NHS alum swims the English Channel on summer vacation

  • Miranda Wingfield, a 2013 alumna of Northampton High School and currently a graduate student at Ithaca College, swam the English Channel in July. She is shown at her parents' home in Northampton on Friday, August 17, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton’s Miranda Wingfield about to begin her English Channel swim at the Abott’s Cliffs in England, July 20. COURTESY SHERRY WINGFIELD

  • Northampton’s Miranda Wingfield trains by swimming off of Cape Cod for a swim across the English Channel. Wingfield, also shown at top right at home in Northampton, is a 2013 alumna of Northampton High School and currently a graduate student at Ithaca College. She swam the English Channel in July. COURTESY SHERRY WINGFIELD/Top right: Staff PHOTO/Kevin Gutting

  • Northampton’s Miranda Wingfield on the boat the Gallivant before beginning her swim across the English Channel in July. She started in England and swam to France in 11 hours, 6 minutes. COURTESY SHERRY WINGFIELD

  • COURTESY SHERRY WINGFIELD—

  • COURTESY SHERRY WINGFIELD—

  • At Northampton High School Wingfield excelled in distance events. She is shown here in her junior year competing in the 500-yard freestyle at the Western Massachusetts Swimming and Diving Championships held at Springfield College on February 12, 2012. FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Miranda Wingfield, a 2013 alumna of Northampton High School and currently a graduate student at Ithaca College, swam the English Channel in July. She is shown at her parents' home in Northampton on Friday, August 17, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/17/2018 6:30:19 PM

Maybe Miranda Wingfield shouldn’t have told so many people she would swim across the English Channel.

This thought occurred to her while she was treading water between the Abbot’s Cliff Beach, in Kent, England, and France, as her father fed her a mix of protein and water. He and her mother Sherry, brother Jacob, sister Abby and friend Jen Francisco watched from the boat with the crew and trained observers, while friends followed a dot on their computer screen from across the Atlantic.

“I was like, ‘I told too many people I was doing this, so I have to finish now,’” she said. “Other than that, my mind was blank. I wasn’t, like, singing songs to myself.”

Wingfield, a Northampton High School graduate, completed the 21-mile journey July 20 in 11 hours, 6 minutes. It was the culmination of a year and a half of preparation and training.

Getting ready

The idea to swim the Channel first came to her between her sophomore and junior years of high school when practicing with her summer team. Two Smith College swimmers coached by Kim Bierwert trained with the club to attempt the same challenge.

“I was a distance swimmer at the time, and I thought that would be really cool to do that one day,” Wingfield said.

After graduating high school, Wingfield, now 23, attended Ithaca College and swam distance races for the Bombers. She studied abroad in Australia her junior year and worked with a masters team. They undertook open-water swims on the weekends.

“It was still in the back of my head that, one day, I would want to do the Channel or some big, open-water swim,” she said.

Returning to the states, she floated the idea to her father. Ed knew Bierwert and contacted him to discuss logistics.

The Wingfields needed to book a space with the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation. That required a $300 down payment in January of 2017. Miranda Wingfield said it cost $4,000 in total.

“I was like, ‘OK, now I have to start thinking about training and all that stuff,’” she said.

She finished her senior season at Ithaca that spring and kept swimming. Wingfield mostly trained at Ithaca, where she is pursuing a graduate degree in physical therapy, in a pool with long pacing sets. She also used the region’s Finger Lakes for open-water practice as well as swimming on Cape Cod, the Connecticut River and Highland Lake in Goshen.

“I have a lot of friends and family that live near beaches that would invite me for the weekend, and I would go swim with them,” Wingfield said. “They’d kayak with me or swim next to me.”

Her longest training swim covered six hours.

The family arrived in England on July 16. They had a 4 a.m. appointment at the marina with the Sea Satin as a support boat, but technical difficulties delayed it and moved her to the Gallivant. The boat took them from the marina to Abbot’s Beach, where the swim officially started.

Applesauce and jellyfish

Rain helped calm the ocean swells. The water hovered around 64 degrees.

“It was relatively warm for the Channel,” Wingfield said. “The people in the boat didn’t think the weather was that nice, but I did.”

She swam a steady freestyle the whole way, stopping to eat every 30 minutes. Ed delivered a mix of carbohydrate powder and water and applesauce with a long pole, since the swimmer can’t get out of the water during the attempt.

There were points when I was thinking ‘I just had to get to the next feed,’” Wingfield said.

A distance swimmer all her life, Wingfield was adept at segmenting the distance into digestible goals and not trying to swim the whole thing at once.

“I’m always making little progressions, so I think that helped,” she said.

Jellyfish stung her on occasion during the swim, but only one lingered on her lower leg once she was out of the water.

When Wingfield reached the French shore, she had to contend with an entirely separate obstacle: land. The rocks were coated with seaweed and she needed to climb up them to reach the shore.

“Once I did that I was like, ‘Wow, I actually did it,’” she said. “It was a feeling of excitement, and now I get to rest.”

She swam back out to the boat, which stayed off shore, said she was starving and asked for the sandwich Sherry made for her. Miranda also wanted some warm clothes.

“It was really amazing, and she still seemed to have energy afterward, though she did have trouble lifting her arms up the next day,” Sherry said.

Miranda is the first member of the Wingfield clan, chock-full of swimmers, to cross the English Channel.

“They were like, ‘Oh, I could never do that,’” she said.

The Wingfields toured England afterward and also visited Dublin and Amsterdam before returning to the states. Miranda will begin her second year of grad school shortly but isn’t ruling out more open-water swims in the future.

“I never really set a lot of goals for myself, so it was nice to have one and complete it,” she said. “It made me open to setting more goals.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kylegrbwsk.


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