Swimmer Gabriela "Ika" Kovacikova '14 Will Take on English Channel Crossing with Wellesley Team Members' Support

August 16, 2013

On the weekend of August 17-18, 2013, with weather and tides determining the exact time, Wellesley Blue athlete Gabriela “Ika” Kovacikova ‘14 will attempt to swim the English Channel.

Kovacikova has long admired those who attempt open water challenges. “I read the book Swimming Across Antarctica by Lynn Cox when I was about 10 years old and I thought she was truly incredible, “ said the senior. “I have been swimming since the age of seven, but I never thought I was capable of ‘marathon swimming,’ even though I have always loved to swim.” In 2012, however, Kovacikova heard of two Smith College students who swam the English Channel. “All of a sudden it seemed like a real possibility. I spoke with them about it and they definitely encouraged me to go for it.”

Swimming the Channel is a legendary feat in the sport, similar to running a high-profile marathon. As Kovacikova wrote on her blog with teammate Annie Hamilton ’14, “The English Channel is a 21-mile swim from Dover, England, to the coast of France. The English Channel is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Swimmers must navigate through boats and tides, and they must be able to withstand the 60°F water temperature without wetsuits.”

Hamilton has helped Kovacikova train and seen her commitment firsthand, including hours and hours of coldwater swimming, from Walden Pond in May to New Hampshire's Lake Mascoma and on to Lake Michigan in Chicago. “She has been working incredibly hard to achieve this,” said Hamilton. “I am most excited to see her finally be able to swim in the Channel after over a year of preparation.”

Hamilton is part of a dedicated support group for Kovacikova which also includes fellow Wellesley Blue swimmers, coach Bonnie Dix, and training partner Nial Funchion, a Chicago police officer who has completed the English Channel swim. Dix, Hamilton, Funchion, and a few friends will accompany the boat pilot in the support boat that will follow Kovacikova as she swims. Kovacikova explained, “They will help feed me every 30 minutes or hour, they will help check for signs of hypothermia, and perhaps find creative ways to keep me going during the long swim.” On average, it takes advanced swimmers 14 hours to cross the Channel, and their support crew cannot physically touch them during the swim.

Chair of the Department of Physical Education, Recreation, and Athletics Bridget Belgiovine reports that Kovacikova's boat pilot will be Fred Mardle, and his boats (and thereby swimmers) can be tracked through the Channel Swimming Association website

Kovacikova majors in health and society (an individual major) and plans to go to medical school. Last summer when she began training for the Channel, Kovacikova worked at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She was moved by CIRP’s efforts in treating young trauma victims, and decided along with Hamilton to donate any extra funds raised for the Channel Swim to the institute. “I really learned a lot from my experience as part of the research team at CIRP,” she said. “Swimming the English Channel would be my way of giving back to the center, and would support efforts to prevent violence.”

“I realize I have a lot of big goals ahead of me, with applying to medical school and with this swim,” she said. “It can get awfully daunting at times, so I tend go by this quote I received in a fortune cookie one time: ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’ To me, it means to not let hard-work deter you from your goals.”


Kovacikova successfully completed her swim in 11 hours and 28 minutes on August 19, 2013.

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