“It never crossed my mind to get on the [escort] boat,” says Kevin Shinnick ’91. Back in September 2013, the California local swam for 18 and a half hours across the English Channel, beginning at Dover, England, and ending in Wissant, France, at roughly 4 a.m. But only when Shinnick struggled up through the rolling surf and onto a dark and deserted beach in France did he realize he’d never considered, not even once, calling it quits.
As the crow flies, the journey is about 21 miles, but Shinnick calculates that he swam roughly 30 miles, simply because the current and tides pushed and pulled him off course. “It’s like you swim in a big S-pattern; the tides make it so much longer,” he says. The water temperature hovered around 61 degrees, wetsuits weren’t allowed, and swimmers can’t stop or hang onto their escort boat — either swim or tread water. The weather can turn quickly, making long-distance swims a challenging affair. Shinnick says he didn’t give up because he didn’t want to let himself, or his family, down.
Shinnick, who studied television production (then housed in the College of Communication and Fine Arts), is CFO of Ugly Brother Studios, a TV production company in Culver City, California. He played water polo and remembers team workouts as being some of the toughest in his life. But it wasn’t until after college that he took on endurance races like triathlons. Knee pain caused him to try swimming and biking. After friends introduced him to ocean swimming, he was hooked. “I was so excited the first time I swam a mile in the ocean — it’s like running your first 5K,” he says. He began to test himself in the ocean, swimming a handful of miles at first, and then finally setting the English Channel as a true endurance goal.
He prepped a year in advance, swimming Los Angeles’ South Bay for hours at a time. His wife, Laura, paddled alongside in a kayak, serving as his guide and providing him with on-the-go carbohydrate fuel. “My wife was literally my crew chief,” he says. “She’s a real trooper.”
Long-distance swimming is now part of Shinnick’s life: This year, he plans to swim around Manhattan Island and cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Each swim offers Shinnick the chance to test himself — an opportunity, as he notes, to peel yourself down to the core to see what you’re made of. In fact, fewer people have crossed the English Channel than have summited Everest.
Stefan Slater ’10 is an L.A. writer who covers topics from comic book culture to surfing on the Great Lakes for local lifestyle magazines.