If you’re like me, you probably celebrated by being blissfully unaware.
If you’re Liz Fry though, it was a big deal. She was honored for 2 Guinness world records — and, for her amazing achievements, was featured on the book’s website.
The 1976 Staples High School graduate — who is as low-key as she is accomplished, so I would never have heard about this from her — was cited as both the oldest female to swim the Ocean Seven, and the oldest person of any gender to do it.
The Ocean Seven is no walk in the park. It’s a stupefying long-distance swim challenge, in some of the most difficult bodies of water in the world: the North Channel, Cook Strait, Molokai Channel, English Channel, Catalina Channel, Tsugaru Channel and Strait of Gibraltar.
Liz is 60 years old. In 5 years she can collect Social Security. But the checks will have to be delivered by boat.
According to the Guinness website:
Accomplishing one channel is no easy feat – aside from predators in the open ocean and varying water temperatures, one who tackles all seven channels must be prepared to swim for up to 12 hours or more at a time…. It’s as dangerous as it is courageous.
Plenty of planning goes into marathon swimming. There’s training, travel, a support crew, and understanding currents and sea creatures. Jellyfish can be as dangerous as sharks.
Liz’s sister Peggy — a 1975 Staples grad now living in Seattle — often serves as crew captain (and confidante). She makes sure Liz has everything she needs: feeding pack, medication, you name it.
Liz Fry (right) and her sister Peggy, a 1975 Staples High School graduate, at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Their father — a Brit who inspired her originally, with his tales of swimming the English Channel — was there when Liz climbed ashore, after that very brutal swim.
Liz — who is not a professional swimmer (with an undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s from Fordham, whe works with global markets on tax initiatives) — hopes that her Guinness record book honors will push other swimmers to achieve their own titles.
Record are made to be broken, of course. But Liz might go on breaking them too.
“I might be 60 years old when I have completed the Ocean Seven marathon, but I feel like I’m swimming like a 40-year-old,” she says.
“It just shows how 60 really is the new 40, or there’s no reason you ever have to stop doing what you love.”
Liz Fry (farthest from the Zodiac) in New Zealand action..
Liz trains often at the Westport Weston Family Y — and in the summer, off Compo Beach. She may be remarkable, but there’s absolutely no reason to swim in Long Island Sound during the winter.
The next time you see her, tell her congratulations.
And if you happen to have a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records handy, ask Liz to autograph it.
(For the full story on the Guinness Book of World Records website, click here. Hat tip: Debbie McGinley)
In April, “06880” reported that Liz Fry successfully swam Cook Strait — the dangerous waters separating New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
That meant she had conquered 6 of the 7 major open water swims worldwide. The only one left: the North Channel, between Ireland and Scotland.
It’s the most challenging of all: very cold, infested with jellyfish, but no wetsuits allowed.
No problem! Last month, Liz — a 1976 Staples High School graduate, longtime Westporter and frequent visitor to the Westport Weston Family YMCA, where she trains — completed the North Channel swim.
She joins a tiny, elite group of men and women who have accomplished all 7 swims.
Here is Liz’s report.
It’s Monday in Donaghadee. The sun is coming out after heavy fog earlier this morning. I went to the starting point at 5:30 a.m., to send off the 4 other swimmers attempting their crossing today.
It’s hard to believe yesterday at 5 a.m. I was scrambling across jagged rocks to find a clear rock to leave from. It was pitch black except for the lights from phones held by the Chunky Dunkers (the group I trained with in Ireland) at the water’s edge to see us off. Quinton, my pilot, has a quick start. You board his boat, and in 15 minutes you are in the water.
Liz Fry (2nd from left) with her crew in Donaghadee harbor.
My crew was incredibly efficient putting on sunscreen and “butt paste” for chaffing. Next thing I knew my cap, earplugs and goggles were on. I jumped in the cold abyss.
I followed the lights on shore and spotlight and managed to avoid many of the sharp rocks, although one got me good. I found a rock that was clear and raised my hand, signaling the start.
It was still very dark. Unfortunately my first hit in a Lion’s Mane jellyfish bloom was in the first 10 minutes. My whole left side took multiple hits as I swam through tentacles, but luckily only one hit across my face.
I felt like Harry Potter. I felt these stings the whole swim, but the pain subsided to tolerable fairly quickly. Salt water is the best medicine. I knew it was only the beginning so I had to keep my head together.
A swarm of jellyfish.
I had my first feed after 1 hour, which is my typical feed schedule. I don’t usually feed well as I am a sinker and struggle to stay above water. However, with the water so cold (12-14 C) we planned to go with 45 minutes after the first feed.
Calories intake were critical. I asked for and received a lot of advice from North Channel swimmers all over the world. I used all I could remember.
With daylight, my crew helped me navigate around the lion’s manes. Several times when I tried to follow, each person on the boat pointed in a different direction.
