COLORADO SPRINGS (AP) – For someone who says she hates cold water, Colorado Springs police officer Kathrin Benoit can’t seem to stay out of it.
And she’s making a name for herself because of it.
Last year, she swam through frigid, rushing flood waters and braved hypothermia in ice and slush to save the lives of stranded motorists. In the past three years, she successfully swam across the near-freezing waters of the English Channel, the Catalina Channel and the Molokai Channel, in an ongoing attempt to become the fifth person in the world to complete the Oceans Seven Ultra Swimming challenge.
Still, faced with upcoming swims in the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, the Tsugaru Channel in Japan, the Cook Strait in New Zealand and the Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa, Benoit must endure repeated exposure to freezing oceans to complete the challenge. She will do it willingly, she said, but she insists that her hate of cold water is almost an obsession.
“I don’t do well with the cold; I hate it,” said Benoit, 35.
Born in a German town near Frankfurt, Benoit started swimming when she was 13 years old when she became too tall for gymnastics. She swam for a school and a town team in Germany.
Benoit earned a bachelor’s degree at Colorado State University in Pueblo and a master’s in 2010 at CSU in Fort Collins.
While she wasn’t on the college swim teams, she competed often in triathlons. She had moved to Colorado Springs in 2003 and planned to become a therapist. But the idea of sitting and listening to people did not suit her active nature, she said.
Instead, she joined the Colorado Springs Police Department in 2010 and is a patrol officer at the Sand Creek subdivision.
On the job, cold-water rescues
Sand Creek Cmdr. Kirk Wilson said Benoit had been discreet about her Oceans Seven endeavor, telling only a few people about her accomplishments.
When she received a letter late last year telling her she was a recipient of the Medal of Valor for her cold-water rescues, Benoit had not been on the force long enough to be familiar with its awards.
“The recognition she’s getting is well-deserved, and we’re all very proud of her,” Wilson said. “She’s a very focused police officer, and being private is one of her traits. She’s doing everything in a very selfless way; she’s very modest and humble in the way she approaches her job and her success.”
Receiving the medal at a Nov. 4 ceremony at The Broadmoor hotel equally humbled her and wrecked her nerves, she said.
“Those events are so serious, you have to make sure your uniform is perfect, walk just right and behave appropriately,” she said.
Benoit was dispatched to Platte Avenue and Chelton Road near The Citadel mall, where feet of hail and slush covered the roads. Along with three fellow police officers, Benoit rescued people who were trapped inside their vehicles as hail, debris and slush rose to the top of the cars’ windows in what was called the 100-year storm of June 6, 2012.
At one point, she was knocked down by debris in the rushing currents of water and had to hold on to a lamppost to keep from being carried away to deeper water. Benoit waded and swam through the freezing stormwater until her body gave in to hypothermia, but not without first ensuring the safety of motorists caught in the storm.
“It was a very interesting Medal of Valor award because the circumstances of the hailstorm she and her fellow officers endured were so unusual,” Wilson said. “But she took it all in stride, always conscious that she’s part of a team.”
Up next Ireland, then Japan
Benoit juggles up to 20 hours of training weekly with her full-time position with police and her family life with her husband and 9-year-old son, Ashton. It can be challenging but makes her happy.
Benoit says the hardest thing about the long-distance swims, especially in northern areas, are the low temperatures.
As part of the Oceans Seven challenge, she crossed the English Channel on July 25, 2012, covering 36 miles in a little more than 13 hours, because of currents.
The North Channel, between Ireland and Scotland, is next on her list, projected for July 2014. The following year, she plans to cross the Tsugaru Channel between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan.
The Cook Strait between the North and South islands of New Zealand and the Strait of Gibraltar, between Europe and Africa, will be in the works for 2016 and 2017, she said.
Benoit uses these long-distance and extreme endurance swims to fulfill her goal of raising $10,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a nonprofit that provides college scholarships and educational counseling to surviving children of Special Operations personnel killed in the line of duty, as well as financial assistance to severely wounded special operations members.
So far, the donations have come in slowly, but she said she hopes they will pick up once she gets further along.
“This cause is important to me because the special operations soldiers sacrifice so much, and so do their families,” Benoit said. “It’s difficult to get people to donate, but I’ll keep trying.”