Northumberland Strait swimmer reflects on what keeps her swimming


Laura Young



Covered in jellyfish stings, Jen Alexander, the Halifax-based swimmer completed a double-crossing of the Northumberland Strait in July 2007


Jen Alexander was over 15 hours into her double crossing of the Northumberland Strait. It was dark. She was on the return trip home, but, still, the lights of New Brunswick never seemed to be drawing any closer.

Her coach Philip Evans looked at her, told her the swim was worth it, she recalls. “Then I got going.”

Alexander, 32, became the first recorded swimmer to successfully complete a double crossing of the Northumberland Strait on Thursday, July 26.

Due to tides she ended up swimming over 26 kilometres between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. She finished at 4:47 a.m. Her total time was 19 hours and 17 minutes, including an eight-minute break on the PEI side of the swim.

The education student at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax swam with a waterproof insulin pump tucked inside her bathing suit. She uses the pump to help manage her Type 1 diabetes.

Although the elements and jellyfish took their toll, Alexander never asked to be pulled out.

 “Can you imagine how much I would have hated myself? It was better to keep going. It’s just one day of your life. You carry the pride with you (the rest of your life).”

She credits her crew, including Halifax Trojan Masters swimmer Alanna Mason and her “amazing” boat captain Tony Trenholm, for their work.

Mason came in on short notice, rearranged her work schedule and was willing to hop in the water to swim at night with Alexander and the jellyfish accompanying them. “That she would be willing to do that for me is, you couldn’t find a better definition of a supportive swimmer,” says Alexander. “What she gave to that swim was tremendous.”

With the Strait over, Alexander is onto her next challenge; for her, that’s the key to staying motivated and swimming. She is always looking for something hard to do, completing it and then looking for something harder. She is addicted to swimming and her motivation comes from the joy of achieving her goals.

She is booked to retry the English Channel in 2009. In 2006, conditions were such that her boat captain ended her crossing attempt.

She also wants to swim around Manhattan Island, a 46.5 kilometre swim, “the easiest open water marathon swim in the world,” she says. Currents pull the swimmers halfway around the island, she adds.

It wouldn’t be her first time in New York.

Born in the Muskokas of Ontario, Alexander eventually wound her way south and studied at the University of Waterloo.

After graduating with her degree in math, she moved to New York City in 1997 where she worked as a consultant.

In 2001, she was living two kilometres, and working 600 metres, from the World Trade Centre. The emotional aftermath in New York after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. affected her deeply: she moved to Nova Scotia six months later.

She doesn’t link her swimming to the attacks; she had been swimming long before 2001.  But now she cares less about the corporate world or “keeping up with the Joneses,” she says.

“It’s taught me to appreciate life more and figure out what’s important to me.”

For Alexander, swimming remains her love and her addiction. She is in the pool six days a week, setting up fun goals, including a training session where she swims 1,500 metres in every lane of the pool.


In some ways, the Northumberland Strait swim seems so long ago. On a car trip shortly after the swim, tears welled in her eyes as she drove across the Confederation Bridge; she had not before comprehended how long the swim really is.

Remaining motivated to tackle further challenges is a matter of setting a new goal. “If I didn’t have a goal I wouldn’t go to the pool. It’s really the goal that drives me.”


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