GWU Alumna Completes English Channel Crossing in Just Over 12 Hours

Heather Roka’s Time is Fifth Fastest of 29 Successful Crossings This Year

Heather Roka

While crossing the 64-degree waters of the English Channel, Heather Roka, a 2008 alumna of Gardner-Webb University, drew inspiration from people in her life. The former GWU swim team member completed her solo swim Aug. 25. She has trained since 2012 to tackle a feat accomplished by 1,619 people, according to the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation. She completed the swim in 12 hours, 13 minutes, 53 seconds. Roka was the fifth fastest swimmer of 29 successful crossings this year.

“In the months and weeks leading up to the swim, I felt beyond blessed,” Roka reflected, “I was overwhelmed by the support from so many of my GWU classmates and friends.”

Gardner-Webb Swim Coach Mike Simpson is not surprised at Roka’s achievement. “Heather has always been a tough cookie,” he observed. “She is tough physically. She is tougher mentally.”

Roka fought fatigue during the crossing by thinking about the patients she’s worked with as a physical therapist. “They have undergone a traumatic situation that has forever changed their life,” Roka described. “They work so hard, pushing past sweat, tears, frustration and pain. Without saying anything, these people encourage me to do more and try harder.”

Roka said swimming at GWU taught her to love a challenge and gave her lasting friendships. “The only reason I am even attempting this swim is because of the love of swimming and all the positive memories,” she assessed. “Upon graduation, I couldn’t walk away from the swimming world. I am so grateful that Coach Simpson decided I could be a valuable part of the GWU team and family.”

Learn more about the award-winning swimming program at Gardner-Webb University