Blue Hen set to swim English Channel
Bryan Townsend is preparing to swim the English Channel.
Bryan Townsend gets training advice from Ray Peden.
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2:45 p.m., July 21, 2009----University of Delaware alumnus Bryan Townsend, who graduated in 2003 and 2004 with three degrees, is set to embark on an attempt to swim the English Channel to raise support and awareness for Special Olympics Delaware and the Haidian Peizhi Special School, located in Beijing, China.

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Townsend became involved with Special Olympics Delaware from the summer of 1999 to 2001 as he worked with the softball program, and from 2005 to 2006 as he taught English and worked as a basketball coach at the Haidian Peizhi Special School, which he describes as “a school in the Haidian district of Beijing for students with intellectual disabilities.”

Townsend sticks to a strict training regimen, which he said includes “a combination of pool and open-water workouts, always under the guidance of Ray Peden, a retired sergeant from the Delaware State Police and a swimmer who swam across the English Channel in 1986.”

A portion of the open-water workouts were performed here in Delaware, with Townsend swimming the length of the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk many times, moving both north and south along the beach.

This once became a painful experience, as Townsend recalls swimming in Rehoboth on July 3-4 when jellyfish unexpectedly arrived early for the season. Said Townsend of his eventful swim, “Over the course of seven-plus hours that weekend, I was stung by jellyfish nearly every stroke I took. Swimming through schools of jellyfish is probably the best training an open-water swimmer could hope for; each stroke becomes so painful, especially when a jellyfish happens to find a way to sting you where no jellyfish had before, that no other swimming is as taxing or painful.”

Townsend is no stranger to preparing to swim the English Channel. He last planned to swim it in August 2006, but was unable to make the attempt after injuring his shoulder while swimming in Lewes in May of that year. Of the lost opportunity, he said, “I decided to postpone my swim until July 2009, by which time I would have graduated from law school. It was a painful decision -- emotionally, not just physically -- because I had trained for nearly two years at that point. But I thought it was the wisest decision.”

Graduating from the University of Delaware in 2003 with an honors bachelor of science degree in economics and a master of arts degree in economics, and in 2004 with an honors bachelor of arts degree with distinction as a Dean's Scholar with majors in philosophy and biology, Townsend went on to graduate from the University of Cambridge in 2006 with a master of philosophy in Chinese Studies and from Yale Law School with a juris doctorate in 2009.

Of his time at the University of Delaware, Townsend said that his favorite professors included Alan Fox, professor of philosophy; Kenneth Lewis, Chaplin Tyler Professor of Economics; Charles Link, Bank of America Professor of Economics; David Black, associate professor of economics; Susan Groh, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry; David Smith, professor of biological sciences; Ralph Begleiter, the Edward and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Communication and Distinguished Journalist in Residence; and Jon Cox, supplemental faculty in the Department of Art. Townsend added that his favorite classes were any classes taught by any of them.

Townsend also said that he had tremendous support and friendship of the staff and professors of the University of Delaware's Honors Program. When speaking of the Honors Program, Townsend said, “From working closely with me to develop an ambitious combination of academic programs to helping guide me through fellowship and scholarship applications, the staff of the UD Honors Program demonstrated why UD Honors is one of the gems of the University of Delaware.”

Another aspect of the University singled out by Townsend was the University of Delaware's Study Abroad program, which he said “is one of the most amazing aspects of the University. University of Delaware Study Abroad made my undergraduate experience richer and more diverse than any other university could have done. I am thrilled that University of Delaware professors were given the opportunity and freedom to craft such interesting and unique programs, and I'm thankful I had the opportunity to join them on their voyages.”

During his time at the University of Delaware, Townsend traveled with the Study Abroad program three times, once on a European medley in the winter of 2002, covering London, Dublin, Paris, Barcelona and Rome, once on a photography and geopolitics trip in winter 2003 to Antarctica and Argentina, and a photography and wildlife conservation safari in Tanzania in winter 2004.

Townsend says that he plans to swim the English Channel probably on Tuesday or Wednesday, July 28 or July 29, though due to unpredictable weather he will not know the exact date and time until just hours before the actual swim. He has been in Dover, England, since July 14 in order to have two full weeks to train in the icy waters of Dover Harbor before he tackles the English Channel.

For more information or to support Townsend's swim and Special Olympics, visit the Web site.

For more information on Special Olympics Delaware, visit the Web site.

Article by Adam Thomas
Photos courtesy of Special Olympics Delaware