Ben Lecomte Swam Across The Atlantic; Next He Tries The Pacific

Ben Lecomte Swam Across The Atlantic; Next He Tries The Pacific

8:45pm Aug 23, 2015
French marathon swimmer Benoit Lecomte (left) prepares to jump into the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., in 2002. In 1998, Lecomte swam across the Atlantic Ocean.
French marathon swimmer Benoit Lecomte (left) prepares to jump into the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., in 2002. In 1998, Lecomte swam across the Atlantic Ocean.
Manny Ceneta / AFP/Getty Images

In 1998, Ben Lecomte swam across the Atlantic Ocean. The 47-year-old athlete is preparing for another historic plunge: swimming across the ocean on the other side of the country.

At the end of September, Lecomte plans to take off from a Tokyo beach and spend the next six months making his way some 5,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco.

He'll swim for eight hours a day, then board a support boat to eat and sleep. The next day he'll jump back in the water at the exact same spot.

To hear the full conversation, click the audio link above.


Interview Highlights

Challenges Lecomte faces

It's physical, it's mental, but you have to have the right mindset. I never jump into the water thinking about the entire ocean, I just cut it into small pieces. When I am in the middle of the ocean, I think about being in a pool and the pool moves with me. What you want to do is have a schedule for your mind. The first hour I'm going to relive a moment that I had with my family, and the second moment I'm going to try to visualize a new place that I have never been to and so on.

On sharks and the environment

I had one shark follow me for five days [when I swam across the Atlantic Ocean.] We have different ways to keep sharks at bay, but what is very important is the opportunity to tell a story. We have only about 10 percent of the big fish that are left in the ocean right now, and that happened within the last hundred years, so we have been overfishing the ocean.

For me, the swim itself, it's just a way to get the attention on something that affects all of us: sustainability and the environment.

Why he likes being in the water

If I knew how to sculpt or paint, I think that would be the way I would like to express myself, but I am an awful painter and I don't know how to sculpt. So I stick to swimming.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In 1998, French-born athlete Ben Lecomte swam across the Atlantic Ocean. Now the 47-year-old is taking another historic plunge, this time swimming across the ocean on the other side of this country. At the end of September, Lecomte plans to take off from a Tokyo beach and spend the next six months making his way some 5,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco. He'll swim for eight hours a day, then board a support boat to eat and sleep. The next day, he'll jump back in the water at the exact same spot. Ben Lecomte joins us now from member station KUT in Austin. Welcome to the program, Ben.

BENOIT LECOMTE: Thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: So, I mean, this just sounds crazy and really hard. You'll be suited out with flippers and a snorkel and a wetsuit. But, I mean, can you try to give us a sense of the challenges that you're likely to face? Is it physical exhaustion?

LECOMTE: I think it's a combination. It's physical. It's mental. But what you have to do is to have the right mindset. I never jump in the water thinking about the entire ocean or swimming a thousand miles. I just cut it into small pieces. And when I am in the middle of the ocean, I think about being in a pool. And the pool moves with me. So that's how I can, you know, rationalize it and how I can wrap my brain around it. But what you want to do is to have a schedule for your mind. So the first hour, I'm going to relive a moment that I had with my family, second moment, I'm going to try to visualize a new place that I have never been to. And so I have different subject matter that I focus on.

MARTIN: Sharks were a problem when you swam in the Atlantic, right?

LECOMTE: Yes, I had one following me for five days.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LECOMTE: But it's not a matter of if. I think it's a matter of when we'll have sharks around. And we have different ways to keep sharks at bay. But what is very important, it's an opportunity to tell a story. When a shark's out there, you have to realize that we have only about 10 percent of the big fish that are left on the ocean right now. And that happened within the last hundred years. So we have been overfishing the oceans.

MARTIN: But that gets to the why of this swim. You are making this journey to draw attention to what you say are important environmental issues.

LECOMTE: Exactly. For me, the swim itself is just a way to get the attention on something that affects all of us, sustainability and the environment. What type of liability are we going to pass on to our children?

MARTIN: Even in a world where we've grown so used to extreme athletic performances, this is pretty amazing. Why do you like being in the water?

LECOMTE: If I knew how to sculpt or how to paint, I think that would be the way I would like to express myself. But I am an awful painter. I don't know how to sculpt. So I stick to swimming.

MARTIN: When you get done with a swim like this, do you just need a lot of conversation with other people? Are you sick of the time you have just spent in your head for that many hours and days?

LECOMTE: Yeah, you get a little crazy I think. And things that disgust you when you are living on land feels good when you have been isolated and you've just come on land. So the first night, I went outside, and I smelled the exhaust from the cars. And it smelled good. I loved it.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Pleasures of dry land. Well, we wish you so much luck. Ben Lecomte, he takes off next month to swim across the Pacific Ocean. Thanks so much for talking with us, Ben.

LECOMTE: Well, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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