SATELLITE BEACH (CBSMiami) — A 61-year-old Florida woman is the latest person to successfully swim across the English Channel.

Gina Harden, who lives in Satellite Beach, has always loved the ocean.

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“I just loved the sea. I loved the water. Being around, it’s always been where my soul is,” Harden said.

Harden was one of the first women in the Navy to become a diver. In her 12-year career, she served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait, and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Ever since she was a little girl, she has wanted to swim the English Channel.

“I didn’t want to leave my life knowing there was something on the table that I wanted to do that I didn’t do,” she said.

On July 18, at 61 years old, Harden took the plunge after training for over two years.

With a pilot boat by her side and friends to cheer her on, she swam over 16 hours in frigid water.

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The only time she slowed was to take a drink, eat a banana and devour a Twinkie.

“Boy, and it tasted good, too. I’m like this is wet but I’m shoving it in my mouth,” Harden said. “You have so much time. You’re in your own head so long. I was singing — Praying.”

During her 33-mile swim, Harden got a cramp, became tired and cold but kept moving forward until she reached the shore of France.

Gina Harden after swimming the English Channel (Source: WESH via CNN)

“First I stood up and fell flat on my face. It took forever for me to be able to stand up,” Harden said. “All these French people, families – a dog came running toward me. I think there is a picture of me holding the U.S. flag and I’m just totally dazed.”

Harden said it wasn’t until her boat ride back to England that she realized what happened.

“Watching the French shore pull away I was like, ‘Yes, I did it!’” Harden said.

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She has a bulletin board full of pictures, a road map of her hopes and dreams, and now, a reminder that dreams never die for the young at heart.

CBSMiami.com Team