Ep #5: Swimming the English Channel and Fat Shaming with Jennifer Whitlock

In this conversation, Jennifer Whitlock, a fearless nurse practitioner and accomplished open water swimmer who recently traversed the English Channel, delves into the transformative power of pushing boundaries to unlock your ambitious aspirations.
Reflecting on her journey and the hurdles she faced, Jennifer underscores the importance of forging your own path to success and refusing to be shackled by external judgments.
After you listen to this conversation, you’ll be inspired to  transcend the ordinary and embrace the extraordinary within yourself.
In this conversation we discuss:
  •  How to embrace fear and failure as growth opportunities.
  • The importance of defining your own context for success and celebrating your achievements.
  •  How to choose big goals that inspire you.
  • The power that comes from focusing on being extraordinary, rather than on the haters.
  • Why you should never underestimate what you can accomplish with dedication and perseverance.
About Jennifer

Jennifer Whitlock is a gastroenterology nurse practitioner Hospitalist, which is a complicated way of saying that she only takes care of patients sick enough to be admitted to a hospital with GI issues.

She works 7 days on, 12 hour days on, then has 7 days off. This week off is where all the magic happens: writing both fiction and nonfiction, candle making, glass making and lots and lots of swimming—preferably in cold water.

Jennifer has completed several long-distance swims, including across the English Channel in 2023. A native of Michigan, Jennifer lives in Chattanooga and swims year round in the Tennessee River, which isn’t really as crazy as it sounds most months of the year.

How to connect with Jennifer:

Instagram: @310toeverest

Facebook 

Anna
My guest today is Jennifer Whitlock. She’s a gastroenterology nurse practitioner, hospitalist, which is a complicated way of saying that she only takes care of patients sick enough to be admitted to a hospital with GI issues. She works seven days on, so 12 hour days on, and then has seven days off. This week off is where all the magic happens, writing both fiction and nonfiction, candle making, glass making, and lots and lots of swimming.

preferably in cold water. A native of Michigan, Jennifer lives in Chattanooga and swims year round in the Tennessee River, which isn’t as crazy as it sounds most months of the year. She also recently completed a swim of the English Channel and many other long distance swims. So thanks for being here, Jennifer. I appreciate you.

Jennifer
Thank you for having me. It was so nice to be here.

Anna
So I start out with asking, what does your discomfort zone look like?

Jennifer
Oh, I think it varies from year to year. When I first started doing open water swimming, my discomfort zone looked like swimming for an hour and a half without stopping. And that limit has grown with me. I would say now my discomfort zone looks a lot more like a 20-hour swim in 52-degree water. So that’s kind of the next thing I have on the horizon and feels a little intimidating right now.

You have to grow into some of these goals.

Anna
Yeah, so what does it look like for you to grow into your goals? Can you say more about that?

Jennifer
Sure. So when I first started with significant open water swimming, I was just swimming in the pool three times a week doing masters and COVID happened and I couldn’t swim. I couldn’t go to the gym. I couldn’t swim. I couldn’t go to work even. I got furloughed for 10 weeks and I was just at home at loose ends, as anxious as everyone else about what was happening because we really didn’t know anything about COVID at that point. I just knew I really couldn’t go anywhere or do a whole lot of my normal activities. And I just decided as one does, like, hey, I should swim the English channel three years from now for my 50th birthday. And so on that day, everything seemed to be like this huge, nearly impossible goal. I just kept that quote in my head that like, oh, it always seems impossible until it’s done.

And I baby stepped through the whole thing. And I would love to tell you that I’m like some sort of, you know, great, fantastic, you know, super fast swimmer. I am not, I’ve been swimming since I was four, but I’m not, I’m not really fast. I’m just really, really stubborn. So for me, stepping into discomfort means trying something new that I’m not sure I can accomplish. And…

people have told me along the way that if you’re not doing something that you might fail at, maybe you’re not trying, you’re reaching far enough. So I keep that in my mind when I’m worried that I might fail spectacularly at one of these swims, I just remind myself that that’s just a sign that I’m pushing the limits.

Anna
Hmm. Love that. Makes you feel alive. It sounds like it’s, you know, yeah, that fear or at least sometimes I feel that way as well. Like that fear of failure is there and it’s scary for sure. And when you take it on, it’s like, helps me feel alive. I don’t know.

