Marathon swimmer Kathleen Wilson’s next feat: New Zealand’s Cook Strait

Coming off of her most grueling swim to date, Hawaii’s Molokai Channel Swim in September, 49-year-old marathon swimmer Kathleen Wilson is aiming her sights on New Zealand’s Cook Strait.

Climbing the ranks of marathon swimmers, however, is not cheap and Wilson is seeking help to help cover her expenses. Among those efforts is a fundraiser on February. Details of which are at the end of this Q&A with Wilson on her effort to swim the strait.

Q: Why Cook Strait?

A: The Cook Strait is the southern hemisphere’s English Channel. The biggest difference is that the English Channel is open to any swimmer who books a pilot and over the last decade has become quite a business.  Cook Strait swimmers are very few and like the EC, this remains one of the world’s greatest swims.  There are only a handful of swimmers accepted each year to come to New Zealand for a swim attempt and it is based on resume and swimming speed. Philip Rush, one of the all time greatest marathon swimmers, personally coordinates the swims and guides swimmers across. It is a very tricky body of water requiring a high level of performance from swimmer and crew.  My tide window runs from March 4-9 so I will be on call and ready to go.  We need the right combination of tide and weather to make an attempt. Winds are the primary weather concern just as they were for the English Channel, Strait of Gibraltar and Molokai Channel.

Q: What are the basic challenges of this swim – water temps, currents … “wildlife”?

A: This Strait is a majestic and intimidating place.  Water temperatures will be between 60-63, a few degrees colder than my English Channel swim. (That swim was 63-64) The Cook Strait currents are very fast, the water can be rough and choppy and it takes a great deal of experience in understanding how everything works and how to best assist a swimmer.  Phil has that knowledge.  Marine life is plentiful and numerous swimmers have had the local dolphin population escort them for a period of time.  There are known Orca pods around New Zealand and of course, sharks.  In this case, there are Great Whites as well as other species but as a swimmer, I have to reconcile that long before attempting a swim.  It has been the case before with almost every ocean swim I have done.

 Q: You finished Molokai about four months ago. This is a quick turnaround for you for a follow-up. Why now, instead of say a year from now?

A: I actually gained acceptance into this swim over 2 years ago so it has been in my book all this time.  Molokai was the swim that crept up and was a very sudden go.

Many people forget that the seasons are reversed so it is summer in New Zealand now; their summers are much like English summers. Mid February to mid April is the time period for swim attempts.  I was assigned a tide window and took whatever I was given. I feel certain that this will be my one and only chance to complete this swim.  I simply want the chance with a day of good weather, calm-ish winds and I’ll do the rest.

Q: Given this turn-around, was your training different than usual? Doesn’t seem like you can work periodization into this one.

A: Molokai was in September, 2012 and because that swim was so brutal at almost 21 hours, it took 6 weeks to recover fully.  I tried to swim full workouts and increased intensity at 4 weeks, fell off the pace, still had fatigue issues and had to back off repeatedly for another 2 weeks until I felt better.  I have shown over and over that I have a big engine so conditioning is there and does not concern me too much.  I took November through the present and worked much more on threshold pace and some short, fast sets. I must be able to maintain a quicker pace throughout this swim to offset the cold water so that I can continue to generate warmth and keep hypothermia at bay. Warm feeds will help also. Most athletes, even swimmers, don’t think this through and many have been caught in bad situations because they have not put this puzzle together.

Fast is a relative term.  I am not the fastest swimmer and in fact, look very average morning after morning at MLK pool but I know exactly what I need regarding weekly meter totals and the type of work that I must accomplish.  That average look goes away when I open up and go in the middle of the ocean, when I’m faced with an all night swim or a swim in rough conditions.  I have the ability to endure some very bad stuff out there.  I am never complacent about preparations and training.  It pays to maintain a healthy respect for the swims and keep a little fear.

This swim also required going back to the cold winter water in Charleston.  I do not like training in cold water but following Molokai, I lost 10 pounds, 7 pounds the old fashioned way and another 3 upon getting a bad cold.  I’m faced with putting a few back on and have been swimming at least once a week outdoors all winter.  Yes, the water is 52-53 right now and I get in and swim until I sense deteriorating physical and mental condition, then I get out.  I know the drill pretty well.

Q: How much is this trip costing and how much do you hope to raise?

A: We are hoping to raise between $8-10,000.  This is an extremely expensive swim due to travel and my pilots’ fee.  I believe that I will have two boats out there with crew in each one.  That fee is $5000 but between crew, boats, time spent, fuel and knowledge, the pilots earn every dollar. The total cost of the trip is probably about $12,000.

Molokai wiped out my swim fund because of the suddenness and expense of that swim.  When I had the opportunity to swim, I took it.  It doesn’t make sense to me to turn down a world class swim, I may never get another chance and would regret it forever. I’m not 21 anymore and while I still have lots of swimming left, I don’t want to leave anything on the table.

A few opportunities that showed real promise did not develop and I found myself booked to swim Cook with limited financial resources.  I am extremely grateful to Brett McKee and John Keener for hosting a benefit and understanding the importance of being able to seize a world class opportunity that only comes once in a lifetime.

I am to the point where I need stable sponsorship- there are still some swims left to swim, none are inexpensive.  I think that I have plenty to offer a potential sponsor and I give a great keynote!


Kathleen Wilson “Cook Strait” Fund Raiser


CHARLESTON, SC  –On Sunday February 17th the  Charleston Crab House and celebrity Chef Brett McKee will host an “All You Can Eat Oysters & Chili Cook-Off” charity  event for super swimmer and city council woman Kathleen Wilson in her attempt to swim the Cook Strait, a body of water separating the  North and South Islands of New Zealand. 

The Cook Strait is one of the world’s greatest swims and one of the most difficult due to water flow, cold water and marine life. The Oyster Roast will be from 5– 8 p.m. on the deck of the Crab House at Wappoo Creek on James Island.

 The Crab House and Chef Brett will provide steamed local clusters of oysters and all the fixin’s of a Lowcountry oyster roast plus Chef’s Brett’s “Award Winning” chili. Bring your own chili for a “Taste Off” against Chef Brett’s chili and win $100 gift card to local restaurants.

 This “All You Can Eat” Charity oyster roast is open to the public. Drinks and other foods are available for purchase.

 Tickets are $25 and available at the Crab House prior to Feb. 17 or day of event.

 For more information visit, call 843.795.1963 or Facebook (Charleston Crab House) or Twitter(@ChsCrabHouse).





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