Benoit Lecomte, ’11 Master of Architecture

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When did you think you could do something as epic as swim the Atlantic Ocean?

I was following the progress of a French rower who was rowing across the Atlantic. I realized that I was swimming faster than he was rowing and thought it was something I could do. I was already swimming so much, and I felt like it was a natural progression.

What motivated you to take on such a task?

My father taught me to swim in the ocean when I was a boy. While I was doing the research for the swim, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and died about a year and a half later. This added purpose to my swim—to raise awareness for cancer.

How did you prepare for the 3,716-mile swim?

It was five hours per day of training. Once I could swim five hours, I knew I could add another three. It’s just a matter of keeping your pace, being consistent. After that, it’s mental preparation. You can never imagine the difficulties of the stress that comes from being isolated, swimming in a hostile environment, with only basic necessities on the support boat and little sleep.

What did you think about while swimming?

You want to do anything but focus—you disassociate. I made my own movies in my head. At the time I had never been to New York, so I tried to imagine what that would be like in great detail: what the streets would look like, the people, what they would be wearing, what they were doing, the smell, where I was going. The goal is to get your mind somewhere else so you fall into almost a meditative state.

Were you worried about sharks?

We had an electrode on our boat that creates a magnetic field to keep sharks away. At one point I was outside the field and the shark circled me. He followed us for about five days.

What were the high points?

Waking up to the sound of dolphins clicking and whistling. I dashed to get into the water with them, but they swam away before I got there. Another time I was in the water and a pod of dolphins was following me. If I moved closer to them, they moved to maintain the same distance. They paced me for quite a while.

How did you stay motivated?

Many days I was exhausted, wondering, “What exactly am I doing? Why am I doing it?” But every day that I got back on the boat I could read emails from cancer patients who gave me insight into their treatments and said I gave them motivation to keep going. And I thought, “I can stop any time, but they can’t.” That was a big thing that kept me going.

What’s next?

Swimming the Pacific in spring 2012. It’s the same training, but the logistics are different. It’s going to be a longer swim, and I’ll have a more stable boat and better communication. I’m developing a website, thelongestswim​.com, and you’ll be able to follow the swim with videos and pictures.

What’s your advice for anyone toying with the idea of swimming across an ocean?

Don’t look at what you are trying to accomplish because that can be overwhelming. Break it into smaller parts; come up with a daily plan. Focus only on that part of the plan each day. Before long, you’ll be on the other side of it—task completed.

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