Melissa Blaustein, Sausalito’s Star Swimmer
The nonprofit founder and director recently swam the English Channel.
Melissa Blaustein is a doer. She founded Allied for Startups, a global network of startups, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and advocacy groups trying to build consensus on public policy issues affecting new businesses. She’s also director of international advocacy and digital programs for Fuel Freedom Foundation, which aims to open up the U.S. market to gasoline alternatives like ethanol, methanol, compressed natural gas and electric vehicles. Most recently, she also swam the English Channel.
1. Have you always lived in Marin?
I grew up in Mill Valley, went to nursery school in Sausalito and Redwood High School in Larkspur, and got my undergrad degree at Cal in Berkeley. Then I received my Master of Public Affairs in Global Energy and Sustainability Policy in France.
2. What kind of work did you get involved in after college?
Social impact and making a difference shaped my career. In college I interned for now-Governor then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and out of college I interned at the White House on the digital strategy team. Later I became digital director for then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords on her last campaign.
3. How did you get into swimming?
Not only was I never a swimmer, I really was never an athlete. Freshman volleyball at Redwood HighSchool was the last [sport] I did. Upon moving back from France, I was encouraged by some friends to try a triathlon and hated everything about it except the swimming. My first triathlon was in 2015 and in 2015 Kim Chambers swam from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge. She came to speak at a women’s organization I was on the board of at the time and said, “You should come swim with me.” And I said, “No, you’re a world class marathon swimmer and I can’t put my face in the water and breathe when I’m swimming.” And so finally after a lot of pushing and going to the pool a couple of times, I started going to the bay.
4. What’s your training schedule like?
I go to the 5:45 a.m. practice at Redwood High School with North Bay Aquatics. After the 5:45 practice I drive to the South End Rowing Club for a weight workout and then get in the water for a dip — that’s Monday through Thursday. Sometimes in the evening I’ll do a hot yoga class. I love Red Dragon Yoga in Mill Valley. On Saturday or Sunday I’ll have a longer swim and Friday is kind of my day off.
5. How do you qualify to swim the English Channel?
I swam the Strait of Juan de Fuca between the United States and Canada in September of 2017 and was the first woman to do that in almost 30 years. The water temperature was 47 to 48 degrees for that eight-hour swim, and that counted as my qualifying swim for the English Channel. To qualify you have to swim for six hours at 60 degrees or less.
6. What are some of the rules?
There’s an observer on the boat in addition to the pilot and your crew. You can’t touch the boat at any time or you’re done with the swim. You can’t touch anyone. When they feed you during the swims they throw food in a water bottle on a rope and you tread water and drink it from the rope. You also swim without a wetsuit.
7. You attempted the swim once before you completed it.
Yes. It looked like a beautiful day when the swim started, and it took a really scary turn. There were 25-knot winds, the waves were pummeling me and the boat almost hit me twice, but I was still not going to stop. I mean, I would not have gotten out of the water for anything. But for a variety of reasons the pilot just said the swim was over and you have to trust the pilot.
8. And then you went again two weeks later?
After the first attempt my mom looked at me and said, “You’re not going to be happy until you finish the swim.” So I stayed in England and waited for an open window two weeks later.
9. How long did the swim take?
10. What appeals to you most about the sport?
It’s a sport where it doesn’t matter how fast you are. It doesn’t matter if someone else is better than you or someone else is going to do a more dangerous challenge or any of those external factors. And I loved it because there’s not really anything quite like the feeling of jumping into cold water.
11. You’re also involved in city affairs, right?
I’m part of Sausalito’s Rotary Club, vice chair of the Sustainability Commission and am on the chamber of commerce board — I love it. For everyone my age I think that it’s so important to be engaged locally. You gain so much more social capital from developing those relationships than you ever could from spending 20 minutes on your phone on Instagram. Plus, Sausalito is still salty, and I love that it’s one of the few communities that’s got the salt.
12. Favorite local bar?
I love the No Name because they have live music.