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Profiling Scott Coleman

First male diabetic to swim English Channel

Sharon Robb | May 23, 2001

Boca resident is first male diabetic to swim Channel

August 18, 1996, published in the "Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel"

Boca Raton's Scott Coleman became the first male diabetic to successfully swim across the English Channel. In his first attempt at the crossing, Coleman, 42, navigated the tricky currents and 60 degree water of the 21 mile stretch, from Dover, England to Cap Gris-Nez, France, in under 10 hours. Coleman trained with Coach Tom Smith, also of Boca Raton, swimming 60,000 yards a week. Smith was also part of Coleman's support crew.

Diabetic swimmer likes the challenge of English Channel

August 10, 1996, published in the "Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel"

Scott Coleman leaves today for the biggest challenge of his life. Coleman, 42, of Boca Raton will attempt to swim the English Channel August 17. A former national-caliber pool swimmer at Pine Crest (class of 1972), Fort Lauderdale Swim Team, and University of Pennsylvania, where he was team captain, Coleman resumed swimming seven years ago as a Masters swimmer. Bored with swim meets, he was looking for a challenge. He found it in open water swimming.

My Quest, by Scott Coleman

October 25, 1996—The cold is endless. It is all consuming. Your hands begin to bow. You lose feeling in one arm. Things are glowing in the water. Is this the beginning of hypothermia? "I've had it," you say after spending eight hours in the cold water. "Keep swimming you bastard," yells your boat captain as he drives the boat away. “You keep swimming.”

On August 17, 1996, I became the first male diabetic on this planet to swim the English Channel. Like most events of this magnitude, I spent the previous year planning and training for this swim.

It began last September. I had a brief meeting with my daughter's swim coach. I told him I wanted him to design a training program which would prepare me for the English Channel. I had been a competitive swimmer in high school and college. At the University of Pennsylvania, I was a butterflier. I was elected captain of my team my senior year. At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes. My doctor, Jay Skyler at the University of Miami Medical School, told me exercise, diet and insulin were the keys to controlling my diabetes. At the age of 35, after a thirteen year absence, I began to train with a Masters team in Boca Raton, Fla. Initially, competitions were local. Soon I began to compete in the Masters national championships and then the world championships. After I placed sixth in the 800-meter freestyle in 1994 at the world championships in Montreal, Canada, I decided I needed a bigger challenge.

Open water swimming was foreign to me. I had completed a 12 mile race around Key West in 1993, but had not really done much serious open water training. At the time, my training partner, Randy Nutt, planted a seed. That seed was the idea to swim the English Channel. Few people that I swam with knew of my diabetes. I always told my coaches of my condition in case I had an insulin reaction. Fortunately, this has not occurred.

Upon consulting with my doctor, he indicated that there was no medical reason why I could not complete the English Channel swim. In October of 1995, my wife and I traveled to England on vacation. While we were there I met the king of the channel pilots, Mike Oram and the queen of channel swimming, Allison Streeter. Allison Streeter, at the age of 32, has swum the English Channel 33 times. Mike Oram was her pilot. He would be mine as well. I tried to reserve my place for 1996 immediately. Mike would not accept any money assuring me that I would be able to reserve a place for an August or September tide. Being from Florida, I was concerned about the water temperature. In the summer of 1995, the water temperature in the Channel had hit the mid 60s. Chilly, but not unbearable.

My training had begun in earnest in September. Four mornings a week I would be in the water before 5:00 a.m. swimming for 90 minutes and afternoon workouts went from 4:45 p.m to 6:15 p.m. Additionally, I would lift weights on Thursday and Sunday mornings. I was swimming 50-60,000 yards per week, plus lifting weights. I didn't like time off. I took two days off per month, every month. On weekends Randy and I would do longer ocean swims in Ft. Lauderdale. Two miles, three miles, six miles. We were building up the distance as time went on.

In January, I heard from Mike Oram. I had a choice of two tide periods August 17th to August 26th or September 5th through 10th. I chose the former as I planned to go on vacation after the swim prior to my children going back to school.

Now the real question needed to be answered. Could I handle the cold water of the English Channel? One chilly Saturday in February, Randy, Tom Smith (my coach), Randy's brother Jim, and I headed north to Vero Beach where the water is much cooler than South Florida. The air temperature was in the 30s with the wind chill in the 10s. The ocean temperature was in the 60s. Randy and I gamely entered the swollen surf. Jim immediately capsized the kayak he was in. Coach Tom walked the beach while Randy and I swam. It was cold at first, but then it didn't bother me. The few beach goers Coach Tom encountered wanted to know who the crazy people were in the surf. "I'm training a channel swimmer," he replied. The people looked at him in disbelief. After an hour, Randy started to turn purple. I felt fine. I turned to him and shouted, "I can do it!" We both left the surf after an hour and a half.

