DARKNESS. Fuel exhaust. Heaving sickness. Bitter cold water like daggers on the skin. Utah attorney Richard N. Barnes (BA ’97) swam through it all after accepting his older brother David’s challenge to swim the English Channel.
Swimming has been an integral part of Richard’s life. He set a Utah high school swimming record that stands to this day and later served as captain of BYU’s swim team. When his brother suggested they both swim the English Channel, they became captivated by the idea of conquering the punishing sleeve of the Atlantic Ocean that separates England and France and began a year of preparations.
When Richard, David, and their support crews first arrived at the channel at 3 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2005, Richard faced one of his greatest fears: swimming in darkness. “Just keep swimming to the sunrise,” he told himself. “It was the mental battle of blocking the cold out of your mind and the mental battle of keeping one arm in front of the other throughout so many hours of swimming,” Richard says. In contrast, there was “the mental support of my younger brother John and my wife being on the support boat and the thought of David being in the water with me.” His crew did not tell him when David pulled out halfway across the channel due to seasickness and hypothermia.
Richard’s wife, Darcee Mangus Barnes (BA ’98), supported her husband with tenacity. Although pregnant with their fifth child at the time of the swim, she rode on the support boat the entire time without becoming seasick.
After 16 hours and 43 minutes, Richard became the first Utahn to swim the channel. Because of currents and other weather factors, the 21-mile distance from shore to shore became a 36-mile swim. David succeeded a year later on his second attempt.
Richard now frequently shares his English Channel experience with youth groups and church congregations. He has also spoken to the Utah Supreme Court and the Utah State Bar Commission. His message for others is simple: “Just keep swimming to the sunrise.”