Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team member Abhejali Bernardová completed her 5th 'Oceans Seven' swim on March 28, 2017 – the 42 km (26 mile) wide Ka'iwi Channel between the two Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Oahu.
Abhejali celebrated her 40th birthday with a rather atypical Hawaiian holiday - swimming the Ka'iwi Channel (also called the Molokai channel) protected by nothing more than a swimsuit, goggles, cap, sunscreen and a light stick at night, supported by her crew of helpers and hundreds of wellwishers from around the world.
Abhejali is the first Czech person to complete this noted swim without a wetsuit and unassisted, following English Channel rules. Only 46 swimmers in the world (with 50 swims), 19 of them women, had ever succeeded before (see list). Many swimmers’ attempts over the years had to be aborted, sometimes only after one or a few hours of swimming, due to life-threatening jellyfish stings, sharks, currents and numerous other factors. But Abhejali was very lucky, in spite of at times very difficult conditions.
The beeline route between the Pacific islands of Molokai and O'ahu is exactly marathon distance - 42 kilometers or 26 miles. Abhejali did not have an easy time during her 21 hours and 52 minute challenge, and was pushed quite a bit off the straight line between the two islands. Her first challenge was to swim to the beach for an official start at 5:21 p.m. through a huge surf. She was then pushed to the north for a few hours, with the currents changing just in time to allow her westward journey (It seems our prayers worked in this regard – the pilot told her helpers to ask for higher support, and then the currents started to change!) Swimming through the pitch black new-moon night for 12 hours, with nothing to see apart from the lightsticks bobbing up and down on the kayak, made her seasick until the morning dawn. (The start was timed so as to allow her predicted landing to coincide with the slack or rising flood tide on Oahu.) Then for the last 9 hours, her progress was slowed down to 1 mile per hour by unfavourable currents again.
Her crossing of the Ka'iwi channel is Abhejali`s 5th successful Oceans Seven swim. The Oceans Seven challenge is the ocean equivalent to the Seven Summits (climbing the highest peaks on the seven continents) and involves conquering some of the toughest channels and straits around the world. With the English and Catalina Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar and Tsugaru in the bag, the next steps for Abhejali will be the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland in summer and the Cook Strait between the North and South islands of New Zealand at some later point. In addition, Abhejali is currently still the only Czech holder of the “Triple Crown” of open water swimming (English Channel, Catalina Channel and Manhattan island).
Abhejali, who works in a publishing company as a translator, has been a vegetarian for 20 years and practices meditation, which definitely helps her in preparing and enduring her athletic challenges. She is also a multiple Czech running champion over 100km and 24 hours and ran the 6-day race in New York, covering 616 km. Less than 3 weeks before her Molokai swim she organized the first Czech 6 hour indoor pool swim in her home town of Zlin, with over 100 solo and relay participants. She had this to say about her crossing: "You might say this is Hawaii - so what could be difficult? But believe me, it was definitely not about 'hanging loose'. Even swimming to the start, over enormous waves, was a challenge. Then came the current pushing us north after it got dark, plus I got really seasick during the whole 12 hours of the night, unable to take anything in and throwing up for a long time. Only after daybreak was I able to normally eat and drink and get some energy again. Then I swam into two box jellyfish. I knew this could happen and it would be painful and dangerous, but I had no idea it would hurt so much and for such a long time. For the last 9 miles (about 15km) the waves and currents were against us, so the last part took me nine hours instead of the usual four.
I was very grateful to have a shark shield attached to my helper kajak, supplied for free by e-sharkforce, a company based in Hawaii. Sharks were one of the great topics before my crossing, especially since they had appeared in recent swims, so I was grateful for the protection and peace of mind that it brought. Luckily we did not encounter any sharks, but we saw humpback whales and dolphins. Bottom line: it was a beautiful and unique experience, but I'm glad - at least for the moment - that it is over and I made it across. Swimming in the mighty Pacific Ocean with its enormous power and erratic currents, wind and waves, was definitely an unforgettable experience.”
Dedicated to Peace and Self-Transcendence
With her long distance swims Abhejali is trying to connect places and people, and to inspire others to transcend their own perceived limits and boundaries. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run this year, an global torch relay which Abhejali helps to organise in her spare time, she dedicated her Molokai Channel swim to peace, international friendship and world harmony. “You can say, every stroke in such a swim is a prayer - a prayer invoking and sending out positive energy, peace and harmony. Just as conquering an ocean takes an enormous amount of inspiration, dedication, determination, physical training, mind power as well as heart power, courage and persistence against all odds, plus the faith and conviction that something seemingly impossible can be made possible, so also peace-building is a slow process against many odds where every little effort counts and adds up, where the power of the heart is needed – by more and more people! And both are always team efforts!”
Speaking of team effort, she is extremely grateful to all her inner and outer supporters, including her helpers Harita (New Zealand), Rupasi (USA), Jayalata (Czech Republic) and Jayasalini (Russia), as well as the experienced boat captain Mike Twigg-Smith, co-Captain Mike Scott, kayakers Ecar Roush and Chris Harmes, and Jeff Kozlovic from the Ka'iwi Channel Association.