This National Women’s Health and Fitness Day, Wellesley Celebrates Alumnae Open-Water Swimmers

An alumna swims in the English Channel.
Image credit: Melanie Kaplan
September 27, 2018

September 26 was National Women’s Health and Fitness Day, dedicated to encouraging women to make healthy choices and find time for regular physical activity. For Wellesley’s growing community of open-water swimmers, their motivation for fitness has fueled a growing list of impressive accomplishments—and offers the rest of us a reminder that devoting a little time to physical fitness can lead to big results.

When Melanie Kaplan ’12 reached the shores of Cap Gris-Nez, France, after completing her solo swim across the 25-mile-wide English Channel in August, it was the culmination of months of training. Three-hour swim sessions in January became seven-hour sessions by May, and she realized that swimming 13 hours was going to be “a whole lot harder” than she had imagined.

Kaplan’s former Blue swimming teammate Gabriela “Ika” Kovacikova ’14, who has crossed the English Channel and was on the first all-female relay team to double cross the Catalina Channel, inspired her to keep going: “Her hard work, determination, and successful outcome made my own dreams of a channel crossing seem a little more possible.”

Kovacikova was motivated to tackle open-water swimming by the opportunity for personal growth; it has also given her the confidence to face other challenges in life. “I struggled with personal confidence quite a bit in the past,” said Kovacikova, now a student at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. “I’m glad that I pushed myself with this challenge, because now when I am nervous before an interview or a test I think to myself, ‘If you can swim the English Channel, you certainly can do this!’”

So, how can you make fitness a part of your daily life even if you’re not destined to cross the English Channel? “It doesn’t matter if you break a world record that day or inch along at a snail’s pace,” said Kovacikova. “The importance is to simply get moving, whatever that means for you on that day.”

Across the country, today is that day for many, with events and activities planned for women of all ages, including a full slate of group fitness classes at Wellesley’s Keohane Sports Center, which sees over 40,000 visitors a year.

Remember, adding fitness to your daily routine doesn’t have to mean going it alone! “Work out with friends,” said Edie Hu ’97, who was a member of the Blue swimming program and founded Wellesley’s water polo team.An alumna takes a selfie in the ocean with a city skyline behind. “Friends make training much easier, and they can push you to do more.”

Hu stepped away from swimming for nearly 15 years after college but found new motivation when she moved to Hong Kong, where she joined an open-water swimming community. “I discovered a whole new way of seeing the world and using swimming as the vehicle to get me places,” she said. Fitness became a way for Hu to explore her new surroundings, and she is now training to swim 28 miles around Hong Kong Island in November, which has only been accomplished twice before.

“Swimming at Wellesley gave me a reason to really take care of myself. To get to bed at a reasonable hour. To eat right in college,” said Rebecca Nevitt ’88, who crossed the Catalina Channel with Kovacikova last June. “This is still true today. One of the reasons I tackle large swims is to give myself the motivation to really stay committed to my health and fitness. In order to reach these swim goals, I have to really focus on mobility, flexibility, good recovery practices, sleep hygiene, nutrition, strength, all things I also need to stay healthy long term.”

Photo: Melanie Kaplan ’12 reached a life-long goal in August, swimming 25 miles across the English Channel.

Photo (inset): Edie Hu ’97 after an open swim. Hu is now training to swim around Hong Kong Island in November.