The Channel Swimming Association (CSA) has been regulating English Channel swims for over fifty years. They have a lengthy application including a physical and require a qualifying swim. The qualifying swim was a minimum six hour swim in water which was 60º or thereabouts. My doctor completed the medical forms and I sent my application back to England. The qualifying swim would be in May. Two weeks later I received a letter from Mike Oram requesting more information on my diabetes. After providing more information, the CSA ruled that I would be required to provide a doctor on board during my swim. This was in addition to three other crew members from Florida.

In preparing for my qualifying swim, on Sunday, April 21st, I began what I had planned to be a twelve mile swim in the ocean off Highland Beach, Fla. However, after just two hours and five miles in the water, my left hand suddenly felt as if a razor had been run across it. I pulled my arm back only to see a solid blue mass clinging to my forearm. "Man-of-war!" I screamed to my support boat. This pain was sharp, intense, and unlike anything I had previously experienced. I had to get out. I swam back to the boat and attempted to get out. I couldn't. My crew members jumped in to help me out. The man-of-war was now all over my body. The man- of-war tentacles actually puncture the skin and then secrete their poison. The pain was so intense; I was losing consciousness. I was pushed into the boat. My crew began to pick the man- of-war off of me. They too were stung. We had brought meat tenderizer on the boat just in case of this. Rubbing it in the wounds provided little relief. As soon as I was in the boat, we turned around and headed back to the inlet. That 30 minute ride seemed like an eternity. I looked up at Coach Tom and said, "I quit!" When we reached the hospital, the only treatment prescribed was vinegar. Needless to say, I smelled like vinegar for the next week and the scars remain with me today. I was back at the pool Tuesday morning. "Just another chapter in the Coleman Channel swim," Coach Tom deadpanned as I was preparing for morning workout. I didn't need any more chapters like this!

Coach Tom and I went to La Jolla, Calif., in May. With five hours sleep, due to lost luggage, I completed a seven-hour, seventeen-mile swim in the La Jolla Cove. The water temperature ranged from 63º to 65º. It would have to do. The cold water in La Jolla did not bother me. It was a great place to train. Beautiful scenery, seals and dolphin broke up the normal monotony of distance swimming.

In June, I competed in the Swim Around Key West and improved my time by over 37 minutes. I was clearly in good shape. Two weeks after Key West, Randy and I traveled to Connecticut to train with Marcia Cleveland, a successful channel swimmer. On Saturday June 15th, I did a five hour swim in 62º water. On Saturday night I had dinner with Australian distance swimmer Susie Maroney who had just completed her swim from Cuba to Florida. Susie had done a Channel swim at 16 and a double (England to France to England) at 17. My swim seemed insignificant compared to her achievements.

We still needed a doctor. In desperation, I wrote my first cousin Kay, who lived outside London. I had not seen or spoken to Kay in over 25 years. Two weeks later I received a phone call at my office. "Your cousin Kay is on the line," my assistant announced. Kay had a young doctor named Phillipa Ridley who had agreed to go in the boat. The last piece of the puzzle was finally in place.

Early July was disastrous. I spent eight hours in the hospital and missed a week of training due to a stomach virus. I had lost about fifteen pounds. I felt weak. I still had five weeks before we left. It would have to do. Coach Tom and I were leaving August 10th. We were in the number one position for the August 17th tide.

The last few weeks passed quickly; I stopped lifting weights. I continued double workouts until ten days before we left. I tried to get more rest. It was impossible. The tension was growing. I told Coach Tom that I had pain in my stomach because of the nerves. He said it was because, "I cared."

August 10th was a Saturday. We had an evening flight from Miami which could put us in London on Sunday morning. We would rent a car at Heathrow Airport and drive the two hours to Folkestone. Folkestone is the town immediately south of Dover.

We arrived in Folkestone, checked into our hotel, and immediately drove to Dover for a swim. Dover beaches are all gravel. The hardest part is walking to and from the water. I got in and immediately felt cold. This water wasn't 64º or 65º. It felt colder than the water in Connecticut. That night Mike Oram told me that the channel water temperature was 60.5º. I was unnerved. So much for the summer conditions. Needless to say, I had a tough time sleeping that first night.

The next day we were up early for breakfast. The weather English overcast and cool. We ate breakfast and immediately drove to Dover. It is a scenic twenty minute drive over England's famous cliffs. We found a parking space, and I prepared to enter the water from the rocky beach at 9:00 a.m. I entered the water on the south side of the beach next to the hovercraft docks. Across the harbor, one mile away sits the Channel Ferry docks. The distance between them is one mile. I decided to warm up with two miles. The water felt better. The first mile went easy and fast. I turned around and swam back. Forty-four minutes round trip. I told Coach Tom, "It feels good." I decided to do another two miles. The longer I stayed in, the better I felt. Two hours after starting, I left the water. My confidence was returning. This was possible.