The jellies were moving towards me faster than I could swim out of the way, or the blooms were so big there was nothing they could do to help. I slowly slid between the jellies and long tentacles as best I could. My crew was brilliant and saved me from so many hits.
About 5 hours in, the impact of the jelly hits affected my breathing. My inhaler for my asthma provided some relief initially. but later did not help. I could not help to think about Attila who spent nearly 3 weeks in the hospital after his attempt last year.
I stayed close to the boat, just in view of Quinton and the observer who never stopped watching me.
Despite the breathing issue I felt very good. My spirits were great, I wasn’t cold, and my crew was brilliant. At 12:30 we saw the lighthouse. Nora kept the whiteboard filled with well wishes from around the world, from friends and family. This is the first time I have had active whiteboard. It was fantastic.
I am happy she didn’t mention the shark fin they saw around 2:30 p.m. It was likely a basking shark — the second largest, but not a carnivore. At my 2 p.m. feed Quinton said, “at this pace we’ll be done in two hours.”
With 2 miles to go, a thick fog rolled in. I could no longer see Scotland or the two boats behind us for a few minutes. The only thing the crew could see was the lighthouse, and hear the foghorn.
The fog lifted above the shore, and I saw where Quinton was trying to land me. I hit the rocks on the shore of Scotland and raised my hands to the sound of the horn. I finished: 11 hours, 13 minutes.
Liz Fry nears the Scottish coast.
As I swam back to the boat, I could only think about how many people helped get me to those rocks. Not just the 6 oceans before, but all the swims and training sessions. I am so grateful to each and every one of you for your support.
To say the ride back to Ireland was full of exuberance is an understatement. Even now it is still surreal.
We arrived back to a large welcome crowd of Chunky Dunkers, who had a beautiful blue cake with the number 7 candle. It was fantastic!
After the swim, Liz reported:
All the Channel swimmers I spoke to said my sleep the night after would be restless, due to the jelly fish stings. They were right!
Despite more antihistamines, the stings fired through the night. I burned up one moment; the next I was freezing cold.
It helped that as soon as I got on the boat, I was covered with shaving cream and scraped with credit cards (expired) to remove the barbs and tentacles from my skin.
No words can express my deep love and gratitude for all who traveled to Ireland to support me in this craziness.
It is impossible for me to adequately thank my family, friends and swimming community that supported me, at home and around the world.
Liz Fry (right) and her sister Peggy, a 1975 Staples High School graduate, at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Every swim has its own level of stress and emotions, but none more than this.
I was terrified, seriously questioning whether even if I could tolerate the cold, would I endure the venom of the Lion’s Manes and other jellyfish?
I did everything I could to prepare for the worst, but still feared that this last Ocean 7 swim could be truly my last. This fear went away soon after I arrived in Donaghadee, not because the threat was no longer there but because my swims in the harbor calmed my anxiety and brought happiness.
I feel so blessed to have swum the North Channel. So the question always is: “Would I do it again?”
I think my next big swims are to complete the Great Lakes. I’d like to start next summer.
Cook Strait separates the North and South Islands of New Zealand. It connects the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean, and is near the capital city of Wellington.
It’s beautiful. It teems with dolphins and whales. It’s also got some of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world.
There’s no reason you or I would even think of swimming Cook Strait.
But you and I are not Liz Fry.
The 1976 Staples High School graduate is a long distance swimmer.
Not just any one of that hardy breed, though. Liz has already completed the “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming”: the English Channel, California’s Catalina Channel and circumnavigating Manhattan Island.
She double-crossed the English Channel (England to France, then back). She’s swum 2 of the Great Lakes, and in Japan.
But — until earlier this month — Liz had never swum Cook Strait.
There were plenty of reasons why, even beyond the danger and distance. Liz is not a professional swimmer. With an undergraduate degree from UConn and a master’s from Fordham, she’s got a thriving career in finance. She works with global markets on tax initiatives.
Fortunately, today’s technology allows her to work remotely. So — even though training and preparing for a long distance swim takes a spectacular amount of time and effort — Liz is able to pursue her passion.
She loves the physical challenge of fighting tides, jellyfish, hunger and pain to get from Point A to Point B (though the route she takes is seldom the shortest).
Liz also loves to travel. She sees new places, meets new people and learns new cultures. “I’m living the dream,” she says.
New Zealand, though, was a dream deferred. Liz first hoped to swim the strait in 2012. But Superstorm Sandy hit, and its aftermath took precedence.
Four years ago, she applied for one of the few Cook Strait slots. High winds and treacherous seas limit the number of attempts.
A ferry plows through Cook Strait.
She was chosen for a final spot this season. It’s fall now Down Under, with air temperature already dropping to the 50s.
Liz’s entourage included her sister Peggy, a 1975 Staples grad now living in Seattle who has served as crew chief on previous swims; Peggy’s husband, and Staples ’83 friend Debbie Masso.
