SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Battling Autism, substance abuse and learning disabilities, students from a special San Diego swim team have returned to San Diego after swimming the English Channel.

Students from the Arch Academy Zombie Patrol completed the 21-mile swim from England to France on July 25th.

Students trained for about a year in the waters off of La Jolla. Their goal was to turn their lives around and earn respect, but their coach told them the only way to make that happen was to swim for it.

With water that was 54-degrees, and a strict rule that allowed no wet-suits, students from Arch Academy swam one hour legs across the English Channel.

Kaylee Kussman has battled depression and substance abuse, but said by digging deep, she learned about herself.

As students emerged from the waters with their teeth chattering from the chill, they were given hot water to warm back up.

Kussman said the 13-hour journey was a lot like life, you either sink or swim.

Cheryl Zak, the founder of Arch Academy, swam with her students to prove a point.

Arch Academy students edged out prep-school students from China, India, Britain, Australia and Sweden. They now have the gold medals and tattoos to prove it.

Last Summer the swim team swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco, and last Fall they swam from Catalina to Palos Verdes.