Susan sets sights on English Channel challenge by Kate Sears

Swimming the English Channel is a massive challenge in itself.  But when it’s being attempted by someone who has overcome a paralysing 30-year fear of water brought on by an unimaginable tragedy, it’s truly heroic.

At 15, Susan Berg was the sole survivor of a boating accident on Westernport Bay that claimed the lives of her parents and brother.  She struggled through the darkness for three-and-a-half hours, battling the bitter cold sea and dense mangroves, before reaching the shore of French Island.

Stricken with survivor’s guilt, she spiralled into drugs and sex, and charged down a path of self-destruction.   She was also struck by a fear of water so severe that even the sound of it was highly distressing, and the hottest summer day couldn’t tempt her anywhere near a pool.

Only after she cheated death for a second time in a motorcycle accident did she begin to love herself and embrace life again. 

Last year Susan was challenged by a friend to face her fears and take part in the world’s largest open-water swim, the Lorne Pier to Pub, to raise money for McAuley Community Services for Women.  After putting off buying a swimsuit and then being traumatised after swimming just one lap of a pool, Susan progressed to completing 25 laps but was still fraught with anxiety.  But she persevered and overcame these obstacles, completing the Pier to Pub in January.  As if this wasn’t enough, she has also conquered The Rip Swim – across The Heads from Point Nepean to Point Lonsdale. 

In August next year, Susan will join three other swimmers in a bid to complete the Channel crossing from England to France. 

Susan believes she’s facing these challenges as part of her journey of self-healing and to encourage others to tackle their own fears.  “The last time I saw my family was in the water, so I feel like I’m reuniting with them each time I swim, and I know they’re really proud that I got my life on track.”

“Fear is in the mind. We all have the ability to face our fears and live a happy, fulfilling life.”

Training for the English Channel attempt in August 2018 will start in full this August with coach Peter Hendriks and without a wetsuit. That’s right - the squad of four are training together wearing just bathers because wetsuits aren’t allowed for the 50km relay. If you’re shivering while reading this, picture sitting in the freezing water as you wait for your body to adjust at 7am each day. This alone is a tough flashback to the cold October night Susan spent in the water fighting for her life.

Susan knows from her own experience that life is short, so she’s chosen to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation so children aged 3-18 with life-threatening illnesses can fulfil their own dreams.  Donate at to support Susan’s goal.

And if you’d like to delve deeper into Susan’s remarkable story, you can read her autobiography, The Girl Who Lived.