Jennifer
Feel the fear and do it anyway is my mantra.

Anna
That’s right. And that’s the definition of courage for a lot of folks. I like that definition of courage, right? Courage is being afraid and doing it anyway.

Jennifer
Absolutely.

Anna
So when you had this inspiration to, I didn’t realize, let me start over. So I’ve been following you on Facebook. I’ve known you for several years since you actually used to whitewater kayak actually several years ago. And so I’ve been following you on Facebook and following your journey from when you started swimming. And I didn’t realize that

you had said that your original goal was to swim the English Channel. I knew you accomplished that this year and it was super cool to follow. I didn’t realize that was your inspirational goal. How did that pop into your head? I’m just curious about how that came to you.

Jennifer
So it started in 2017 when I was 310 pounds. And I was completely aware that I’m really good at giant goals. I’m really good at like, hey, you should get a master’s degree and you should work full time and go to school full time for three straight years. Okay, I can do that. But I struggle with things like, hey, you should go to the gym three times a week and count calories. Like I just, I don’t do so well with some of those smaller like steady goals. So in 2017, I was like, Hey, you know what would be a great way to lose a lot of weight? Let’s go to Everest. As one does. I do love big goals. So I rounded up some friends who were like, Yeah, let’s go to Everest. That sounds like a great idea. And we trained for two years to go to Everest. I lost.

Anna
You do love big goals. That’s what I’m hearing.

Jennifer
I’ll say like 83 or 87 pounds, something like that. And spent every weekend hiking, getting ready to go to Everest and lots and lots of time on a stairmaster. So 2019, we were the last group to ascend Base Camp, which is like 18,500 feet. It’s in the death zone, but you’re not summiting. So we did that, came back and COVID happened. And we were the last group to go up the mountain for a couple of years.

So here we are at home, locked down, can’t go to the gym and the weight starts to come back on. And I was like, this is not acceptable. I have worked way too hard to be this new version of me that is an endurance athlete essentially, cause it’s 12 days of going uphill to get to base camp. And that’s after flying into like 7,000 feet elevation. So I was like, what’s the next big thing? What’s it gonna be? And I was like, I should swim the English Channel.

Jennifer
And I literally like sat on the couch and said, I should swim the English Channel for my 50th birthday. Cause I knew it took two or three years to get the boat. You have to book while it advance. It’s a really good example of you have to throw your hat over the fence and then figure out how to get it back. Because you book the boat and then you become the person who needs the boat. Cause I surely did not need the boat when I started. And then over the course of three years, stepped up, baby stepped up to the channel.

Anna
Right.

Jennifer
So that’s how it started. Oh my gosh. And it was an adventure because I had to keep in mind what the big goal was. So I am not fast and I would do all these swims. I started out with an hour swim and then an hour and a half swim. And then I did my first marathon, which in swimming is a 10K. And I was so worried that I was going to missed the cutoff time. So because I was always at the back of the pack, I was always the last or second to last or third to last person at all these events. So over and over I was the last person. And then there was one race where I was too slow and I was a did not finish because I couldn’t swim in the time allotted. So over and over if I had worried about my times in high compared to over and over to other people, I would have just stopped.

Jennifer
Because who’s like, some of the race directors were fantastic. They would be like, Hey, this is Jennifer. She’s swimming in English channel next year. And I would be like, I just came in last at your race. Will you please stop talking? And that’s a real, that really happens. Like I was last out of the water and like feeling like a drowned rat and feeling like, Oh my gosh, what have I done? And then the race director standing up there yelling to everybody like, you guys got to meet her, she’s swimming the English channel next year after they all just saw me like.

Coming out of the water like defeated and I had to work really hard to think of myself as the last finisher and not the biggest loser so Because we have this idea like, you know if you’re Gonna be awesome. You’re supposed to come in first. You don’t come in last Nobody looks at whoever came in last and thinks oh, there’s a hero for you But the reality is that people take a lot more inspiration from the person who came in last and got it done Than the person who made it look really easy so

Jennifer
I just was constantly focused on the next goal, the next thing, the next part of the big picture and trying not to get bogged down in like being 97th out of 100 or 30th out of 30 and just focus on the fact that I just swam from the lower peninsula of Michigan to the upper peninsula of Michigan. Like I literally just swam from Michigan to Michigan. This is amazing. And try not to think about being 30th out of 30 when I did it.

