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Sonora teen channels her efforts

Sonora High 2011 graduate Teri Wells, 19, (above) will attempt to swim the English Channel in July. She worked out for 3 1/2 hours Wednesday at Sonora Sports and Fitness Center. Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat
A Sonora teen has spent the past several months training for her attempt at completing one of the world’s most well-known open water swimming challenges in July.

Teri Wells, 19, has been preparing to swim more than 18 nautical miles (about 21 land miles) across the English Channel, motivated by her longtime swim coach, Erica Waelty, who tackled the challenge herself years ago and suggested the 2011 Sonora High graduate give it a shot. 

“I’m at a point in my life where I can take the time to do it and thought it would be cool if I could inspire the kids I coach the same way she inspired me,” Wells said.

Wells’ training over the past 13 weeks has included swimming for more than three straight hours nearly every day at Sonora Sports and Fitness Center in East Sonora.

Wells has been involved with Tuolumne County Aquatics since she was 5 and was a Wildcat swimmer for four years. Now, she instructs TCA youth and Masters swimmers at the gym several times a week in addition to her training.

“She has a lot of people supporting her from the swimming community,” said TCA director Patti Scott-Baier. “She coaches both the youth and Masters program, so she works with a large number of people and does a really good job for us.”

Wells sometimes swims at Aquatic Park in San Francisco Bay which helps to better simulate channel conditions. It’s also where she qualified for a channel attempt with a six-hour swim in May.

Swimmers wishing to cross the channel must first be approved by the Channel Swimming Association, which was established in 1927 to officially record crossing attempts and verify times.

Swimming in the Bay will help acclimate Wells with water temperatures that have hovered around the mid-to-high-50s during her most recent swims and are expected to be in the low-60s in the English Channel when she attempts to cross in late-July. She said even slight decreases in water temperature within certain parts of the Bay can make swimming noticeably more difficult.

Wells will return to Aquatic Park this Saturday for an eight-hour swim, which would be a personal record despite the fact that swimming the English Channel would be much longer.

“It’s kind of like training for a marathon where you don’t actually do the whole thing at once until the day you run in it,” she said.

Wells is looking to complete the channel in under 12 hours — 12:30 is around the average for women — but said she’ll be happy to successfully finish no matter how long it takes.

The English Channel is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the southern coast of England from the northern coast of France. Swimmers typically go from Shakespeare Beach in Dover to Cap Gris Nez, the headland halfway between Calais and Boulogne, in France. 

Since Captain Matthew Webb made the first recorded swim across the channel in 1875, most estimates put the number of swimmers who have successfully crossed at about only 1,000 — though thousands more have tried.

The Channel Swimming Association calls the feat “very much like tackling Mt. Everest.”

There have even been several swimmers who have perished while attempting to cross the channel, including one Irish man last summer who, according to news reports, died of cardiac arrest roughly one mile off the coast of France.

“As her mother, of course I’m nervous about it,” said Teri’s mom, Bobbie Wells. “But she has been doing a lot of training and it’s something she has chosen to do. I want to be as supportive as I can and I’ll be part of her crew.”

Wells and her family are traveling to London July 17, and she will have a window to swim from July 27 to August 2. She has a boat reserved through the Channel Swimming Association that will ride along beside her with her crew, which includes TCAM swimmers Brent and Sheri Anderson.

Her crew will be responsible for helping “feed” her every few hours, which involves either lowering down a water bottle on a rope or extending a cup on a pole to her in the water.

One way Wells has been raising money for the trip is by offering sponsorships that will be displayed on a banner hanging from her pilot boat. She also has a website atwww.facebook.com/terischannelswim that includes reports on the progress of her training and will feature live updates during her swim.

“I think it takes a lot of organization and dedication to put all this together,” said Bobbie Wells. “If she can organize and accomplish something like this, she can apply it to many areas in her life.”

Katherine Hohne, 17, who also competed on the Sonora High swim team, was around last year when Wells first committed to the goal of crossing the channel. Hohne said she’s been “in awe” at how dedicated her friend has been to the training.

“She’ll get out of the pool after swimming five hours and tell me she could swim five more,” Hohne said. “It’s going to be really challenging, but I think she’ll slaughter it.”

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