An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Dermatologists go the distance for the English Channel

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma
  • 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs

A midnight start in the cold and clammy darkness, vision impaired and depth perception compromised, two 59th Medical Wing doctors took the 16-mile California swim challenge head on in preparation for the 21-mile English Channel in September.

Air Force Majs. Casey Bowen and Simon Ritchie, dermatologists with the 59th Medical Operations Group, trained two years to swim the Catalina Channel, conditioning themselves to swim long distances and increasing their tolerance for cold water to avoid fatigue and hypothermia.

“Swimming (the Catalina Channel) was a daunting event on its own, swimming it in the ocean in the middle of the night with frigid waters that are inhabited by great white sharks was the thing of nightmares,” Bowen said.

The swim was an important step toward their next nautical adventure.

“The Catalina was our testing ground for the English Channel. As for that challenge, the words of Sir Edmund Hillary ring true: ‘It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves,’” Bowen said. “It's about facing our fears, pushing through our mental and physical boundaries.”

The doctors met while attending the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and realized they shared an interest in going to medical school. After graduation, they went their separate ways – different medical schools and assignments. Eventually, they crossed paths again when they were assigned to dermatology at the 59th MDW.

It’s then they realized they had something else in common: swimming. For both, swimming is therapeutic and a good way to balance stress.

“Swimming is boring, really boring,” said Ritchie. “It's a good time to think about things and work through things.”

“In some ways the monotony is good, as it gets you into a rhythm and you kind of zone out a little,” Ritchie said. “There is no use in being afraid of sharks, hypothermia, or anything, once you're in the water there's not much you can do about those things.”

Back in San Antonio, the two dermatologists continue their quest – on to the English Channel in pursuit of their dream.