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The Doctor Is In The English Channel


Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

In 1972, a young 15-year-old Lynne Cox set a record swimming across the English Channel from England to France in a time of 9 hours 57 minutes, breaking both the men’s and women’s records.

Her crossing was a blistering fast time during that era and the first time anyone had broken the 10-hour mark swimming from England to France.

That summer of 1972, Richard Davis Hart, a studious young man who received his Ph.D. from Springfield College and was serving in the United States army as a second lieutenant, was training hard for his own attempt.

While he had been ranked third in the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation and was an NCAA Division II All American swimmer, it was his first channel attempt. And he made the most of his time spent in the water, setting a record of 9 hours 44 minutes.

After setting the English Channel record, he decided to go to medical school in 1973 and graduated in 1977. During one of his summers while studying to become a urologist, he swam across the English Channel again in 1976 with another fast time of 9 hours 50 minutes.

In Body Trauma: A Writer’s Guide to Wounds and Injuries, published in 2006, Dr. David Page writes, “Folklore has it that long-distance swimmers are hefty athletes who sport a generous lawyer of adipose (fat) tissue to fight off the ravages of cold water. Without a doubt, some swimmers are cherubs, adiposidly unchallenged. The real speedsters are svelte, and they don’t use a layer of grease, either.

In 1972, I was Davis Hart’s physician when he set a world record swimming the English Channel. There was’t much information in the medical literature at that time to use to prepare Davis for this endeavor, but we knew Davis’s trim physique would leave him at risk for cold-related problems. Water conducts heat twenty-five times faster than air. Davis discovered a training program that worked for him. He swam in cold water as often as possible, but he also did a lot of warm pool swimming because of his job. What to do to acclimate to cold water? Davis began to stand in a frigid shower in a plastic garbage can filled with the cold shower water, training his nervous system to acclimate to the harsh elements of mimicked cold water submersion.

It worked. Davis tolerated 62 Channel water for nine hours and forty-four minutes.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1946, Dr. Hart is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a shining example of seriously-minded hard work and success.

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