Channeling Open-Water Swimming

Edie Hu ’97

A photo shows Edie Hu '97 on a beach in Hong Kong, wearing a bright red swim cap.

Courtesy of Edie Hu ’97

Courtesy of Edie Hu ’97

Edie Hu ’97 swam the English Channel in 2018 as a two-woman relay, completing the 21 miles in just under 15 hours. After the grueling effort, the lifelong swimmer tinkered with the idea of attempting the feat on her own. But securing a spot can take years—and Edie isn’t a planner.

Last year, the Hong Kong resident, who works as an independent art advisor, vacationed in Italy. With a friend, she swam a 22-mile relay between Capri and Naples through choppy waters and a thunderstorm. Afterwards, she flew to the U.K. to cheer on her friend during his first solo Channel swim. When another solo spot opened up last minute, Edie, who’s 48, jumped at the chance. Then, just 10 days later, she circumnavigated her old stomping grounds of Manhattan, swimming 29 miles around the island in just over eight hours.

Among the dozens of open-water swims she has done since 2008, Edie has also swum around Hong Kong, raising thousands of dollars for an organization that offers free swim lessons to foreign domestic workers.

“I treat these swims like meditation,” she says. “It’s time to clear my head. These long distance challenges push my body and my mind to the limits. Time and aging are not major factors—your biggest opponent is Mother Nature and yourself.”

Months after Edie solo swam the English Channel, a surprise arrived in the mail—a blue and yellow quilt embroidered with the names of Seven Sisters swimmers who have swum the Channel. The quilt has been passed between Wellesley and Smith swimmers for years. Edie received it from Melanie Kaplan ’18, who swam the Channel in 2018.

Over the years, Edie has made swimming friends worldwide. They train and swim parts of races with her and cheer her on. “It’s really the backbone of how I can keep going,” she says.

Edie’s love of swimming started at an early age. In the Bay Area, she joined a swim team with her younger brother. “I wasn’t the fastest kid,” she says, “but I had fun.” She was on her high school team, and at Wellesley, where she majored in art history, Edie swam all four years. She founded the College’s water polo team, recruiting MIT students as coaches.

After graduation, she took a job at Sotheby’s and stopped swimming. “I was burned out from competition,” she says. Years later, when she relocated from New York to her grandparents’ adopted city of Hong Kong, Edie decided to give ocean swimming a go. “It was so liberating,” she says. “I didn’t have walls, times, clocks, or a coach telling me what to do. It was just the ocean, and you can keep going.”

She started with shorter races between beaches in Hong Kong. “I started thinking, this is kind of fun,” she says. Then she signed up for the nearly 10-mile Maui Channel Swim in Hawai‘i. “After that, I was kind of hooked.”

These days, Edie swims six days a week and does weights, cardio, Pilates, and stretching with a trainer. This summer, she plans to tackle the Tsugaru Strait, a 12-mile stretch between Japan’s Honshu and Hokkaido islands. It’s one of the “Oceans Seven,” a group of long-distance open-water swims across some of the world’s most treacherous channels, including the English Channel. Only 21 people worldwide have completed all seven.

In September, Edie will attempt another Oceans Seven swim, too—the Catalina Channel, off California’s coast. The Strait of Gibraltar would also be fun, she says. But she’s not committing to a plan. “It’s much nicer to spontaneously do something,” Edie says, “otherwise you worry about it for so long hanging over your head, and you still don’t know if you’re going to make it. I just need to try one swim at a time.”

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