On Sunday morning, standing outside the Yacht Club where the official finish line of the 24-hour Calvi-Monaco Water Bike Challenge was awaiting the arrival of Princess Charlene and her victorious Team Serenity, I was reminded of what makes her foundation so unique.
It is not just about how “The Crossing,” her unprecedented endurance race which set off September 12 from the northwest coast of Corsica and arrived at 11:33 the following morning at the Monaco Yacht Club, pitted two teams of four athletes against each other over a 180-kilometer relay on water bikes to raise awareness for her foundation’s Learn to Swim and Water Safety programs.
Photo: Eric Mathon/Palais Princier
Or how at the start of the race, and in the spirit of sibling rivalry, Princess Charlene (Team Serenity) and her brother and General Secretary of her foundation, Gareth Wittstock (pictured above pedaling for Team Notorious), were riding Schiller water bikes in two-meter waves out of the port of Calvi. In calm waters, the Schiller water bike may reach an average speed of 12 km/h; they were only able to manage around 3.4 km/h against the crashing white caps and gusting wind.
Forget the fact that the event’s headlining athlete, Conor McGregor, had to drop out of the race 24 hours prior, leaving them a team member down, but Princess Charlene is, well, a princess. And as the only woman to compete, she stayed up for 22 hours and 33 minutes straight, riding around every 4.5 hours for 90 minutes, during the dark of night and in temperatures of 35°C. How many princesses even sweat?
Watching Princess Charlene, 42, pedaling her heart out for those last few hundred meters to the Yacht Club dock, and taking those agonizing first steps off the water bike, her quads seizing after the strain of the past 24 hours—over which time 954 people would have drowned, according to WHO’s estimate that someone does so every 85 seconds—earned her new-found admiration from the dozens of familiar faces in masks invited to attend yesterday.
As she hobbled alongside her team to the finish line where a relaxed Prince Albert in shorts and a polo and her children, Jacques and barefoot Gabriella, were waiting eagerly to congratulate her, it was clear that her foundation is about more than teaching young people to swim: it’s about bringing the best out of the community.
Prince Albert with Team Serenity and Team Notorious. Photo: Eric Mathon/Palais Princier
The Princess Charlene Foundation charity races blend the people of Monaco together in a way that no other events in the country do. The champagne-popping party posers the Grand Prix attracts are mostly outsiders and while the Red Cross Ball is attended by glammed-up residents, some are more interested in posting a selfie from the Salle des Étoiles than knowing that the Monaco Red Cross offers support to migrants in Ventimiglia.
The foundation’s Water Bike Challenges, annual 140-km St-Tropez-Monaco Cycle, and the Princess of Monaco Golf Cup feature local athletes, local sponsors and local families. Above all, they promote teamwork, the values of sportsmanship and the great outdoors. This is the glimpse of Monaco that the outside world will never see.
Princess Charlene is legend. And Monaco should be grateful for that.