She was in the water for nearly 14 hours, for what is officially a 21.2-mile swim from shore-to-shore.
The current took the swimmer a bit west on Wednesday and a few more miles beyond her planned route, but at 6:40 p.m. local time, Molly Nance became the first woman to swim the St. Lucia Channel.
It was the hardest thing she’s ever done, the 52-year-old said from her poolside lounger in the Caribbean on Thursday.
“Several times I thought no way I can finish, that island is not getting any closer.”
But the Lincoln woman — dubbed unsinkable by her friends — put her head in the water and kept on.
“Stroke, stroke, stroke. And with encouragement, I got there.”
The marathon swimmer attempted the English Channel in 2014 and was held back by severe nausea.
“The Channel was such a disappointment and I thought, I don’t want to relive that. I wanted to feel like I gave it my all — I was not going to ask to get out, no matter how I felt.”
And she didn’t feel good Wednesday.
Four hours into the swim, ocean swells made keeping down nutrition — what swimmers call “feeds” — impossible, so she relied on coconut water for sustenance.
“When you’re from farm country, it’s hard to practice for that kind of stuff,” Nance said. “I felt bad, everyone on the boat was ill.”
After her English Channel swim, Nance had maintained her daily training at the Lincoln YMCA — 90 minutes to two hours before heading to work at the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute; four- to eight-hour swims on weekends. She traveled, too, completing river and open-water swims from Arizona to North Dakota to Florida.
She set her sights on the island-to-island channel swim last year after she and her husband, Paul, had dinner with friends who had vacationed in St. Lucia.
“We’d never been anywhere in the Caribbean and we were looking at it on a globe and I saw this little island right above it.”
The swimmer’s mind started turning. The distance from St. Lucia to Martinique was 21 miles.
“Same distance as the English Channel ... and the water is warm.”
She started exploring the possibilities and discovered the channel had been swum twice, both times by men.
“I started sending out emails.”
She found a boat captain and crew and a small group of swim supporters. She already had Paul, who has accompanied her on all of her open water swims. She bought him a bright yellow T-shirt so she could spot him from the water.
Four days before the swim, the couple arrived on St. Lucia and began to prepare. They’ll head home Sunday and back to work Monday.
“I’m trying to recover today,” Nance said. “I’m just really excited to be the first woman to do it.”
After the race, the swimmer felt a mix of exhilaration and exhaustion and told her husband she was never going to attempt another swim so difficult.
“Paul just looked at me and said, ‘OK. I’ll write that down.’”