Anna
There are so many gems that you just covered in what you said that I want to circle back to, that I think is really inspiring and powerful. Okay, one of them is what you just said is the context of how you viewed your swims mattered to you. So, changing the context from, in your words, being the last finisher, not the biggest loser, right? So being the last finisher and celebrating what you actually did, like the facts. Like you just swam Michigan to Michigan and that’s something to be proud of. And I think that stepping into our discomfort zones when that fear of failure comes up, or we might…

Either we might not do as well as we had hoped or in the larger context of whatever the culture of the sport is, you might not have reached what people define as success. How important it is to define that context for yourself in an empowering way. And what I heard you just say is that was important to you on your journey. And I love that the race directors were actually holding you to your potential versus, so the, right? The context was she just finished this and she’s swimming the English Channel. And I love that you had a community that held you accountable to that dream. So, so key because without,

Jennifer
Absolutely.

Anna
We can either let ourselves compare ourselves to what others think or what others expect, or we can define the context for ourselves and keep moving forward.

Jennifer
Absolutely. They believed in me before I believed in me. There were so many people who were like, you don’t know how to fail. It’s going to be great. You’re going to be amazing because you don’t know how to fail. And when I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, other people told me I could do it. And that was everything.

Anna
When people were saying you don’t know how to fail, so what did that mean? What were they saying? Say more about that.

Jennifer
I have a track record of picking things and just making them happen just by sure perseverance or probably stubbornness. Like, that’s just kind of, I think anybody who knows me fairly well would say that I’m probably pretty stubborn and I don’t know how to quit. So that’s, yeah, I think that’s fair to say.

Anna
Well, what I hear you saying and describing in your races is that you, yeah, perseverance, so small consistent actions over time helped you achieve this big result and, yeah, passion for believing in yourself.

Jennifer
I have to be really careful about choosing which star to aim for, because once I choose, it’s game on. Whether that’s writing a book, or swimming a channel, or climbing a mountain, whatever it is, I have to really make sure that I want whatever that thing is, because I have no problem with devoting a couple years to getting there.

Anna
You don’t have a problem committing like two years to something. Okay, so we’ll start here. So say more about how you get clear on what it is you want to go for.

Jennifer
Oh my gosh, I have to like really sit with it because I’m also a little impulsive. I’m like, oh yeah, sounds like a great idea to like pick this crazy, giant goal that’s gonna take all my time and energy for like an extended period of time. So for example, I’m gonna tell myself a little bit. I have a performance coach and I was checking in with her five weeks before the channel and she’s like, how’s it going? What are you doing, Jennifer? And I was like, well, you know, I’ve been swimming a ton, you know, I’m up to over 20 miles a week now and she’s like okay and how’s it going? I’m like it’s really good, you know, had really good success with my swim from Anacapa Island to the coast of California and that went really well so I’m feeling good about it because it was really hard and I’m writing a book and she’s like oh really are you writing a book tell me about this? I’m like what’s fiction? And I started it five weeks ago and she said okay well tell me more about that how far how many words have you written? I was like 90,000 and she was

She’s like, what? I said, 90,000 words. She’s like, so let me understand that starting 10 weeks out from the English Channel, you started writing a fiction book for the first time, and you’ve now written 90,000 words. And most people just training for the English Channel and swimming is enough, Jennifer. And she said, I suppose that’s probably true.

So this is not entirely new behavior for me with like the whole like, hey, let’s do this thing that other people consider to be like a life’s work and see how fast we can do it.

Anna
So, as you said, this is kind of a known behavior. So is there someone in your life at an early age who introduced this concept to you of like dreaming big, choosing big goals, and then stepping into your discomfort zone? Or do you remember an early time of when you did this? Like the first time you stepped into your discomfort zone?

Jennifer
Yeah.

Jennifer
My mom likes to tell stories about how I sent her a letter home from summer camp. And I said, don’t worry, mom, there’ll be safety equipment when we bounce backwards off the cliffs on ropes. So there was rappelling at the summer camp, which we did not know when I left for summer camp, but once I was there, I discovered that we would be doing this rock climbing and rappelling adventure. So I dove right into that. And yeah, that’s the most obvious answer.

