Vijaya Claxton - the oldest American woman to swim the Channel
An account of C. Vijaya Claxton's successful English Channel crossing.
At a time of life when many UN staff members may be planning already for their retirement and looking forward to a more relaxed pace of life, C. Vijaya Claxton, a staff member in the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management who serves as Coordinator of the Panel of Counsel in New York, hit her life’s accelerator pedal and swam from England to France earlier this month. Setting out at 8 am on Saturday, 8 September 2007 from Dover, on the southeast shore of England, she fought her way through formidable challenges, and set foot on the sands of Wissant, France at first light on Sunday morning, the oldest American woman to have done so.
Those who know La Manche intimately might observe in it almost a living, breathing being with a will that, on an apparent whim, will say to one who is attempting to conquer it, “you shall not pass”, while to another it might seem to offer an enormous protecting hand as it grants passage to the far shore. Indeed, in Vijaya’s case, three times in previous years her attempts did not meet with success. This year also had its setbacks. After several weeks of intensive training, a scheduled swim date in July had to be abandoned when persistently unfavourable weather conditions did not allow any swimmers to make attempts for extended periods of time. This turn of events forced Vijaya to return to New York in August and to hope for a favourable tide the following month. One day in early September, exciting news came in the form of a telephone call from a member of the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation who said that conditions were projected to be good for the next several days. A return trip to England was hastily planned, and less than two days after her arrival, Vijaya found herself under the white cliffs of Dover, ready to set off on her crossing.
Hearing Vijaya describe the hurdles along the way - travel fatigue, frigid water temperatures, nausea, strong tidal currents and, towards the end, an alarming difficulty in breathing due to swollen air passages caused by hours of immersion in salt water - one can only wonder how the same person can describe the Channel swim with the obvious thrill and enthusiasm she projects when recalling this experience of a lifetime. Perhaps the answer to this apparent enigma lies in the “going beyond” aspect of her incredible feat, stemming from a life view in which one tries to achieve more than what was achieved before, perhaps even carrying out an improbable or a seemingly impossible task. One who has worked with Vijaya senses that, when facing the challenges of her UN work, the question, “is it possible?” does not arise, but only the question, “is it the right thing to do?” When the answer is affirmative, action immediately follows.
To swim the English Channel is in itself an astonishing task. To do it while serving the UN in such a challenging capacity is doubly so. Perhaps this accomplishment of Vijaya serves as a reminder to us all that as we, as members of the United Nations, persevere against the tides of war, inequality, injustice and poverty, we come closer to reaching our shore of peace, human rights, justice and “better standards of life in larger freedom”.
Photo Top: C. Vijaya Claxton, Coordinator of the Panel of Counsel makes preparations for swimming across the English Channel.
Article By: Surashri Paradis, Administrative Assistant in the Office of the Coordinator, Panel of Counsel
On December 23rd, 2009, Vijaya left this earth after a short severe illness at the age of 61.
Members from the international swimming community or "English Channel family" around the world payed tribute to her on the Channel chat forum in moving words.
"Vijaya was a bubbly person known to a lot of us in the Channel swimming world. She came into our lives determined to swim the Channel and did it on her 4th attempt with Eddie in 2007. Her first 3 attempts were with me. All were long swims, all were great advances on the pervious swim, all were very happy swims with a great support team of girls who enjoyed life to the full. Vijaya, complete with her smile and her willingness to help all around her will be sadly missed by the people who knew her. Those who did not know her missed out on one of the little pleasures of life that groups like ours bring every now and then."... "Her positive attitude made everything shine."- Mike & Angela Oram (Hon. Secretary of Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, Dover)
"She worked relentlessly in the UN as a public defender for staff and only retired in June of this year. Viyaja Claxton swam the channel in 2007 in 22 hours and 25 minutes. It was her fourth attempt and her perseverance and determination paid off in the end. She was 59 years old when she swam and the oldest American lady to complete the crossing. She was a remarkable individual who gave so much to others. It was been a real privilege to be her friend. She has enriched my life and that of many people who had the fortune of knowing her. She leaves a big gap in many of her friends' lives, but also the love and affection she transmitted to all of those around her. She will be dearly missed. - Laura Lopez-Bonilla, English Channel Swimmer
"I remember Vijaya swimming in the Dover harbor, always having a smile on her face, no matter how long she was in the water. The love she had for the water and our sport will be missed. Peace to her memory." - Marcy McDonald, Multiple Channel swimmer, Connecticut, US