In late March they all gathered in Wellington. As 50-mile an hour winds blew — with gusts up to 80 — Liz trained in a nearby pool.
Word came that she might be able to go soon. She adjusted her eating and sleeping schedules. But she would not find out until 7 p.m. Friday that she’d be swimming early the next morning.
Liz was accompanied by a large “mother ship,” and a smaller Zodiac. Peggy was in that boat. She fed her sister, and kept her upbeat.
Liz Fry prepares for her swim.
Liz swam with Nora Toledano — the first Mexican woman to complete 6 of the famed Oceans 7 open water channel swims. Cook Strait would be her last, after the Molokai Channel, English Channel, Catalina Channel, Tsugaru Strait, the Strait of Gibraltar and the most brutal: the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, ice cold and filled with jellyfish .
New Zealand mark Liz’s 6th of the 7 famed swims. Only the North Channel remains.
The pair left from a rocky shoreline near Wellington. Their destination — Arapawa Island, a small spit of land — was 18 miles away as the crow flies.
But Liz and Nora are not crows. Strong currents and gnarly conditions added quite a bit to their route.
The swimmers made good headway. At the 5-hour mark, they were about 5 miles from shore. Liz figured they were 2 hours away.
Liz Fry (farthest from the Zodiac) and Nina Toledano, in action.
But within minutes the water temperature dropped from the 60s to 57. Currents picked up. It took 4 1/2 hours for the women to complete their swim.
The last hour was the toughest swimming Liz has ever done. Normally, she was fed every 45 minutes. But the waters were so strong, it was too difficult to eat.
Still, she felt joyful. “I was working hard,” Liz notes. “I could see the shore coming closer.”
Finally, she and Nora were there. They hauled themselves up a sheer wall. Together, they had conquered Cook Strait.
Liz Fry, at the sheer wall ending point: Perano Head (Marlborough), on South Island.
I’m exhausted just writing this. I can’t fathom what a long distance swim feels like.
Yet Liz knows. “I love it!” she exults. But it’s more than just the satisfaction of overcoming extreme physical and mental challenges.
“I’m fairly introverted,” Liz says. “Swimming has helped me come out of my shell. I’ve met incredible people, and helped others meet their goals. I’ve seen the most beautiful places. And it’s fun!”
What was not fun was the trip back. She arrived home. Her luggage did not.
Which raises the question: If Liz Fry can swim from North Island to South Island, why can’t Air New Zealand put her bags on the right plane?
But — true to form — she is undaunted.
Liz is already looking forward to another “Sound” swim: Westport’s Point to Point, at Compo Beach.
It was one of the first “long distance” ones she did.
They don’t call them the Great Lakes for nothing. They’re big.
But Liz Fry is a great long distance swimmer. Earlier this month, the longtime Westporter became one of the few people in history — and the 2nd-oldest — to swim solo across Lake Ontario.
She wore just a swimsuit and goggles. She started at midnight, and finished 15 hours and 46 minutes later.
But the 32.1-mile swim from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto was just one more walk in the park for Fry. She has already completed the “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming”: the English Channel, California’s Catalina Channel and circumnavigating Manhattan Island.
Liz Fry, moments after completing her Lake Ontario swim.
On her Lake Ontario conquest, her coaches — riding in a boat in front of her — fueled her with water bottles and cookies.
She told the Canadian Press, “My only sense of feeling comes in the form of cookies. At some point I need something crunchy because you’re basically on fluids the whole time. I really just zone out and enjoy my environment.”
Fry — who in her other life is a financial services consultant — trained for the event in a pool and Long Island Sound. She said the swim was one of her hardest. She also called it “fun and challenging and cold and bumpy and all those things.”
The easiest way to cross Long Island Sound is on the Bridgeport-Port Jeff ferry.
You can also sail, motorboat or yacht across on your own.
It’s a lot tougher to actually swim those 15 1/2 or so miles yourself.
It’s especially difficult to do it faster than anyone else.
But that’s what a team of 6 Westport YMCA Water Rat swimmers did last Sunday. And they finished in just 6 hours and 20 minutes — beating 150 competitors by a wide margin.
It was hardly a day at the beach. Before taking the Swim Across the Sound plunge, they secured $9,000 in pledges for St. Vincent’s Medical Center.
Congratulations to the intrepid, strong and very fast group of 16-year-olds: Scott Adler, John McNab, Richard Nolan, Josiah Tarrant, Austin Twiss and Charlie West. All except Richard swim for Staples High School.
From left: Austin Twiss, Charlie West, Scott Adler, John McNab, Richard Nolan and Josiah Tarrant.
Fun fact: Swim Across the Sound director Liz Fry is a former Staples High School swimmer.
(Fast forward to the 10:00 mark below, for an interview with the Water Rat swimmers.)
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