But it does happen over and over, whether it’s with school or I was 21 when I moved to Istanbul. My family had never left the country. But I often wonder what my life would be like if someone had told me when I was 18 or 20 or 22 that I could do anything. So my parents were really good about telling me, oh, you can do anything you put your mind to. And they were very specifically like, go to college.

Jennifer
So they never said, hey, I want you to go to college. It was always this understanding like you will go to college. Like you can pick which one and you can pick what you will study, but you will be going to college. So in terms of my above the ears, brain power and intelligence and achieving academically, my family was totally on board. Um, but I never had anyone who was like, Hey, you can do amazing and wild things to the point that when I was 21, 22 and I moved to Istanbul, people were like, what are you doing? This is insanity. Are you seriously moving to Turkey? And yeah, I seriously moved to Turkey and I did international finance and a bank in Turkey.

Anna
That’s amazing.

Jennifer
Hehehe

Anna
And so when you moved to Turkey, what was, was that uncomfortable for you or was that comfortable for you?

Jennifer
I sat on the stairs outside of where I was staying, the apartment I was staying at, and cried. And I was like, oh my gosh, I must be having some sort of nervous breakdown. They’re like, no, you’re jet lagged, you’re tired, and you’re in a new country, and only half the people around you can speak English. So no, this is normal for, this is how normal humans respond to a very stressful situation. So I loved it, but that first night was very hard.

Anna
Yeah, I love that you shared that with us because it is true that it is normal for humans to have emotional responses when we’re in our discomfort zone. I remember in Whitewater kayaking, when I first introduced the idea that it’s okay to cry on the river, you would have thought I had said something like super offensive to the people in the sport at the time.

And it’s like, it’s just water coming out of your eyes. It’s a natural emotional response. And I think that if we can embrace that and not make it into a bigger deal than it is, allow ourselves to feel all the feels. And then when all the feels are done feeling, then you’re, at least what I’m left with is, okay, now what? Now what action do I wanna take? And I think that if we, as a community, as coaches,

Jennifer (20:14.743)
Yeah.

Anna
that if we can allow folks to have the response they’re going to have emotionally, and then also be there when it’s time to. Okay, well, now that you’ve processed that, what do you want to do next?

Jennifer
It’s interesting to hear you say that because I tell people all the time, I’m like, no one can tell you’re crying. It’s swimming. Literally, you can cry all you want because nobody can tell but you. You might have to empty your goggles once in a while, but it’s fine. So feel free to cry. Like I encourage it wholeheartedly. And I would be lying if I didn’t say that was kind of my quiet place where I went when, when COVID was really bad and half my patients had COVID.

Anna
laughs

Jennifer
And there were days where more than one of my patients died. That getting in the water and giving myself permission to just feel it all is probably why I’m not actively in treatment for PTSD at this point. Because it was something I can’t even describe how awful some of those days were. And just giving myself permission to cry was significant for me surviving as a provider during COVID.

Anna
Mm. Yeah.

Jennifer
I think swimming saved me to some extent.

Anna
Yeah, that’s powerful. Yeah.

Jennifer
I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but it’s a great coping mechanism.

Anna
Yeah.

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s important to have, I think of it as self care. And I think it’s important that, when people say I’m too busy to X, Y, Z, whatever it is that they might be passionate about, it doesn’t allow for the healing, right? To put another way,

you make time for the things, activities that bring you joy, that help you reset, that allow you to feel all the feels. I think for me, both in body and mind, it is a healing process and then you’re able to better show up for the people in your life, for your work. And yeah, that must’ve been really difficult being a frontline worker in the pandemic.

And I’m so glad that you had that swimming too. It sounds like it really empowered you and like you said, helped you process. So that, it also reminds me of that book, The Body Keeps the Score and how it’s written by a psychologist, he’s pretty famous, but he talks about how movement is really important for processing trauma and having that be part of the healing process that it’s even, I wanna say more effective than talk therapy when it comes to trauma, so.

Jennifer
And I don’t think you have to be swimming channels to get that benefit. I think you can get on your yoga mat for half an hour and get that benefit. You do not have to be doing what I do or what anyone else does that for that matter. You just have to identify what allows you to have that peace and that place.

