Skip to main content

Print or Online Article First Place Winner: "The Other Side"

Congratulations to Elaine Howley, first place winner in the Print or Online Article category of the 89th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning article, "The Other Side"

Congratulations to Elaine Howley, first place winner in the Print or Online Article category of the 89th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning article, "The Other Side"

Competition

[See the complete winners list.] 

The Other Side

In the earliest minutes of 16 September 2019, Sarah Thomas, a 37-year-old healthcare recruiter from Conifer, Colorado, couldn’t see what lay ahead of her. Nevertheless, she knew she was close to an important juncture in her attempt at swimming the English Channel four times nonstop. Some 24 hours earlier, she had left the beach at Samphire Hoe and swum to Cap Gris Nez in France, and now she was nearly back to Samphire Hoe, a nature reserve created from chalk marl dredged up during the construction of the Channel Tunnel. She could all but feel the uncomfortable rocks beneath her feet as she anticipated walking out of the sea and onto the shingle beach at the base of Dover’s White Cliffs. 

But there was a slight problem. Good weather had attracted a half dozen other aspiring Channel swimmers and their pilots to Samphire Hoe’s beach to launch their own cross-Channel swims. They bobbed and jostled in the dark, as one-by-one the swimmers waded into the water and began swimming. There simply wasn’t enough room to maneuver around those other vessels and safely land Thomas on the beach. So Thomas’ pilot, Eddie Spelling aboard Anastasia, wisely guided her a few hundred yards to the northwest—smack into the center of a massive concrete seawall. There would be no beach landing for Thomas this time. 

As the turn approached, I clambered into the inflatable rescue boat towed behind the main support boat with one of the boat crew, and we motored up alongside Thomas to help guide her into the turn. When she was just 100 meters from the wall, I slipped over the edge and into the cool, black water. I’d donned large flippers to help me keep up with Thomas’ speedy stroke and carried a drawstring backpack full of lanolin, snacks, and a bottle full of warm water. 

As her “safety swimmer,” I freestyled alongside and slightly behind Thomas. A few meters shy of the wall, she picked her head up and cried out for the beach. The bearer of bad news, I explained that the landing would be here, at Samphire Hoe’s massive concrete seawall, rather than at the shingle beach not far to the left. 

Thomas stuttered a second as the realization sunk in—just as with the first turn in France, she wouldn’t be clearing the water at this second turn. “I’m devastated,” she said. The anguish in her voice about broke my heart and all I wanted to do was to hug her and tell her it was going to be OK. But if she was going to continue on in her quest to swim the English Channel an unprecedented four times consecutively, I couldn’t so much as pat her hand. She sighed heavily as she treaded water and gulped down some baby food. She promptly vomited again, as she had been doing for many hours since leaving France, and said “I’m really not sure I have this in me.” 

Print:Online Article

Without hesitation I replied, “yes, you do,” and I meant it. I knew how hard she’d worked to be ready for this moment. I also knew that nighttime is difficult during any swim, especially when you’re knee-deep into your second night at sea. “Just hang in there until sunrise,” I pleaded. “Everything will look better in the sunlight.” Weary and frustrated, she understood. She handed me the water bottle and reluctantly began swimming again. 

Once I was back on the boat, we adjusted her feeds to remove the apple juice she thought was making her vomit and brainstormed how to get more calories into her to replace what she’d lost. Before long, she’d settled back into her practiced rhythm, and stroke by stroke, she pulled herself toward sunrise. By the time the sun was fully up, she felt and swam like a different person. 

Keep reading this article here.

Writer's Digest Competitions

Get recognized for your writing. Find out more about the Writer's Digest family of writing competitions.

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Critically acclaimed novelist Katrina Leno discusses the process of bringing her childhood memories to magical life in her new young adult novel, Sometime in Summer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: A New Podcast Episode, "Your Story" Prompt, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our latest episode of "Writer's Digest Presents," the new "Your Story" prompt, and more!

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Here are the top live streams, podcasts, and YouTube channels as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

You might have heard the term, especially if you’re in online fandoms, but what exactly is fan fiction? Managing Editor Moriah Richard explains.

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

Short story writing can be a gateway to writing your novel—but they’re also fun and worthy stories in their own right. Here, author Dallas Woodburn shares 5 ways to use short stories to grow as a writer.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Physician, cartoonist, and author Shirlene Obuobi discusses the writerly advice that led to writing her new coming-of-age novel, On Rotation.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Kimo Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the kimo.

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

Tattoos and their artists can reveal interesting details about your characters and offer historical context. Here, author June Gervais shares 8 things writers should know about tattoos.