Head Swim

Head Swim


The doctor put a scare into Brian Lanahan. “Medical tests have revealed an area of concern,” the neurologist told the associate professor of teacher education. “We’re going to have to watch you.”

Leaving the office, Lanahan feared the worst: a brain tumor. Contemplating his life ending much sooner than anticipated, he drew up a quick bucket list. Right at the top was an incredible athletic challenge: to swim the English Channel. He registered for the swim almost immediately and began training.

Fortunately for Lanahan, his suspicious neurological symptoms turned out to be vertigo, an illness he learned to manage. But no matter this reprieve from the life-threatening tumor, in August he went ahead and attempted to swim the English Channel.

To his dismay, the vertigo came back to haunt him. In an attempt to beat nasty weather on the horizon that would have canceled his attempt, he left the English Coast at midnight and began swimming in a heavy chop. It wasn’t long before the rolling of the ocean and the nonstop glare from a spotlight on his escort boat took their toll on Lanahan, whose vertigo is triggered by bright lights and motion.

“I ended up with both of them on my swim,” he says. “The irony hit me immediately.”

After 90 nauseous minutes he made the tough decision to abandon his attempt. Climbing back into the boat, he vomited. He did so again upon returning to the dock in England, and then had a headache for three days.

You might think Lanahan would never want to swim again, but he’s committed to trying to cross the English Channel again within the next year or two and has already resumed training in a pool in Sarajevo, where he is living for the fall semester as a Woodrow Wilson International Center Scholar. Going forward, he knows that his ability to forestall the effects of vertigo is just as critical as his physical conditioning.

“I know I can make it. It’s a point of figuring it out now,” says Lanahan. “I’m fully committed to going back.”