English Channel Swimmer tells what it takes to succeed

United Way's Emerging Leaders Alliance hosts Sandy Wollman

Sanford “Sandy” Wollman of Rye inspired members of the United Way’s Emerging Leaders Alliance when he discussed his 1995 swim across the English Channel at KOI Creative Space in White Plains in May. He was the 470th individual to successfully swim across the English Channel, a feat accomplished by fewer than 2000 people—less than half the number of people who successfully climbed Mt. Everest.

Wollman, 60, credits his triumph to two things, motivation and respect. “Those are the two things you need to accomplish something really big,” said the venture capitalist who is co-founder and managing partner of the Westchester Angels. “Motivation makes the difference between just going through the motions and really pushing yourself. Then you need to respect the goal—how much time it will take, how much you are going to need to invest to accomplish it, how hard it is going to be and how it is going to affect you and your family.”

Prior to deciding to take on the English Channel, Wollman had finished three Iron Man competitions. They were tough, but he yearned to take on something that would challenge him even more. The swim across the English Channel is a cold water journey known for being bodily and psychologically grueling. Athletes must be properly prepared physically, mentally and financially, as the trip requires a support boat and crew to follow even the most accomplished swimmers.

Wollman, who considers himself an average swimmer, dedicated himself to the task. To prepare for the icy water swim, he took cold only showers for nine months. Wollman also increased his body fat, so it could act as natural insulation and as an energy source to fuel muscle activity. He did everything he could to be ready.

The crow’s fly distance between England and France is just over 21 miles It is less than the 28.5 miles of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, which Wollman completed while preparing for the channel swim. However, the channels current and the tides make the swim more of an s-shape rather than a straight line, which adds many miles to the journey. Wollman ended up swimming 44 miles from England to stand on the shores of France in 13 hours and 6 minutes.

It was not just the temperature and currents that challenged him, being alone with his thoughts for such an extended period of time also took its toll on Wollman. “It took me to a place that I never want to return to,” he recalled. “After I completed the swim I couldn’t talk about it for 10 years.”

Wollman’s younger brother Rick emceed the evening. Co-founder of Empower Mastery, Rick Wollman asked the attendees to think about the difference between a common person and an uncommon person. An uncommon person chooses to live a healthy lifestyle, looks at problems as challenges that lead to opportunities.

“Sandy’s story is extraordinary. His presentation makes you think about the decisions we make and the mindset we keep and how they impact the things we do,” said Faith Ann Butcher, Acting Impact Office at United Way of Westchester and Putnam. “Our Emerging Leaders were greatly inspired by this personal account of hard work, determination, and success.”

The United Way’s Emerging Leaders Alliance is a network of young professionals under 45 who are interested both in philanthropy and in making positive changes in our community. The mission of ELA is to cultivate the next generation of community leaders in Westchester and Putnam Counties, with a focus on philanthropy and professional & personal development.  For more information, call UWWP at 914-997-6700.