If at first you don’t succeed … well, you’ve heard lots of those stories before.
Cari Kauffman, a 2003 Perry Meridian High School graduate and swim team member, has lived it.
The former Falcon and University of Evansville swimmer failed in her first attempt to swim the English Channel in 2020, missing her goal of completing the 21.5-mile distance from Dover, England to the rocky shore of Cap Gris Nez, France by three miles.
“I had to cut it short due to seasickness,” Kauffman recalled. “There were gale force winds and the water was really choppy. My coach and boat pilot wanted me out of the water for my health. I was out of the water; I was done, not completing it the first time was quite a blow.”
Kauffman, a bankruptcy attorney in Chicago, continued, “I came home really disappointed and within a month I realized I had unfinished business.”
She began training rigorously again. She competed in various triathlons and began concentrating again on open water distance swims, particularly in nearby Lake Michigan with other swimmers whom she called the Point Swimmers. Their swims usually lasted for four hours.
She also repeated her plans to return to England. She reached out to the Channel Swimming Association (CSA), founded in 1927, that is internationally recognized to observe and authenticate all successful Channel swims.
She booked the same CSA Registered Pilot that was with her team in 2020. Solo swimmers must complete a six-hour swim in cold water (56 to 60 degrees) and have it verified by the CSA. She booked her Channel swim about one year ahead for Sept. 7-12, depending on tides and weather conditions.
Kauffman arrived in England Aug. 24 for her second attempt. Each day, she would swim in Dover Harbor from one to three hours and made her required CSA six-hour swim in her first week there.
“After that first week, I kept my swims short and easy and made sure I was well-rested and fresh for the swim,” Kauffman, 38, said. “My coach and boat pilot were in communication and conditions on the first day (Sept. 7) of the window would be pretty good conditions.”
IN THE CHANNEL AT 3:30 A.M.
She began her swim at 3:30 a.m., in the cold Channel with coach Carol Breiter of Sacramento, former UE teammate Kim Smith and support swimmer Sarah Philpott of Dover, England in the accompanying boat.
“After six or seven hours, I became seasick twice and I had a lot of pain in my right wrist but I kept going because I had to move forward,’ Kauffman recalled.
“You are out there for so much time and because of the tides you swim in an S-shape. The middle part of the Channel is the shipping lane, and I would occasionally see a freighter in the distance. There was really nothing to look at but water.”
“I also discovered that I’m terrified of jellyfish. I had dodged them until the final half mile and then was stung. By then I was so close that I could see the shore. I put my head down and kept going.”
Soon she was overcome with pride by reaching France after 12 hours and 25 minutes.
“I had to make sure my legs would work so I could stand up,” she remarked. “It was an amazing feeling to see about 40 people cheering from a tourist platform.”
Once on the rocky shore, a team member on the boat handed Cari an American Flag which she proudly held behind her for a photo opp. Mission accomplished.
“That experience and the smile on my face was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It was redemption,” Kauffman concluded.
Cari was asked to turn her attention to her Southside roots. She is the daughter of Vickie and Russ Kauffman, who still live on the Southside.
She is a product of Perry Township Schools. At PMHS, she was a swimmer and cheerleader, played the violin in the orchestra, and was a member of the National Honor Society. She swam the breaststroke and individual medley competitively.
She majored in business administration and Spanish at the University of Evansville where she also swam and graduated in 2007. Two years later, she graduated with her law degree from DePaul University.
“My high school experiences on the swim team and orchestra showed me the value of hard work and determination, setting goals and working toward them, and especially time management to make it all happen,” she observed.
She is a fulltime attorney who worked via Zoom after arriving in Dover in August to stay mentally fresh.
After describing her Channel swim, she was asked, “Would you go back and do it again.”
Her reply was one word: “No.”