It was an achievement born of opportunity. Coach Marieke Blomme was primed and ready for a new season of competitive swimming. But this would be no ordinary season. "With Covid, all the competitions were cancelled," she recalls. "It was a good moment to choose my own challenge."
One other factor: She was in the process of assembling her own Endless Pools® Elite model in her home. Intended to make her swim coaching business more convenient and effective, her swimming pool opened another door. "I suddenly had the investment of a pool, and I had the possibility to train. I had the chance to do something like this."
That is, she had the chance to swim the coast of Belgium in a feat that would shatter a recent world record. In the process, she'd also make a bold statement about the power and determination of older female athletes.
How did Marieke shave more than four hours off the previous swimming world record, set by a younger male swimmer? She relied on hard work, experience, and hours of training in this Endless Pools Elite mode.
A SWIMMING RECORD SET AND BROKEN
In September 2020, Matthieu Bonne swam the length of the Belgian coast in 23 hours, 3 minutes. The reality-TV star got a lot of attention for setting a world record. Coach Marieke felt certain that she could do better.
"Everybody told me it's not possible," she recalls. "He's a lot younger, and he's a guy – the typical things." Besides her fortitude, skill, and experience, she had another advantage in making the 65-kilometer swim: her new Elite pool, allowing her to swim in place against a smooth, adjustable current.
"If you swim the Belgium coast, you have six hours with the current, six against," she knew. "If you want to swim the whole coast in one [stretch], you have to swim against the current. That's obviously a difficult part of the whole swim."
In her Elite pool, she knew then, it "will be really good to be able to train against the current, to be able to change your technique to what is necessary to swim well in those circumstances. I just had to take the opportunity to use the pool."
In fact, she doubts that she could have properly prepared for her record-shattering swim without her Elite pool at home for on-demand training. "In Belgium, it's really difficult to get training hours in public pools to train for something like this," she notes. "I train 14 and sometimes 20-plus hours a week. If you want to do that in a public pool, it's almost impossible. And there's too many people swimming there."
To shatter the world record, Marieke trained in her Endless Pools Elite model. It prepared her for swimming against a strong current while building endurance. She was able to power through, even under some treacherous conditions!
A MOST CHALLENGING SWIM
When she emerged victorious on dry land, she shattered the record by finishing the swim in 18 hours, 45 minutes! Still, that was longer than her bold prediction of an even 18. "We did have bad luck with the weather," she acknowledges, "so it became a little bit more than 18 hours.
"We started with waves of 70 to 80 centimeters. Normally, open water competitions are cancelled when the waves are about 50 centimeters. It was a bit of a gamble, but it was the only day that the whole team could join, and the forecast said that the waves would go down to 40 centimeters."
The turbulence increased around the port city of Bruges. "Because of the sea going against the walls that are built around the ports, the waves get a lot higher.
"I had two boats guiding me: a small one and a bigger boat. At a certain point, the [big, nine-meter] boat just goes down. And then suddenly you see it coming next to you – really close – almost three meters above you! I know they can't fully control [the boat] at that point. You are so small that you can just disappear. There's no denying that I was scared at that point."
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Marieke's Belgian coast swim raised €4,000, including a donation from Endless Pools. The money will support two nonprofits: the Homestretch Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit that provides much-needed resources to elite athletes, mostly women; and Snowbility, which works to make winter sports more easily accessible to special-needs athletes.
"I know the people" who run both charities, she says, "so it feels good to give to someone that I trust. I know it's going to be spent in a good way."
In line with Homestretch's mission, Marieke also wanted to set an example for women athletes. "In general, it's not easy for women in sports to get the same chances. I've always wanted to prove that we can be equal; we can do good things or be better sometimes. That was a little bit of the inspiration."
OPENING DOORS FOR MORE SWIMMERS
As Covid restrictions lift, Coach Marieke is looking ahead to new challenges. "I want to give other people the option to do something similar, so we're going to set up a 16-kilometer swim between Nieuwpoort and Ostend, two cities at the coast in Belgium.
"We set up a nonprofit, so that it's a small cost for anyone who wants to try it. I do feel a lot of sports get quite expensive, and not everybody has the money. And open water swimming is very easy: You just need a bathing suit and goggles."
She's creating this event with a generosity toward others and an open mind about her own accomplishments. "We'll organize it so that whoever wants to try can do the 16 kilometers. And maybe next year, they can try to take my record."