The remainder of the week was uneventful. We would get up, have breakfast, swim, have lunch, then take a nap in the afternoon. I spoke to my doctor on Monday night and re-confirmed that we would let her know the departure schedule on Wednesday.

Wednesday evening came and I called Mike Oram, my pilot. Mike said the weather for the weekend looked good and that we would probably start at the high tide of Friday night.

(8/16 &17) at 1:30 a.m. I confirmed this with my doctor. She would arrive at Dover Friday evening and take a taxi to Folkestone. The remainder of my crew, Randy Nutt and Gene Sardzinski, were arriving on Thursday, August 15th.

Thursday was a beautiful day. Bright, sunny, and with no wind. My American comrades arrived at our hotel in Folkestone at 1:30 p.m. They both had a great trip and were excited about the swim. Before we went to dinner we made a list of items we would need to purchase prior to the swim. Everybody had a job. My job was to rest and try to relax.

When we arrived back from dinner at 8:30 p.m., I had a message. Mike Oram had called. I called his house and his wife, Angela, gave me his portable phone number. Mike was doing a double relay, England to France and back. I reached him at 9:00 p.m. He said that the weather would be good on Friday. Would I like to leave early at 12:35 p.m.? My crew and I agreed. Eight hours of sunlight would be better for me. I committed, but had to confirm with Dr. Ridley. I reached her at the hospital. She said she could take the early train and arrive at Folkestone at 9:30 a.m. It was a go!

I remember sleeping Thursday night only lightly. What if I got hypothermia? What if I only lasted a few hours? All this preparation would be wasted. I tried to relax and finally went to sleep at 2:00 a.m.

The next morning, we awoke to another beautiful day. After breakfast my crew was off to Safeway and Boots. Safeway for last minute food items. Boots for their special blend of channel grease. Many people believe channel grease will keep you warm. This is a complete myth. It will prevent chafing, but nothing more.

After breakfast I went back to my room to try and rest. At 8:30 I received a frantic call from Dr. Ridley. She was halfway to Dover and realized she had left her passport at home. Not to worry, I told her. We will finish and turn around and head back to England.

Dr. Ridley arrived at 10:00 a.m. I showed her the blood testing equipment which had been graciously provided by Boling-Manheim. The Accu-Chek Advantage System was the most advanced glucometer in the world. We had four of them in case we encountered difficulties. We discussed testing every two hours initially and then every 30 minutes after the sixth hour. I did not know how my blood sugar would react after seven hours in the water. My blood sugar was 45 when I completed my seven hour La Jolla swim. We also had two emergency glucagon kits which we hoped we would not have to use.

The morning passed slowly. We finally loaded up the car at 10:45 and headed to the Dover marina. We needed to be at the boat at 11:30 a.m. The Dover Marina is located next to the hovercraft docks. Mike Oram's boat, the Aegean Blue, was located at an outside slip. I went to the boat and sat on a storage compartment on deck. The boat soon became a beehive of activity with Mike, his first mate, Alan, and Emma, the official observer, joining us.

We were finally underway at 11:45 a.m. We were leaving from a point south of Dover. The white cliffs looked very imposing. They were larger here than in Dover. Alan looked over and asked, "Are you all psyched up?" "We'll find out," was my reply.

The start was set for 12:30 p.m., which was high water mark. The last fifteen minutes were spent applying Vaseline and grease, adjusting my bathing suit and goggles, and trying to go to the bathroom.

The official channel swim begins when you start above the water line at the beach. I swam to shore, walked on the beach and then heard a siren. The swim had begun.

I looked up at the cliffs and plunged into the water. I breathe on my left side so I swam on the right hand side of the boat. Coach Tom would count my strokes every 5 minutes. He could give me an okay sign if we were on target. My stroke count was consistently 62-63 per minute throughout the swim.

The first few hours of any marathon swim are the most boring. You take each hour one at a time. After the first hour I was feeling okay, a little cold but I thought I would warm up later. We decided to do a test but had trouble getting the blood on the test strip. Every minute we wasted testing or feeding pushed us off course as the water in the English Channel is constantly in motion.

The second hour was uneventful as well. I thought we were heading north, but I couldn't tell. I saw lots of boats and ferries. I looked back at the White Cliffs and it looked as though we hadn't moved from the start.

The cold was starting to create some real problems. After the fourth hour, we couldn't get any blood out of my hands. The captain told me we could cut one of my fingers off to get blood! I kept on swimming. The longer we tried to get blood out of me, the colder I became. I noticed my hands started to shrivel up. I couldn't straighten them.

After the sixth hour, I began to feel weak. I didn't know if it was from low blood sugar, fatigue, or both. I told the doctor how I felt and then I kept swimming. At the next feeding, they had a surprise for me. The captain grabbed my legs and told me to pull my suit down. I never felt the shot, but I suppose it helped.

