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Orchard Lake Middle School Teacher Birmelin Swims English Channel

Birmelin swam the Channel in 11 hours, 31 minutes and 7 seconds Saturday, recording the 414th-fastest time out of 1,651 solo swims.

West Bloomfield teacher Jennifer Birmelin successfully swam the English Channel on Saturday with a time of 11 hours, 31 minutes and 7 seconds.

Birmelin left Shakespeare Beach near Dover, England, at 4:05 a.m. GMT (12:05 a.m. EST) Saturday and arrived in Wissant, France, at 3:36 p.m. GMT (11:36 a.m. EST) to record the 414th-fastest time out of 1,651 solo swims.

It was the culminating event in a lifetime of swimming for 34-year-old Birmelin, a mathematics teacher at , Farmington Hills resident and a 1995 graduate of Farmington Hills Harrison High School. "I've been in pursuit of many things during many stages of my life ... Every training swim or race was different and each of them provided lessons to prepare for swimming from England to France. My crew and I planned for the worse and hoped for the best. Saturday, August 20 was the best," Birmelin wrote Monday in an email to West Bloomfield Patch.

Birmelin, who has taught full time at OLMS since 2003, said Sunday that water temperatures ranged from 56 degrees to 64 degrees Fahrenheit. She said she swam a total distance of 28.04 miles, owing in part to the current.

"Around the 3rd-4th hours I was very frustrated and COLD," Birmelin wrote. "At one point, they logged that I said, 'I can't be this cold for 9 more hours!' ... I had to increase my stroke count (strokes/minute) to stay warm. My fingers were curling up and spreading apart since I was freezing. I thought of warm socks and a huge down comforter waiting for me at the house."

Birmelin was joined by companion swimmers Noah Birmelin (her husband) and Karen Rosinski, as well as aunt Lynn Frikker and friend Cheryl Machovec Dehn. Pilot Andy King trailed Birmelin in his boat, the Louise Jane. "Solo swims are not really solo. It was my crew (husband, friends/aunt, pilots) that kept me moving," Birmelin wrote. "While fighting the current the last hour that was taking my husband and I east for the last several miles, I only pictured what my landing would look like."

As she dove to the shore, Birmelin wrote that she was cautious for her physical well-being. "I've heard tales of swimmers who collapse by trying to stand too early. Too much stress on the heart, after being horizontal for so many hours swimming. I put one foot down and wobbled like Bambi before taking a few steps and standing on full sand," Birmelin wrote.

The finish was the cause of tears of joy. "A lot of French beachgoers in Wissant (sandy beach), and a dog greeted me with claps and some shook my hand as they watched. My husband exited the water after me and we embraced while the crew sounded the horn and waved the American flag," she wrote. "Two of my crew took turns sounding a giant horn on board the Louise Jane and they exchanged hugs and cried."

"Thank you to my fabulous crew," Birmelin wrote on her website, JennyBirmelin.com. "We had take-away pizza and ice cream. Bed time! Celebration dinner tomorrow. Today, I met Channel swimmers and hopefulls (sic) and signed the wall at the White Horse Pub in Dover, to make it official. :)"

Birmelin said she would return home Aug. 31.

For more information, including Birmelin's blog, visit JennyBirmelin.com.

Scott Campbell August 22, 2011 at 09:05 PM
What a phenomenal achievement! The follow-up interview should be really interesting. I'm curious if Bermilen stuck with one stroke or rotated (between frestyle, breast and/or back). Also, what exactly do the "companion swimmers" do? It doesn't sound like they're full participants in the Channel swim -- so how do they help? Maybe they're like a domestique in cycling.
Jenny Birmelin August 22, 2011 at 09:35 PM
Scott, ALL FREESTYLE, hours of sprinting. If you don't hit the tides correctly, you add hours of time to your swims. That's why every swim time is unique and there is a large spread among times. Feeds had to be 30 seconds or less, treading water. The pilot has the final say about companion swimmers. The rules state for a solo swim you must complete for the first two hours by youself, and then a companion is allowed to enter the water for exactly one hour. They must swim next to you or a bit behind you. Pace setting is not allowed. Their sole purpose is to lift your spirits by having someone nearby. We never talked and they may NOT touch you or your swim is over. My pilot was very hesitant because I was holding a great pace and sometimes, he said companion swimmers slow down the solo swimmer. If the conditions were worse, chances are, they weren't going in. Companions are not allowed in relay crossings.
Timothy Rath (Editor) August 22, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Scott, thanks for the comment. Here's what Birmelin said about her companion swimmers: "Channel rules say I must swim 2 hours alone first, before a companion is allowed to enter the water, if pilot approves. Typically when the swimmer is doing okay, they aren't needed ... My husband got the chance to hop back in the water for what was the final hour with me. He and Karen Rosinski wore wetsuits and swim fins to stay alongside me when permitted in the water as companion swimmers." On JennyBermelin.com, she goes more in-depth about the rules for companions and pilots. I will have to ask what strokes she used!

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