It was Father’s Day. Many fathers were spending the day with their families at a barbeque. Some were spending time on the golf course while others were at the beach. Some fathers and their families were at the lake.
Doug Comstock was in the lake – for 12 hours.
Comstock, an East Granby resident and a Canton High graduate, spent Father’s Day at West Hill Pond in New Hartford training for his attempt to swim across the English Channel in July. It was his last big training swim before heading to Europe.
Some folks consider swimming 21 miles to cross the English Channel from Dover, England to Cape Gris Nez, France, the Mount Everest of open water swimming.
It’s not an easy swim. No wetsuits are allowed. You can’t touch the boat or use the boat to break a path through the open water for you. The water is frequently in the 50s and you have to deal with jellyfish. You are allowed to wear a swim cap and use nose plugs. Most swimmers cover themselves in grease to keep warm, protect themselves as best they can against the jellyfish and to cut through the water.
At the age of 60, Comstock will be one of the oldest athletes in the world to swim across the English Channel if he is successful. This is the latest challenge that Comstock has embraced since graduating from Canton High in 1973, where he was an excellent basketball player.
He was a fisherman in Alaska for a few years in the 1970s. He is a two-time finisher of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bicycle race and 26.2 mile marathon) in the 1990s. He was a former heavyweight black belt on the U.S. Intersport karate team to Russia and Poland.
“After the second Ironman, I said to myself, O.K, I’ve done this. What is next?” Comstock said. “That is why I chose open water swimming. It’s the most difficult of all the swims. I wondered if I could train for this.”
Comstock said that dreams have their seasons. Twenty years ago, he married his wife, Mary and they had three kids (ages 18, 16, 14) in four years. Now, he has a bit more time to train — at least 25 miles a week in the open water.
“I’ve had more time to train the last three years and it’s the time to do this,” he said. “It was a way to celebrate turning 60 and doing it while you’re young.”
Comstock, who owns his own motivational speaking firm, recalled one the 1993 Ironman races in Hawaii. He was halfway through the marathon when he saw his friend Keith Wright, who was 69 at the time, begin his race. Comstock had a 13-mile lead on him. Wright passed him with two miles left to go.
“Keith clearly did not fit into the senior citizen box that I had so carefully constructed for him and others his age,” Comstock recalled. “Keith had aged, but he wasn’t old. He changed my life. I made a decision that I wanted to be like Keith when I got older. I wanted to live an actively engaged life and maybe inspire one or two others along the way. It’s too easy in our society today to believe you’re too old.
“Keith is truly one of the reasons why I have the intestinal fortitude to attempt this swim,” Comstock said.
He’s also swimming to raise $10,000 to donate to Foodshare, which helps distribute food to the needy in Hartford and Tolland County, and the East Granby Friend to Friend food pantry. When Comstock worked on a fishing boat in Alaska in the 1980s, he was well fed during the week. But he was homeless and hungry on the weekend.
Comstock has been training for the last few years for the swim. He thought about attempting the swim in 2014 but he was told he wasn’t ready.
He has been training with Simsbury’s Marty McMahon, the first Connecticut resident to swim the channel and Marcy MacDonald, the Manchester native who owns the U.S. record for most crosses of the channel (15), and Elizabeth Fry of Westport. “I’m swimming with the equivalent of Michael Jordan and LeBron James,” Comstock said of McMahon and MacDonald. “I’m learning from the best and I’m paying attention to what they say.”
Comstock has swum over 2,100 miles in preparation for the swim. He swam indoors most of the winter. In late April, he got into the water at West Hill Pond for his first open water swim of the season. It consisted of simply standing in the water, letting his body acclimate to the 45 degree temperatures. “That’s building confidence by standing in that water,” he said.
There are two to four mile training swims in Long Island Sound with Fry, where the temperature is in the low 50s. And he frequently runs into jellyfish. “I can’t believe how many jellyfish stings I have but that is part of the deal,” he said. “There are jellyfish in the channel.”
The time needed to make the crossing varies with the swimmer. Some have done it in seven hours while others have taken 27 hours. It depends on water conditions, currents, the weather and the condition of the swimmer. He hopes to complete the swim in around 15 hours but it could be longer if he doesn’t get to Cape Griz Nez near the French shoreline before the tides shift.
Comstock isn’t sure when he will swim. He leaves for England in mid-July.
He will swim between July 22-29. When the captain of his escort boat decides the weather is right, it will be time to go, they’ll begin the swim. He will be on call 24 hours a day. Comstock will provide information on tracking his swim in real time. You can sign up at his website.