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Ventura Woman Plans Santa Barbara Channel Crossing as Fundraiser for Special Olympics

Rachel Horn will attempt to swim 12.4 miles from Anacapa Island to Oxnard to support the Special Olympics organization

Rachel Horn, left, trains for a 12.4-mile swim across the Santa Barbara Channel to raise money for the Special Olympics organization.
Rachel Horn, left, trains for a 12.4-mile swim across the Santa Barbara Channel to raise money for the Special Olympics organization.  (Jonas Jungblut photo)

Sharks, cold water and strong currents are just a few concerns on Rachel Horn’s mind as she prepares for her very first Santa Barbara Channel crossing. 

On Sept. 17, the 31-year-old Ventura native plans to swim 12.4 miles from Anacapa Island to Oxnard in an effort to raise awareness for the upcoming Special Olympics.

Horn began swimming at age 11, when she first joined the Buenaventure Swim Club. She swam distance freestyle events such as the 200m and 500m before continuing her career into the pool at Loyola Marymount University.

During the summers, Horn would return home and work as a California State Lifeguard, where she first experienced open water ocean swimming. Nowadays, Horn is a digital marketing manager for Deckers and a yoga instructor.  

While attending Ventura High School, Horn became a coach for the Special Olympics, which offers year-round Olympic-like events for athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Athletes of all ages can participate, from children to adults, and she coached a local children’s group and taught them basic swimming skills.

“Getting involved in the Special Olympics as a young athlete was really powerful,” Horn said.

“You are teaching someone to do something that didn’t seem possible for them before that moment. It’s not always easy to get anyone to try something that seems scary and new, but once they accomplish that goal, it’s just an incredible feeling.”

Many years later, Horn read a memoir by ocean swimmer extraordinaire Lynne Cox and was instantly captivated by the sport of marathon swimming. Her previous involvement with the Special Olympics came together with her past as an athlete, and she made a decision to do a swim for a greater cause.

“I was fortunate enough to meet some inspiring people in our community who had completed swims like this before, and they are the reason I decided to give this a go,” Horn told Noozhawk.

“I decided that if I’m going to swim all this way, I wanted to have an incentive at the end, something bigger than just a personal challenge. So, I reached out to the Special Olympics here in Santa Barbara and together we made it happen.”

Horn’s initial goal for her swim was to raise $5,000 for the Santa Barbara branch of the Special Olympics. Since starting a fundraising page, she has received immense community support and was at 92 percent of her fundraising goal as of Tuesday.

The monetary incentive and the Special Olympics are just the end result, but Horn still has a long swim to complete. Her channel crossing is scheduled for Sept. 17, but the training began months ago.

To prepare for the 12.4-mile channel swim, Horn alternates between sessions in the pool and ocean. She works with Coach “AB,” John Abrami of the Santa Barbara Masters, and seeks support from the Santa Barbara swimming community by participating in events like Nite Moves and Reef & Run.

Rachel Horn, left, plans to make the swim between Anacapa Island and Oxnard on Sept. 17. Click to view larger
Rachel Horn, left, plans to make the swim between Anacapa Island and Oxnard on Sept. 17. (Jonas Jungblut photo)

She’s even embarked on a few trial runs, where she swims half the distance to prepare her body for the constant motion. Horn also attends weekly physical therapy and receives massages in addition to regular stretching and icing after workouts.

However, all her practice will be nothing compared to the real event.

“It could take anywhere from six to nine hours for me to finish, depending on conditions and how my body handles this distance. In Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association sanctioned swims, you can’t wear a wetsuit, so I started getting in year-round without a wetsuit two years ago,” Horn said.

“Shocking my body into tolerating the cold water back in February really helped, so even with the slightly warmer temperatures in September, I feel confident I’ll be able to handle it.”

Horn applied to the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association for permission and an observer will be present to ensure that she abides with all regulations. There are strict rules for marathon swimming, including the prohibiting of wetsuits since they help the swimmer stay warmer and float. Also, she is not allowed to receive any help from bystanders or those in nearby boats — even touching can incite disqualification.

While preparing for the physicality of the swim, Horn made some changes to her diet to compensate for all the calories she’ll burn — namely, eating more ice cream.  

“Eating is the most awesome part of this sport. You can’t wear a wetsuit for these swims and I’m naturally a thin person, so to tolerate the cold water, I have to eat more, which is awesome,” Horn joked.

“I eat everything I normally eat, but closer to the long swims I eat more McConnell’s ice cream. I’m not sure if it really adds a layer of warmth, but it sure is enjoyable.”

And while Horn has to eat more before the swim, it’s also essential that she consume calories during the actual crossing. While treading water, Horn will snack on protein powder shakes and mashed potatoes to sustain her strength for the long journey.

In addition to the physical preparation, Horn has drastically increased her mental strength. As a local yoga instructor, Horn utilizes meditation techniques — such as mantras — to help her stay focused and calm.

“Whether it’s crossing a pool, or a channel, that feeling of working hard and accomplishing something that once seemed impossible is something every person should experience in their lifetime. I feel so fortunate to be able to do this swim, and have such amazing people in my life supporting me,” said Horn.

After her crossing, Horn hopes to continue being involved with the Special Olympics. Given the success and immense support she and the Special Olympics community have received as a result of this event, Horn is already thinking about her next swim. 

Noozhawk intern Sarah Scarminach can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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