Anna
Yep.

Anna
So one other thing, I want to come back to something you mentioned earlier, which is that you talked about when you had this goal to swim the English Channel, you said, I threw my hat over the fence. And I think that, and you talked about you had to be the person swimming the English Channel before you were the person swimming the English Channel.

And then it’s kind of like your actions followed from there because you’d already rented the boat or reserved the boat. And then you were living into that goal. And that can be really tough for any of us, right? To take that big step. I think that humans, as humans, we can be really resigned or afraid of, will I really be able to do this? Afraid of the failure? Will this really make a difference for me? Can I do it?

Jennifer
Yes.

Anna
And so can you say more about throwing your hat over the fence and what that feels like for you?

Jennifer
It’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, probably a little more terrifying than exhilarating sometimes, because it’s really easy to close your eyes and imagine like how it’s gonna feel to step foot in France. It’s really easy to be like the idea of like, yes, I am an English channel swimmer. I finished English Channel. How amazing is that? But it’s truly much more difficult to conceptualize three years of training and getting up at four o’clock in the morning and the fence and all the baby steps in between. Like I didn’t even know what those baby steps were. I literally didn’t know what I was going to eat when I swam the English Channel. Like that was all part of the journey and is absolutely true that the English Channel swim is the cherry on top. The journey, the training is everything. So even had I not successfully swam the English Channel, I’d still done three years of swimming and training and getting up early and losing sleep and working really hard to pay all those bills that were coming in for all these swims. You know, it’s nobody can take that away from me. And the person that I became to swim the English Channel, I get to keep that. So.

Did I care if I finished? Oh yes, I cared deeply and I was in it to win it. And I had this mindset of I will finish this. But it’s equally true that what I went for, I already had when I stepped foot on the beach. There’s a saying when you swim the English Channel, that it doesn’t matter as long, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter whether you swam a lot or swam a little, whether you trained hard or you didn’t train hard.

It doesn’t matter as long as when you step foot on that beach in England, that you feel ready. And when I stepped foot on that beach at three o’clock in the morning, it was pitch blackout and craziness. I was so ready. I was like, let’s get this show on the road. I am ready to finish this. Um, so the journey to get there is spectacular. As long as you remember to stop and look around.

I promised myself, I promised myself that I would remember while I was physically in the English Channel, I was going to remember to be thankful. I was going to look around and I was going to absolutely be thankful because my extraordinary life has led me to be in the middle of the freaking English Channel. Like how extraordinary is that? Right? Like it’s amazing. Just even pondering it is kind of.

Anna
Wise words.

Anna
That’s really cool. Yeah, gratitude is so powerful. And I love to hear that you are enjoying the journey and you sound so empowered. You sound joyful, you sound empowered, you sound confident. I mean, and so when you talk about the person you’ve become

Jennifer
Oh yeah.

Anna
Because you’ve swam the English Channel or by swimming the English Channel, are those words that would describe you, empowered, joyful, confident? Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jennifer
Um, I got that I got all of those things when I went to Everest. So I think it’s something that is inherent and achieving large goals, whether that’s, you know, my master’s degree. It happened. Um, when I went to Everest, it happened. I think I got the biggest hit from doing the English channel, uh, probably because it was the hardest of those things. Um, but empowered, um,

Jennifer
I tell people that what drives me is overcompensating for being a fat person. I have been treated like I’m stupid, lazy. There are so many things that people assume about me because of the way I look, because I’m not thin. And I’m still not thin. Even after all like weight loss and everything, I’m still not thin by any stretch. So I do feel like a lot of what I do

Anna
Mm.

Jennifer
I do to overcompensate for how people perceive me at a glance. That said, some of the English channel has silenced so many of the ugly voices in my head. Like, you can’t be somebody who swims the English channel, simultaneously have that

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Jennifer
But I’m just a fat girl. Like those things really just kind of like, they’re opposites. You can’t walk away from the channel like, hey, look at me. I am one of less than 4,200 people on the planet to have made this thing. I am one of those people. I am by definition a world-class swimmer. I’m slow, but I am a world-class swimmer, by definition. So.

Anna
Right.

