Mike Solberg was about to do something crazy. Standing on shore, the minister from Rockford, Ill., faced a goal he first set at 15, a goal whose achievement lay somewhere beyond the wide, watery horizon and a place deep within himself. He would swim the English Channel.
Barely a thousand people have succeeded since Englishman Matthew Webb first did in 1875. Twice as many people have climbed Mt. Everest.
After months of preparation, Solberg, D’89, had arrived in Dover, England, Sept. 8 with his son, Henry. They waited days for their boat pilot to tell them the tides and weather conditions were favorable. Finally, on the morning of Sept. 19, it was time to go.
Solberg was 45, no longer a young man, nor at 6-feet, 230-pounds, likely to be mistaken for a competitive swimmer. Though he had been training for a year, he lacked experience in open water, and he was queasy about swimming through the night, when it would be impossible to see the stinging jelly fish that frequent channel waters. The currents coursing through the channel’s narrowest point, the route he hoped to follow, were new to him.
Against these long odds, Solberg had raised the stakes beyond his own possible failure. He had committed to raising $50,000 to build a school for children in the West African nation of Angola, and shared that goal with the entire world through his website, swimmikeswim.com. His family and congregation back in Illinois would be tracking his progress. His teenage son was in the escort boat, part of the crew that would periodically lower a tethered bottle of energy drink.
He remembers feeling as if the months of preparation were coiled tightly inside him. All he had to do was let it slowly unwind over the next 13 hours.
Just before noon, Greenwich Mean Time, he plunged into the chilly waters and started swimming toward France. Landfall was at least 21 miles away. If the winds and tides pushed him off course, the distance might morph into 30 miles, or more.