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Beyond Limits: An Inspiring Conversation with Bengisu Avci, the First Turkish Woman to Cross the Cook Strait

Updated: Mar 6

What a great conversation! I had the pleasure of interviewing Bengisu Avci, the first Turkish woman to cross the Cook Strait in New Zealand. This challenging body of water between the North and South Islands of New Zealand presents the ultimate test for swimmers, with environmental conditions including sharks, whales, freezing waters, high tides, and unpredictable weather.

These conditions are already challenging, but Bengisu's challenge became even tougher as she had to endure lower water temperatures than usual—13 degrees, freezing cold. Normally, it is a 26-kilometer swim, but due to high tides, waves, and adverse weather conditions, she swam 36 kilometers in 10 hours.

So let me share some insights about this interesting conversation with you.

The psychology of crossing Cook Strait

Deniz: How could you deal with all these challenges?

Bengisu: I think it comes with training; in every training I was thinking and dreaming about this for many months. When you dream about it, and you dream hard, it is the first part of it, just the beginning. You think about the possible dangers or obstacles on your way, so I was trying to work on them. So, we got to the water every day, at night time, day time, even if there was a storm, even when we didn't want to get in. We just get in every day to break the thing in our minds, because it would change. It definitely worked because every day we got in, and I saw that if I swam today with a storm, tomorrow if there is a storm, I would know that I could do it.

Before, I could only swim for 3 hours at 13 degrees, but now I have swam for 10 hours. And people say: "How is it possible?". It is possible if you train your mind too, not only your body.


Bengisu: This was my dream, it seemed impossible even when I was experiencing it. You have to dream hard for it. To manage everything, I tried to think one thing at a time. For example, first, I have to go for a visa. But meanwhile I keep training. I think you can use this mindset in everything in your life. Work for it; you can't just dream about it. All of us are meant to do something. Be yourself. Go for your dreams and work for them. When you achieve your dream, you can't be happier.

2 voices in your mind

Bengisu: Your mind is always questioning. I had 2 voices in my mind, one that said: "Just quit, no one is going to blame you. It Is too cold, it is too hard, don't put yourself in danger". And the other one said: "Come on, you came this far; you are not a quitter." So I kept going. It's only a mind game.

Deniz: The inner voice is so important; you have a demon and your passion, your soul speaking, "I can do it." It's your willpower. It seems that it is meant to be to be there; it seems so right to keep fighting for your dreams.

Importance of support

Bengisu: You need to be a good swimmer, but also to have the right people next to you. During my swim, I thought: "They believe in me; they are waiting for me for hours; I have to go for it." They give you so much power.

I started this journey in 2018 and am not the same person I was. Those swims are changing us because we put ourselves in so much effort and so much work. So we need those people to support us because it's mostly a mental thing. I don't want people to put me down; I never put anyone down because you can only discover yourself if you believe in yourself. Everyone is different. Everyone is doing the thing that is meant to be for them. By supporting each other, we can do so much. It's important to get inspired by other people and motivate each other.

Deniz: Sometimes, people can discourage you with their own limiting beliefs; maybe they influence you with their limiting beliefs; how do you deal with that and keep positive?

Bengisu: It's okay if someone doesn't understand you; just let them go. You can't fit yourself in a box. I'm not an ordinary person, and my dreams are always crazy. And that's okay.

Overcoming fear of sharks

Deniz: How did you deal with the fear of sharks?

Bengisu: It would always stay at the back of your mind. But there have been a lot of swimmers that crossed over the years, and nothing happened, and the experience says that sharks are not chasing you to hunt you. They are more like wild dogs; they will come by and swim around you to understand what you are doing there. They can touch you or have a small bite, maybe, but when it gets dangerous, the captain will take you out of the water. That gave me relief. And in some channels, you are allowed to use a shield, which is just a basic electromagnetic rope that comes along with the boat, so you follow it or you just swim next to it. That makes me feel safe, but I also want to feel part of the ocean, so I want to think that they won't harm me because I love them. I went on a cruise to see the whales and sharks, and I was texting my friends, "I will go to see them and say that they don't visit me during my swim because the captain will take me out".

Deniz: In the end, after all the risk management, you should have faith and enjoy the swim.

Be your own hero

Deniz: Why should people go out of their comfort zone?

Bengisu: It would be the great adventure of your lifetime; you never know what's next. I wasn't thinking about Cook Strait and other hard challenges. But then I did it and said to myself: "You have achieved something amazing; you can do more." And then you go one more and one more, and you don't know what will happen. It's amazing, they need to experience it in any case, we are not talking only about swimming. If you dream it, you should see what happens next, it would be great.

Deniz: You don't need to be 100% confident; you only need the willpower to go for it and be brave.

Bengisu: Don't try to find a hero for you; become your own hero. In our case, there is no one. You need to be yourself and achieve yourself; you need to be more and more. Nothing can stop us.

For next generations

Bengisu: I think they should teach more of this at school. The education system has a plan, but what if you have another plan? You should believe in yourself and surround yourself with people that will be supportive.

If you are lucky to work with children, try to see their dreams. You shouldn't take away the light for them because there is a chance. I wasn't a champion at 17 years old, but now I feel happier than a champion because of my goals. I'm going for more, and it comes from believing.

And if you want to watch the full conversation, you have it right here! 👇


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