Jennifer
Do I even want to be the person who’s worried about what it’s people are, strangers are thinking about me because I’m overweight. Do I really want to waste my energy on that when I’m busy swimming channels and being extraordinary? So I will say that swimming the channel has allowed me to embrace being extraordinary.

Even though I don’t walk around every day thinking of myself like, Oh gee, I’m extraordinary today. That is not the case. But I have accepted and grasped on to feeling powerful. Simultaneously, I’m pushing away strangers who think they know me and know what I’m about. There’s been a lot of like media coverage locally. I live in a fairly small town, Chattanooga. So there’s been a lot of media coverage because the Swing English Channel is a fairly big deal to people who don’t swim longer than that. The channel is a very big deal. My coach says, now I’m allowed to do big kid swims. But to someone who doesn’t swim, the English channel is huge. So keeping that in mind, I’m just not willing any longer to let the ugly voices in other people’s heads or my head be the loudest one. There was an article in the newspaper.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Jennifer
And this guy was like, this is shameful. They shouldn’t let her swim. She’s going to die of a heart attack in the middle of the channel. And then you’re all going to be guilty because you all encourage this craziness. And I was like, seriously? And the guy’s profile said he was a life coach. So there’s 150 comments and one guy is saying, I’m going to die of a heart attack in the channel. And 149 other people are like, you go girl. This is amazing. This is so exciting. I can’t wait to see if you finish and all this stuff.

Anna
Oh my goodness.

Jennifer
So as much as I think a lot of humans are programmed to hear that one ugly voice, whether it’s theirs or someone else’s, I think with effort, you can focus on the 149 positive things. And that’s me. I will look in the mirror and think all kinds of horrible thoughts. And I just don’t have time for that anymore. It’s a waste of energy. Is a time suck and it’s an emotional.

Anna
That’s right.

Jennifer
whirlpool that no one needs. And really if we made less time for it, you know, I think we all be better off.

Anna
Yeah, I love it. There’s so much power in what you just said. And yeah, you don’t have time for the haters because you’re swimming.

Jennifer
Yeah, just.

Jennifer
I am too busy doing things that people only dream of.

Anna
That’s right. That’s right. I was reading the Time Magazine article about Taylor Swift and I love that she said, the trash takes itself out. You know, she said how she handles haters is she keeps creating or low points in her life is she keeps creating, right? You keep creating with your goals. And like you said, you keep being extraordinary. And I think that is the best way to handle doubters, haters, people who are judging you, who don’t know you. So thanks for sharing that. I hope that folks who are listening are really taking that in for themselves, right? Just like you said, have time to be extraordinary. Don’t have time for the haters.

Jennifer
I just really don’t. I wish I if I could time travel and tell my 20 year old self anything I think it would have to be something along the lines of embrace the positive embrace the extraordinary And don’t waste a second on people who don’t believe in you

Anna
Right. Yep.

Jennifer
I’m surrounded by people who believe in me now. I tell people I’m the house sloth because my better half is going to Ironman World Championships and stuff. So I’m the lazy one in my house. And I’m okay with it. I’ll embrace that because I really don’t want to start running. I don’t want to run. And I really don’t want to bike. I’m not a gravity girl. So I’m okay with being the person who only trains 20 hours a week at our house.

Anna
Oh my goodness. Y’all are both extraordinary. So when you mentioned when you mentioned jellyfish in the English channel, did you get stung a lot?

Jennifer
I did, I did. I didn’t get stung a lot swimming in the middle of the channel, but the side effect of the beautiful weather was that when we got within about a mile of shore, they started to get pretty thick. And so for a while, you could tell I’m not competitive in my times because for a while I was dog paddling going around them and they’d be like, to the left, to the right. And I would like dog paddle around these jellyfish.

