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"It is the hardest swim in the world today," McCardel had said Tuesday at a news conference. "No one has been able to achieve this. It's possibly harder than winning the World Cup or getting a gold medal."
The challenge also outstripped by far, at least in terms of distance, anything she had done before. McCardel, who has twice made a double crossing of the English Channel, said the most time she had spent in the water continuously was 25 hours.
She swam under English Channel Marathon rules, which meant she could not touch her support boat or hold on to anything. Nor was she allowed to wear a full-body wetsuit, which would have helped protect against exposure and jellyfish stings.
McCardel and her team had spent nine and a half months planning the trip and studying others' attempts to try to figure out why those athletes were unable to complete the swim.
The team picked June for the attempt in a bit of a trade-off: While seas are warmer later in the summer, this month typically sees lower concentrations of box jellyfish, whose dangerous stings have scuttled past attempts.
"The Gulf Stream ... it's like a wild animal," McCardel said.
It was an unlikely dream for a woman who didn't even learn to swim until she was 10 years old.
McCardel, who makes a living doing first-aid training, and her husband took out a second mortgage on their home to finance the $150,000 in costs associated with the swim.
They had made about half of it back through sponsorships, and leaned heavily on volunteers and donations.
At the marina Wednesday morning, McCardel was just about to hop into the water when suddenly she turned around and called out for her husband, Paul.
"I love you," she said, giving him a quick kiss. "Thank you. Bye!"