By Alex Zank
For Courtney Moates Paulk, practicing law isn’t her only passion that requires daily commitment and dedication.
Paulk, a litigation partner in the Virginia firm Hirschler Fleischer, is about to dive into the final stretch of ocean to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.
The Triple Crown is a three-part physical and mental endurance challenge that tests even the best swimmers’ abilities in open waters. The three swims include a 21-mile trip across the English Channel, 20.2 miles across the Catalina Channel in Southern California and 28.5 miles around Manhattan Island in New York.
Having completed two of the three courses, only Catalina stands in Paulk’s way.
In Catalina, Paulk said, you enter the water at midnight.
“It’s dark, the water could be cold or warm, so it’s less predictable," she said. "You could have sharks, whales, jellyfish or sea lions. A friend who swam it had a mola mola fish swim up to his face.”
In case you were wondering: Mola mola fish, also known as tropical sunfish, have been recorded to reach 3.3 meters, or nearly 11 feet, in length.
Sharks, of course, can be a concern for open-water swimmers. Earlier this week, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim, without a shark cage, the 110-mile Florida Strait.
The chance presence of marine life, in addition to night swimming, leads Paulk to believe Catalina will be the most difficult part of the Triple Crown.
Paulk started competing in open water swimming 11 years ago and said she started training for the Triple Crown in 2010 after she completed the Boston Light Swim, an eight-mile swim in the Boston Harbor.
When she completed the first part of the Triple Crown, swimming around New York City, Paulk surprised herself that she finished the 28.5-mile challenge.
“When I finished Manhattan, I was sort of shocked that even I did it. I hit the land and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I just did that.’ I was just in shock,” she recalled.
Balancing work and swimming, two demanding practices, is very difficult, Paulk said.
“I schedule it ahead if I can, but I figure out pretty much every day when it would fit into my day to swim,” while swimming longer distances on weekends, she said. “It’s hard to balance, since law is a challenging profession.”
Paulk is set to finish the Triple Crown on September 10, when she jumps into the Catalina waters at midnight.