When Chloë McCardel discovered marathon swimming in university she told herself, “I’m gonna be the best in the world at this.” Fast forward fifteen years and her self-proclaimed prophecy is on the verge of coming true.
Next week, Chloë will attempt her 42nd swim across the English Channel, a notoriously difficult 32-kilometre journey between European shorelines, inching her way closer to the current record of 43 swims. In early October, she will attempt her 44th journey, setting a new world record and bringing home a title that hasn’t been in the hands of an Australian since 1980.
A task so impossible to fathom, let alone attempt, demands a super-human level of determination; something Chloe possesses in spades, a woman who truly understands what it means to ‘just keep swimming’.
Joining Jo Stanley on Broad Radio, Chloë is quick to state the human-born fact; we are NOT designed to swim.
“Not only are humans not designed to swim, we’re definitely not designed to swim in very cold water, we’re not polar bears, we’re not penguins,” she tells Jo.
With 41 English Channel swims already under her belt, Chloë is schooled in what it takes to swim into the unknown. The blistering ice water, the hypothermia, the challenging conditions of mother nature.
“I try not to let myself think I’m dying,” she states with an air of frankness.
“It’s come to a point where I’ve had to train my brain to override that survival instinct to get out of the water because my body’s like ‘what are you doing, this is crazy!’”
Having found herself in some incredibly difficult mental places Chloe says, “I’ve hallucinated, I’ve had meltdowns, gone into semi-consciousness.”
Equally baffled and astounded by Chloe’s unwavering will, Jo asks, “there must be something uniquely deep inside you that spurs you on?”
To which Chloe responds, “If there’s ever a situation where you’re called on to dig really deep, you’ll go there.”
“Often as humans we try to find the path of least resistance, the least amount of discomfort, and least amount of pain.”
Her unmatched ability to “lean into the pain and discomfort”, makes it surprising to learn that swimming was something she “fell into by accident.” A sport that spawned from the embarrassment of being one in four kids in her class that couldn’t swim, once Chloë hit the water, no one could have predicted the magnitude of what was to come.
Chloë’s perseverance to push past the limitations of her body and the expectation of a ‘normal life’ is a testament to her mental strength, a quality that extends much further than marathon swimming.
Out in the open water, Chloe was living a life of solidarity, freedom, and success. Back on dry land, she was living a hidden coercive nightmare at the hands of a former partner.
“At the time it didn’t really seem obvious, I was living in a sort of weird, dazed alternate reality world,” she tells Jo.
She shares examples of her experience, such as her ex-partner controlling who she could see and what she could say, being locked out of her house, and having her things broken.
Chloë now lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition common to survivors of domestic violence.
After being disheartened by the rising rates of domestic violence in periods of lockdown, and against all media advice she was receiving at the time, Chloë chose to start sharing her story.
“Initially I just wanted people to know that you can go through a really difficult time and still come out and feel strong and empowered,” she tells Jo.
Through her advocacy in and out of the water Chloë aims to break down the stigma surrounding domestic violence, put an end to victim-blaming, and change the systems that allow it.
“I’m getting lots of great feedback and that’s great energy. It’s kind of like letting me know I’m on the right path,” she tells Jo.
Chloë has now submitted her experience to the NSW joint select committee for coercive control, to aid their investigation in determining if this behaviour should be criminalised.
Chloë McCardel will be remembered for more than just fulfilling her sporting legacy, but for her bravery to dream of something better for everyone, and strive to make it happen.
When asked what she wants people to take away from her story, Chloe replies, “You can live through domestic violence and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Image credit: Daniel Kukec