And then they were so thick that I couldn’t get between them. There were too many of them. And I stopped counting at 12 stings because it was kind of demoralizing. And finally I just had to swim for it. So then I was swimming as fast as I could, trying to get through them as quickly as possible. And then by the time I could stand up and touch the sand, there weren’t any. And so there’s a tradition that when you finish the English channel, you look for a pebble. So I got up there and I, I’m sure the boat captain was like, what is she doing because I’m like wandering up and down the beach looking for my pebble. And the beach was beautiful. It was awesome. And I couldn’t find pebbles. So it took me like five minutes of wandering around to find the pebble. And people like, Oh, were you emotional? Did you cry? I’m like, no, I just wanted to find my pebble. So I grabbed one for our house and then one for my, um, one for my crew leader, Alison’s house. And then I realized I had to get back in that water and swim half a mile back to the boat through the jellyfish and I burst into tears. I was like ridiculously crying because I, not because I finished the English channel because that wasn’t even on my mind. That was not even on the radar. I was like, oh no, I have to swim through those jellyfish again. So the jellyfish were no joke. And probably my least favorite part of the English channel.

Anna
Yeah, so what did you do when you were in tears? In your mind, what had you get back in that water and swim back to the boat? How did you handle that? What was your strategy?

Jennifer
Oh, English channel rules are that you can only stay for 10 minutes in France. So I had to get back in. It was just the rules. So I was like, Oh, let’s just do it. And I just, just got it over with. Just got it over with. Yeah. It’s ridiculous.

Anna
Just like an act, a power of will. Like I gotta do this, so here we go.

Jennifer
Yeah, so I stuffed like, I remember stuffing the pebbles down my suit so I wouldn’t lose them. And I just swam as fast as I could back to the boat. Luckily the soreness hadn’t sat in yet, so I could lift my hands above my head and I could swim just fine. So, I was like, so I just went for it.

Anna
Wow. Yeah, there’s something to be said for like, just do it. Just go, just get it over with. Yep. And then you do it. And now, right in the moment, it’s painful and now not so painful, right? So it’s, you know, it’s part, now it’s part of the experience. You can tell a story about it.

Jennifer
Get over with it, eat the frog.

Jennifer
It is and I really want to swim the North Channel and those jellyfish are bigger. Some of them are the size of a small car and they’re apparently much more painful. So, so there’s that. So that’s kind of a big question mark. Like, is that where I really want to aim for? Cause those are a lot of jellyfish and they’re really big and they’re really ugly. So, so considerations.

Anna
Oh my goodness. Yeah. Wow.

Anna
Size of a small car. That’s big. Yeah.

Jennifer
Yeah, so these are considerations before you decide what the next goal is. Like, do you really want to swim through a minefield of jellyfish again? Meaner, uglier, bigger jellyfish. Literally.

Anna
Right?

Anna
Right. Well, and I love that too because it is choice, right? There’s nothing to say that you have to do that, right? There’s always that point of choice of you get to decide what your next goal is. And, you know, there’s a lot of freedom for me in that, thinking about that. Right.

Jennifer
No one’s asking me to swim the North Channel. No one’s saying, hey, Jennifer, you want to swim the North Channel? Like, no one else cares. So if I choose to, I can only blame myself. But it’s still kind of fun. I’m still very tempted.

Anna
Right?

Anna
Okay. So rapid fire questions. Morning ritual that sets you up for success.

Jennifer
Oh, I get up at the crack of dawn. I wake up at about four o’clock in the morning, even on my days off. And I was struggling to get up at four o’clock in the morning. I asked the cosmos, like, please help me with this. And now my Great Dane thinks that 412 is his wake up time every day of the week.

So be careful what you wish for because I got it and now I get up at four every day.

Anna
Right, it sounds like it sets you up for success. So, it’s great.

Jennifer
It does, like I get more done before 7 a.m. than most people do all day.

Anna
Right? Okay. What’s your non-negotiable self-care practice?

Jennifer
No smoking.

I quit smoking like seven years ago.

Anna
Good, awesome. And now you’re swimming long distances. It’s pretty awesome.

Jennifer
Well, if you, yeah, quit smoking some channels. It’s, you can’t do them both. You have to pick one.

Anna
I love it. Okay. What’s your favorite motivational book or talk?

Jennifer
Oh, my favorite motivational talk. My favorite one is the fact that I was the keynote speaker recently and I did it and I did not throw up. So my favorite one to have finished is absolutely the one I did for Swim the Suck. Only because it’s over and I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I really like Brene Brown. I think she has a lot of common sense stuff and she says things, you’re just like, why didn’t I think of that? So obvious. So she seems to have a lot of things that I can apply to my life every time I listen to her. I’m like, wow, she’s so wise. So I would start with her, but I love self-help and insightful things like that. So there’s a laundry list if I really think about it.

