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Sociologist becomes part of her own research project as she successfully swims the English Channel

A sociologist at the University of Warwick who is researching the cross channel swimming community has become a part of her own project by successfully completing the gruelling 21 mile swim herself.

Dr Karen Throsby has turned her passion for long distance swimming into an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded research project exploring what motivates someone to attempt a channel swim. Her project,  Becoming a Channel swimmer: embodiment and identity in an extreme sporting culture will also look at how the body changes when you train for a marathon swim and what that reveals about the body’s limits.

Dr Throsby completed her solo crossing attempt on Thursday 2 September in just 16 hours and nine minutes. In her blog, The Long Swim, Dr Throsby said: “I will just say that it was an extraordinary, brutal, intoxicating, frustrating, exciting, painful, exhilarating, exhausting day that I will never forget.”

She will be using her own experiences of the process to explore what it means to train to swim the Channel. In particular Dr Throsby is also interested in how many Channel swimmers deliberately acquire and maintain body fat, which is contrary to many assumptions in health and sports policy about what makes someone fit. Furthermore, she will explore the idea that, especially for women, the upper body development that comes from training is counter to the idealised female body.

As well as using her own experiences of the process and the swim, Dr Throsby will carry out a number of interviews with prospective, successful and unsuccessful channel swimmers, their friends and family, coaches and observers.

The data collection phase of the project will run through to the end of 2011 and Dr Throsby will gather together a wide range of experiences and perspectives, from both the UK and overseas.

Dr Throsby said: “Training to swim the Channel over the last two years has been one of the most challenging and all-consuming things I've ever tried to do. English Channel swimming is, by virtually any measure, an extreme sport, requiring extensive and rigorous training in order to develop the physical and psychological endurance necessary to sustain hour after hour of swimming in a frequently hostile environment.

“Nevertheless, for many swimmers, a solo Channel crossing remains a significant and deeply meaningful goal to which they are willing to devote considerable time and energy. For a sociologist, this combination of risk, extremity, bodily transformation, passionate commitment and profound uncertainty among a small group of individuals brought together around this singularly out-of-the-ordinary sporting goal constitutes an exciting arena for research.”

Notes to editors

For more information please contact Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Communications Officer, University of Warwick,, 02476 150483, 07824 540863

Dr Throsby’s blog can be accessed here