At the seventh hour, we put one of my hands in hot water to warm it up. We finally did something that worked. The reading was 215. I poured the hot water over my head and went back to work.

Darkness arrived that day at 8:30 p.m. Randy Nutt had swum for an hour with me during the seventh hour. The eighth hour arrived and I had had enough. I slowed down and looked around. We were in the middle of nowhere. "I've had it!" I yelled to the boat. "We can see France," someone replied. I thought they were lying. I told myself to not think of the cold and try to swim for the next feeding.

I continued to swim. I lost all feeling in my right arm. Things were glowing in the water. I thought I was hallucinating so I didn't mention it to anyone.

The last few hours of the swim became a blur. At some point, I started seeing a lighthouse beam. This was from Cape Gris Nez, the projected landing point.

At ten and a half hours into the swim, the captain exclaimed, "You need to sprint now. We are one and a half miles from shore, and the tides will change in 30 minutes." Randy Nutt got in the water with me and I tried to sprint. My stroke count picked up to 70 but I didn't know if I could swim a mile and a half in 30 minutes.

We sprinted for what seemed to be an eternity. The lighthouse beam was everywhere, my left side, my right side, in front of me and behind me. I was swimming in the twilight zone.

I heard the siren go off from the boat. Randy swam back to the boat. I knew we had missed the tide. One of my La Jolla friends, Bob West, had told me during the week that he had missed the tide at Cape Griz Nez. His swim took another three hours. I was mentally not ready for three more hours.

The captain yelled at me "You can float in on your back. The tide will push you into the shore." "I'm not staying in here another three hours," I replied, "You wait." The captain said, "You're almost there." Dark, cold and dejected, I somehow continued swimming.

I could see the dark outline of a shoreline ahead of me but I could not judge the distance. It was pitch black. I had come this far. Another few minutes weren't going to bother me.

Randy finally got back in and said 1000 yards to go, then 500, then 200, then 50. "Lead me in," he exclaimed as I swam ahead of him. The boat kept putting a spotlight on the point to swim to. That spotlight was finally on a rocky beach in France.

I stumbled onto shore. I tried to stand, then slipped down. I finally got up and walked out of the surf. I heard the siren blow. I collapsed. Randy charged up behind me. "You did it. We're in France." I couldn't get up. "Help me up," I whispered. Tears came to my eyes. After so much work. After so much preparation. After so much pain. I had finally achieved my goal.

The swim back to the boat seemed to be just as long. The water was shallow and the boat kept pulling away. "50 yards more." I finally reached the boat and climbed aboard. "Great job!" yelled Coach Tom. They wrapped me in towels and gave me hot tea to drink. I was totally exhausted. I later checked and found out that I had lost 15 pounds during my swim.

We finished at 12:24 a.m., 11 hours and 54 minutes. I was hoping for a better time, but under the circumstances, I consider myself fortunate to have finished. On the three-hour ride back to Dover, I became sea sick for the first time in my life. I crawled into bed at my hotel at 4:30 a.m. My mission was over. My team and I had succeeded.

The magnitude of this achievement grows every day that I think about what we accomplished. Many of my friends told me I would never make it. "The water's too cold." "It's too far to swim." I thought of all these naysayers when I was ready to quit. Their doubts motivated me more and made me tougher mentally.

Before I left for England two high school swimmers wrote me a good luck note. "Mr. Coleman, you are the toughest person mentally, we know." During the swim I tried to live up to those words. Diabetes complicated my swim, but did not prevent me from attaining my goal. To me, the diabetes was just another challenge, not a limiting factor.

Set your goals high. You can achieve them if you believe in yourself and don't quit. When I began competitive swimming in eighth grade, I was struck by a newspaper clipping which was glued on my coach's door. "Nothing is impossible," it read. My swim just reaffirms it.

Scott Coleman and Bill Haverland Swim a Very Long Way

1993: by Carl House , published in the October, 1993, Florida Gold Coast LMSC Newsletter.

We missed this in past newsletters, but it is so extraordinary we want to print it even though it is not new news. Last February, a national "Fitness Challenge" was held wherein swimmers all over the country kept track of their daily workout distances. Six hundred and six swimmers sent their daily logs in for tabulation. Their average monthly distance was 54,450 yards. Scott Coleman's swimming in February added up to 252,220 yards and Bill Haverland's added up to 241,716. If they swam every day that would be about 9000 yards a day. If one missed a day, imagine making it up. Scott's distance was first in his age group (35-39) and second overall. Bill's distance was first in his age group (45-49) and fourth overall. Scott is from Boca Raton and Bill is from Miami Beach. Herbert Fielder of Fort Lauderdale placed third in his age group (60-64) with 80,290 yards.

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