Anna
Awesome.

Anna
Right. Okay. Throughout the course of your life, have you been considered the underdog or the favored to win?

Jennifer
Uh, probably favorite to win.

Anna
Okay. What do people get wrong about you?

Jennifer (49:31.07)
They think that because I’m fat that I’m lazy or stupid. I love it when people underestimate me.

Anna
Hmm.

Hard moves in easy water or flooding.

Jennifer
Flooding. The worst, I love it, the worst, the weather. I want big waves and I want rain and I want wind and I want chop and I want to swim in it and I want it to be cold.

Anna
Okay.

Anna
Yeah, and you just go for it. You throw that hat over the fence. Like that, you know, you jump in to the… Okay, one word that describes your comfort zone.

Jennifer
Yeah, I just throw my hat into the water and then I have to literally go fetch it.

Anna
Okay. Freedom through discipline or do what I want.

Jennifer
You know, I think I’m a really good 50-50 of that one because I pick these like crazy things, but then it’s pure discipline that gets me to them. So the choosing is like flight of fancy, but then the actual getting there is all about relentless pursuit of whatever it is.

Anna
I love it. I love that. In one word, what do you hope your legacy will be?

Jennifer
Laughter.

Anna
Love it. Okay, is there anything else you’d like to tell our listeners?

Jennifer
I feel like I’m on the spot now. I have to say something meaningful and deep. I don’t think you can count on other people to inspire you. I think you have to reach inside and figure out what it is that you want, who you wanna be. And then I think the one piece of advice I really love to tell people is that human beings are incredibly good at overestimating how much they can get done in a day.

Anna
No.

Jennifer
So, oh, I have Saturday off. I’m going to mow the lawn, fold the clothes, put the clothes away. I’m gonna cook meals for the week, meal prep, and I’m gonna accomplish all these things. And then they’re disappointed when they only get half of them done because they have no idea how long any of those things are actually gonna take in the course of their Saturday. But human beings dramatically, hugely underestimate what they can conquer over the course of long periods of time. So…

They think, oh, I can’t get that done, or I can’t do that, or when the reality is given enough time, you can conquer almost anything. So we don’t really watch much TV at our house. I hardly ever watch TV because I know that the average, you know, American watches like four hours of TV on average a day, once an average hour over the week. You can still be on this channel on four hours a day.

Anna
Hmm.

Jennifer
You can actually see me on English Channel on two hours a day because I don’t typically train more than two hours on weekdays. So before you decide that you can’t or you won’t or you shouldn’t, you need to really look at what you can accomplish over the long haul. And ask yourself, hey, if I give up an hour of TV a day, who can I be in a year or two years? Do you want to be fluent in Spanish?

Do you want to be a whitewater kayaker? Do you want to be a channel swimmer? Who do you want to be in two years? And can you realistically accomplish that? Because I think the answer is often yes. You can be extraordinary on an hour a day.

Anna
Love it. So powerful. Thanks for sharing that.

So tell us, Jennifer, where folks can get ahold of you or follow you, and if you have any upcoming projects that you want us to know about.

Jennifer
Well, I’m finishing my first fictional book. I expect to be finished in the next week. I had 90,000 words done before the channel, but I’ve slowed down a little bit. So it’s going into editing February, so that’s exciting. As far as finding me, Facebook is the best way to do it. I’m the one that is in the ocean in my little profile picture, as one might expect.

Anna
Right? If the profile picture has someone in a swimsuit with water, it’s probably you.

Jennifer
If they’re in the middle of the ocean, it might be me. So that’s my big thing right now is to get this book finished. No one has been asking me to write a romance novel. I just felt moved to write a romance novel, but the next one will be nonfiction and it’ll be about the English Channel and Everest and everything. So I have a lot to think about.

Anna
Excellent. Yeah, I look forward to reading both your books. So it sounds awesome. Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished. Thanks for being here. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story, your journey, your discomfort zone. It’s really inspirational and you are extraordinary. So thank you for sharing your extraordinariness with us today.

Jennifer (55:02.369)
Thank you, I appreciate that.

Anna
Yeah, thank you.

Jennifer
Thanks for having me. It was fun.