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Douglas Comstock: 60-Year-Old "Clydesdale" Set to Cross English Channel

For nearly ten years, Comstock and his wife had underprivileged and impoverished inner city kids come to their home once a month on a weekend, kids who came from a world that was completely devoid of all hope.

(Photo courtesy of Haley Comstock)

As an inspirational speaker and writer, I am often asked what is the most powerful tool we have as people. I suppose there are many answers to that, but in my opinion, it is the power of choice.

And I'm often asked what is at the root of the many personal and life challenges we face. As far as I'm concerned, everything comes down to what we believe - about ourselves, the world, and about how we fit into it.

Your beliefs shape your thoughts. Your thoughts shape your choices. And your choices shape your life. If you want to change your life, first you have to change what you believe.

No one knows this better than Douglas "Clydesdale" Comstock, who at 60 looks like he's in his mid-30s and should be on the cover of GQ - but in a swimsuit, not a business suit.

Comstock, from East Granby, Connecticut is set to attempt a solo crossing of the English Channel on approximately 24 July, 2015 depending upon weather and water conditions. A former Alaska "Deadliest Catch" commercial fisherman and two-time finisher of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, Comstock was also a black belt team member on the US Intersport Karate team that went to Russia and Poland. If anyone can take on the Channel, it's this man.

But that doesn't mean this will be easy for him. After all, several have died attempting the crossing.

A self-professed "below average swimmer," Comstock says he has "above average mental toughness" and this is what will get him through. "We have two tracks of thinking," says Comstock. "One track is the limited thinking track. I'm not fast enough, not pretty enough, not good enough, whatever it is we tell ourselves. But I've learned to switch to what I call the desired thinking track. It's not about being a great athlete; it's about being able to change to that track."

Comstock recalls an incident when he entered the Hawaii Ironman, a seemingly impossible event consisting of a 2.4-mile rough water swim and 112 miles on a bike, immediately followed by the 26.2 mile Honolulu marathon. Most entrants have to qualify but out of approximately 1500 competitors, 200 are allowed in by lottery. Back then, "that was the only way I'd ever get in," he adds.

When they asked what division he was in, Comstock said he didn't know. "I told them I was 240 lbs. and they said, 'You're a Clydesdale.' Everyone in the room laughed," he recalls, remembering the reference to the large, heavy horses. "I felt in that moment that I wasn't good enough. I didn't measure up, didn't belong."

But Comstock says, "I've learned to embrace that concept of my own limitations in my thinking. It's okay if you're a Clydesdale, man. You should still just go on and do it."

To my mind, the Clydesdale reference can be considered a compliment, as these horses are also known for their energy, strength and great power.

Is he ever faced with not wanting to train? Of course. "One of the things on my desired thinking track is to manage the minutes," he explains. "I tell myself, 'Just swim for one minute, Doug.' At the end of the minute, take an inventory. 'Can you do another minute?' Yes, I can."

(Photo courtesy of Haley Comstock)

The crossing is not only a personal challenge but it's also to raise money to feed hungry children. When Comstock was about 25 years old and began his career as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, he was unaware that he wouldn't be paid until the end of the season. During the week, he was "fed like a king" on the boat but weekends, he didn't have any food. "Sometimes friends would help out but I had too much stubborn pride to go to my skipper to ask [for help]."

He goes on to explain, "I could have done something about [being hungry]. But [kids can't] kid should ever have to go to bed hungry, yet so many do...that's where the foundation was laid."

For nearly ten years, Comstock and his wife had underprivileged and impoverished inner city kids come to their home once a month on a weekend, kids who came from a world that was completely devoid of all hope.

Sometimes as many as 50 showed up for food, fun and the occasional camp-out. "They still come out now, but not as often. Working with food and young people has always been close to my heart."

I asked Comstock what there might have been about this Channel crossing experience that he hadn't expected. "I don't think that as human beings, we give ourselves the gift of silence as often as we need it. The beauty of open water swimming is that for maybe five hours, your face is just staring down into dark water or at the sky. No music, no conversation, no phone. Just you and your own thoughts. If you go to a yoga class, there are people around you and the instructor is talking so even though it's meditative, it's not to the same level...but here, you're left to sort through what needs sorting out to find your centre, your balance."

Calling it "meditation in motion," Comstock encourages, "...find a way to give yourself that gift of just being in your own space, in your own thoughts without any other interaction, without any other human, just time for yourself. It's such a rare gift. It's so therapeutic on so many different levels."

If he has a successful crossing, he'll be one of only a few aged 60 and over who have done it. His journey will be tracked online via GPS from the boat.

I'll be following closely, rooting for him every moment until he reaches the shores of France, and I have no doubt he'll cut through that Channel like a hot knife through butter.

After all, he is a Clydesdale.

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