BUENOS AIRES – Jackie Cobell, a 60-year-old British woman who does not pay much heed to age, nationality or ideologies, plans to challenge the cold waters around the Falkland Islands, scene of a 1982 war between Argentina and Britain, this week as a symbol of friendship and unity.
Cobell told Efe in an interview that she had always loved the water and when she approaches it her hair stands on end until she wades in, gets calm and feels comfortable “having time to think.”
Becoming a professional swimmer has never been an option, Cobell said, since she considers herself “too slow” for competition, but her passion for the sport is a life-long affair.
“I was only 9 months old and my family was staying at a beach house,” she said. “I got out crawling and they found me by the surf, gargling and laughing.”
Since then, Cobell said, she has not missed any opportunities to swim and has set challenges for which she has trained hard.
When she was 56, she swam 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) across the English Channel in almost 29 hours, setting a new record for the world’s slowest swim.
“What can I do next?” she thought, and after realizing that she had almost not felt cold on her crossing of the channel, she decided it was time to test more extreme temperatures.
“Since then, I never looked back,” Cobell told Efe.
After five years testing herself around the world, Cobell and her Argentine friend, Matias Ola, a 30-year-old professional swimmer, will attempt to cross the San Carlos Strait separating the two largest of the Falkland Islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas.
This challenge began taking form when Cobell met Ola in Siberia three years ago and both swimmers decided that, beyond their differences in age and nationality, they should join forces to send a message of “friendship, peace and harmony.”
Cobell noted the support she and Ola had received in their respective countries, but she said she was aware that the project was controversial.
Both nations “should have a dialogue to reach an agreement” honoring the 649 Argentines, 225 Britons and three islanders who died in the 1982 conflict, the British swimmer said.
Cobell will not have much time to rest after her swim in the South Atlantic. A week later, she will head to South Africa’s Robben Island, where anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.
Cobell said she wanted to complete “an iconic and historic swim to honor the great man and orator who brought calm and peace to his country.”