Splish, Splash, Repeat

Jeannie Zappe is just the third Penn Stater to successfully swim the English Channel.

Jeannie Zappe

Jeannie Dobson Zappe went for a 30-minute swim in the Atlantic Ocean last Labor Day weekend. Then she went for another. And then another. By the time she stopped, she had swum 21 miles in 14 hours and 55 minutes, successfully crossing the English Channel.

Zappe ’87 Bus became the third Penn Stater to swim the channel with a mix of training, inspiration, and a methodical mindset. “You pretty much can do big, hard things if you break them down and do little bits at a time,” she says.

A longtime competitive swimmer and coach, Zappe, 55, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., first swam the channel as part of a six-person relay team in August 2017. One year later, she reserved a boat and time slot for last year’s solo swim. She trained for six days a week in the pool and did cold-water prep on both U.S. coasts.

On Aug. 23, Zappe, accompanied by friends Susan Bianchi ’87, ’88 Agr, Deb Henson, and Kathy Wingert, arrived in England. She went into the water at 10 p.m. on Sept. 5—two hours before her eight-day window closed—meaning the first eight hours of her swim were in nearly complete darkness. Following closely behind the boat, she drank water with electrolytes and carbohydrates every half hour, endured jellyfish stings and winds of up to 16 mph, and pushed through strong currents at the 12-hour mark. “I was not coming out unless someone made me come out,” she says.

Zappe, who raised $1,000 for each of three cancer charities by selling apparel leading up to the swim, joins Regan (Stacey) Scheiber ’95 Sci and Darren Miller ’05 Com as Penn State alumni who have completed solo swims across the channel. She recently began sharing her story as a motivational speaker. “I want to use my story to help other people live a great story,” she says