College of Charleston education professor Brian Lanahan is an overachiever in academics and athletics.

Lanahan, 37, is already an accomplished teacher and Fulbright Scholar, and has been named a Woodrow Wilson Center International Scholar. And during the second week of August he will take on his biggest challenge yet: swimming across the bitterly cold English Channel, which separates southern England from northern France.

The channel is 19 nautical miles, but the swim across it is longer than that, Lanahan said. People don’t swim across it in a straight line due to tides and other conditions, he said.

And the water in August will be about 63 degrees. “That’s like running in below-freezing temperatures naked,” he said.

He began training for what he calls “the Everest of open-water swimming” two years ago, he said, after a severe case of vertigo left him feeling overweight and out-of-shape.

His training regimen is tough. He swims in a pool nearly every day from 5:45 to 8:30 a.m. And sometimes does open water swims in the Charleston Harbor. During one of those swims, the water was 54 degrees.

And he’s pushed daily by Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, who swam the English Channel in 13 hours and 10 minutes in 2001. Wilson also has completed other challenging open-water swims.

Wilson said weather conditions are a big factor in a person’s ability to complete the swim across the channel. Swimmers complete it without a wet suit or other aids, she said, so they are dependent on nature. “And Mother Nature always wins.”

Her advice to Lanahan: “Prepare and prepare and prepare, and hope things fall in line.”

Lanahan will leave Charleston in early July to spend several weeks in Ireland training in cold water. He will begin his English Channel swim between August 14 and 18.

Training, travel and the swim itself will cost about $8,000, he said, and he’s covering those expenses himself. He also is trying to raise $10,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, in honor of his mother, who died from lymphoma in 2006. People who want to donate to the society can email him at

After the swim, Lanahan will head to Sarajevo, Bosnia, for his work as a Woodrow Wilson scholar.

Most open-water swimmers he has met also are busy with other challenging things, he said. “People who do such swims are overachievers or crazy or both.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.