Reprinted with permission
Story by Calvin Cooper
Photography by Sharon Kelley Walker
April 8, 1993
The sound of splashing water bounces off the walls in the cavernous natatorium of the health building as Benoit Lecomte trains for the challenge of his life. Lecomte, a French citizen majoring in business administration at this college, slices through the water in the pool with the aid of a monopalme, or monofin, attached to his feet.
He intends to have the same device attached his feet when he attempts to swim across the Atlantic Ocean in the next year or two.
“I’ve been working on this project, training and preparing myself for about two years,” he said Monday in an interview after a workout in the gym’s pool. “If I find a sponsor I will try to do it in about a year.”
Lecomte’s project serves two purposes. He decided two years ago he wanted to do his part to help bring the attention to the plight suffered by the planet’s oceans he has loved since I was a child.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the oceans because of their size and power,” he said with a thick French accent. “One day I said to myself, ‘look at the oceans, all the pollution and oil spills.’ I don’t want anyone to spoil them.”
But he also sees it as a personal challenge with which he can gauge his mental and physical limits.
“I want to start from this side of the Atlantic so I don’t have to fight against the Gulf Stream current which runs southwest to northeast,” he said.
Lecomte will ride the Gulf Stream, the warm current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico along the East Coast of the United States up to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and on to Europe.
Lecomte trains for the Herculean endeavor in the gym’s pool as well as in Medina Lake, whose waters are the closest thing he can find to the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. He works out Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the gym’s pool doing two hour stints each day. In a little more than an hour he can cover 5,000 meters (more than 3 miles) using his monopalme.
His training regimen is separated into three cycles. The first consists of speed work in which he does sprints to improve his speed; the second cycle is intermediate-distance training where he hones his technique with the monopalme; in the third cycle he focuses on improving his endurance.
“I usually alternate between second and third to improve my endurance and stamina,” Lecomte explained. “The first cycle in for speed and I’m not too concerned with that. I do that about once a month.”
The aspiring sub-mariner will use two types of fins when he embarks on his challenging journey. He will bring along a pair of conventional swim fins to use when the set of muscles he uses with the monopalme become tired. Since the different sets of fins tax different muscle groups, Lecomte will be able to rest without stopping.
“With the monopalme I use my back and thigh muscles,” he said.
When the monopalme is on his feet Lecomte propels himself through the water with undulating, snake-like motions of his body, much like a whale or porpoise. “With the conventional fins I use my arms, shoulders, thighs and abdomen.”
“Using the monopalme is not as easy as it seems. To make the most efficient use of it requires practice to find the proper technique.”
“When I first tried to use the monopalme, I could only do 500 meters because I was using muscles I don’t normally use,” Lecomte said. “With practice I found the right technique and learned how to use the least amount of effort to get the most speed.”
Speed, Lecomte explained, is important but going too fast could be detrimental.
“Resistance in the water increases as the speed of the swimmer increases,” Lecomte said. “It’s best to swim not so fast to keep more energy. It’s best to pace yourself.”
Lecomte slips his snorkel and goggles on his face and snaps the monoplame onto his feet and enters the pool for another round of laps. He trains for the day when he starts his journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
The echoes of splashing water will become colossal swells and the challenge of his lifetime will be underway.