an ultra-distance swimmer, competing well in national and international events, all with one goal in mind: the English Channel.

Saturday, at 4:23 a.m., at Shakespeare Beach on the coast of England, Scheiber embarked upon the biggest challenge of her life. “I jumped into the black of night,” she wrote in an e-mail to her coach, Lyle Campbell, who for 30 years has directed the South Snohomish County Dolphins swim team. “If I wasn’t awake then, I was once I hit the 61-degree water.”

She said the sun took its leisurely time coming up and providing warmth to her body. “By then I was about five hours into the swim, shivering all the way, and the heat loss was not going to be made up,” she said. “I was going to have to be cold the rest of the way.”

For one reason or another, she got little sleep the three nights before the swim, hardly the condition she wanted to be in for such an undertaking. Her husband, Jon, a cardiologist at the Everett Clinic, and her parents accompanied her in a boat that was captained by an expert on channel navigation.

Scheiber also had someone in the water with her, not that anyone could tell. She is three months pregnant. So, in addition to everything else, she had to do the work of two people. Or, as she put it, they made a “double crossing.”

“At three hours (into the swim) I could feel my arms getting weak because my body was trying to keep the blood in my core … and trying to especially protect the baby,” she said. “I have never shivered for nine-plus hours. My stroke was very tight and I couldn’t kick because my legs were stiff from shivering. Not fun.”

But she plowed on. Fortunately, she had a beautiful day and no run-ins with jellyfish or seaweed.

“A painfully cold” nine hours and 30 minutes after she began, she waded onto the coast of France, but not before “sharp boulders … did a number on my hands and feet.”

Exhausted, she was soon warm and asleep on the boat, mother and baby safe and secure.

When she spoke of this venture the last two years, Scheiber said once it was completed that would be it for her swimming career. And that is what she e-mailed to one of her friends: “Yeah. I am officially retired.”

Hooey, said Krimmel, her old coach. “She’ll have children and then be back at it.”

Whatever she does with her life in the next chapter, which surely won’t be boring, Regan Scheiber will do it with the same steadfastness and work ethic with which she has done everything else.

That’s how you become a high achiever.

That’s how you become the best athlete in the county.

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