People have called her crazy thousands of times. She swims in water that is typically below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Without a wetsuit. For more than six miles (10 kilometers) at a time. She purposefully put on 40 pounds in the last five years to endure it, and she keeps coming back for more.
Elaine Kornbau Howley, MA ’06, is a marathon open water swimmer, which is defined as swimming in open water for distances in excess of 1,500 meters. In 2008, open water swimming became an official Olympic event.
Kornbau Howley says she has entered upwards of 50 open water challenges so far and she usually attempts 10 swims per year.
“A lot of the swims I do are not races per se; they are solo attempts, so I'm often the only swimmer out there and it's me against the elements and the clock.”
On August 12, Kornbau Howley, with her swimming partner Greg O’Connor, made history by smashing a 41-year-old record for the fastest 16-mile double–crossing of the Boston Harbor.
The swim was only the second time a woman completed the course and the first ever tandem solo swim. The pair swam from L Street Beach in South Boston out to the Boson Lighthouse on Little Brewster Island and back to South Boston in 7 hours, 7 minutes, and 48 seconds—beating the previous record by 2 hours and 23 minutes.
“It was just magic out there,” Kornbau Howley said. “Swimming into the sunrise behind the lighthouse on such a calm, quiet day was a special treat. We got so lucky with the weather and conditions. We were really astounded with how well we swam and how quickly we were able to complete the course.”
A Writing, Literature and Publishing major while at Emerson, Kornbau Howley says she plans to write a book about her experiences someday. “Right now I’m still too close to the experience,” she said. “I need some time to reflect. I really want to think about what drives me to keep pursuing these challenges.”
But she’s not ready to stop and reflect just yet. Her next challenge: a double–crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar.