It’s safe to say that most people have not swum across the English Channel and back again in a single day. It’s also safe to say that most people don’t spend their lives helping others regain their wellness and quality of life.
As a matter of fact, Heather Roka, physical therapist at Life Care Center of Estero, Florida, can lay claim to both of these achievements. On Aug. 21, 2021, Heather realized her dream of completing a swim across the English Channel, and every day she helps people recover the strength, balance and mobility they lost during illness or injury.
Before Heather completed her astounding swim, she had trained and conditioned for years, honing her skills and keeping her focus on that “next meter of water.” She even swam across the English Channel one way in 2017. But one surprising way she prepared for the journey was by becoming a physical therapist, which allowed her to witness so many patients triumph over great physical challenges.
“I have seen people make incredible recoveries,” said Heather. “I see how people can have good and bad days, but the most important thing is to keep trying.”
Her swim across the English Channel and back was an incredible 42 miles, and she closed that distance in just 25 hours. Despite her years of swim training, Heather had to look beyond her physical prowess and technical knowledge to pull off the feat, becoming only the 38th person in the world – and only the 10th in America – to successfully complete the double crossing. One thing that kept her pushing mile after mile was her patients.
“Every day we ask our patients to push themselves beyond what they may feel capable of in that moment,” Heather explained. “I am always asking my patients to give me just one more. I have seen people make incredible recoveries by finding ways to focus on small victories.”
Heather's extraordinary swim may be in the bag, but she returns to Life Care every day with the same determination and drive that led her to swim the Channel and that helped her overcome that immense challenge. According to her, true success means meeting the small goals that we often overlook or take for granted – and being willing to accept help from others.
“There will be hard days, but helping people get back to living their best life makes the challenges worth it,” said Heather. “To quote the first swimmer of the English Channel, Matthew Webb, ‘Nothing great is easy.’ In my opinion, that applies to all aspects of life and keeps me motivated to push on.”