Six Irish swimmers take on the English Channel

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Updated: July 20, 2011

As tests of endurance go, taking on the English Channel, the changeable tide and various sea creatures is certainly up there among the most testing, both mentally and physically. However that is what a group of six Dubliners are hoping to do when they take on the channel swim from Dover, England to the coast of France later this month.

The group of six consisting of Dave Farrell, Julie Galloway, Kevin Thornton, Lucy Gaynor, Sorcha Barry and Susanna Murphy, are undertaking the challenge in order to raise vital funds for the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.

The swim first began in 1875 and since then approximately 1,179 swimmers have taken on the challenge. The swim has been completed approximately 1,613 times with some choosing to undertake it more than once.

The overall aim of the challenge according to a member of the group, Susanna Murphy, is to raise enough funds to purchase a piece of equipment which will go directly to the hospital for immediate use by the patients at the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

Two members of the group, Sorcha Barry and Kevin Thornton work as physiotherapists at the National Rehabilitation Hospital and they decided that it was a worthwhile cause. “I went up to visit the National Rehabilitation Hospital and it’s such an amazing place”, said Susanna. “You never consider the amount of people that are injured in these ways and it was great seeing all of the people you are helping. You are making their lives better.”

Between them the group are undertaking four challenges over the summer. Last weekend Kevin Thornton completed the ironman challenge. This included a 3.8 kilometre swim and 180 kilometre cycle culminating in a marathon at the end. “He did it in 10 hours, 51 minutes, which was a fantastic achievement”, said Susanna.

On July 21 the group will undertake a relay swim from Dover to Cap Gris Nez, south of Calais, France and back again. “It is a double channel swim so you spend one hour in the water and five hours out if it”, said Susanna. “But apparently the five hours on the boat is even worse because you are going very slowly and the sea could get quite rough.”

The group are hoping to break the unofficial Irish record which is 21 hours 12 mins which was set by the Dublin Fire Brigade.

The relay swim will precede the solo channel swim which Susanna will complete in early August. The challenge will follow the same route as the relay swim however, Susanna must cross the channel once on her own.

The event will be the longest period that Susanna has ever spent in the water and she is hoping to complete the 34km between 12 and 14 hours.

Susanna will then turn supporter in September for her friend and training buddy Sorcha Barry, who is also hoping to complete the channel swim in the same time.

The swim is both a long and a lonely one as according to Susanna, the swimmer does not stop for the duration of the swim except to avail of much needed nutrition.

The swimmer is provided with a feed of nutrients and carbohydrates once every hour and Susanna is hoping to take 10-20 seconds for her feed which will save her valuable time. According to Susanna, “The crew lie on the deck of the boat and hand you a cup filled with a maltodextrin drink.

The carbohydrate drink provides the swimmer with up to 200ml of fluid. “You’re not really stopping, you keep going. Some people will take three minutes and thread water and drink but if you want to do it fast, you just take it quickly and keep going”, she said.

According to Susanna, “the window for the swim is 7th-12th August.” The reason for this time period is to allow for bad weather conditions. “This makes setting a precise date difficult in case the sea is too dangerous on that particular day. “

The support boat brings the swimmer to Shakespeare beach, the starting point of the swim and the participant is “greased up” before entering the water. “This entails grease and lanolin or ‘channel grease’ being applied in areas where you could get chaffing from rubbing of the skin or straps of your swimsuit”, said Susanna. “Some think it’s a form of insulation, but unfortunately, it is not”.

Once this has been done, the swimmer will enter the water, swim across to Shakespeare beach, raise a hand which signals the pilots on board to hoot a horn and the swim begins.

Once the swim has begun, the participant will have very little communication with anyone for the duration of the challenge and this, Susanna believes is why mental stamina plays a crucial role in channel swimming.

“The mental aspect of the challenge is that you are totally alone”, says Susanna. “Between the danger hours of 6 or 7 hours you’re probably going to want to throw in the towel. You are thinking of people sitting up there with their hot teas and you just want to finish!”

Despite hailing from a competitive swimming background, Susanna who is crossing the channel for the first time has had to acclimatise to the sea conditions, a feat which has required two years of intensive training.

“It’s a complete eye opener, I have learned a lot about myself in the last two years of training.” One of the stark differences between swimming in the pool and the sea is a significant drop in temperature which has seen Susanna make many sacrifices throughout the course of her training.

Along with her training partner and friend Sorcha, Susanna has undergone a strict training regime. This includes both mental and physical preparation and has seen the girls having to put on weight in order to allow their bodies to acclimatise to the massive drop in temperature. “It’s such a commitment. I have always been pretty fit and it’s really hard to put on weight and change your way of life.”

Both Susanna and Sorcha have endured many tough moments while training for the swim and according to Susanna, they have learned a lot about themselves and each other as a result of these challenges.

The long preparation process included a six hour qualification swim in Malta, and a race in Lough Sheelin, Co. Cavan among others where they faced a multitude of tests such as freezing temperatures, hypothermia, mental fatigue and jelly fish stings. However Susanna believes that the training has made her stronger as both a swimmer and a person and she is eagerly anticipating the approaching channel swim.

It’s just getting so close to it now: When I go to bed now all I think about is the channel and I dream about touching French sand. Then when I wake up I am thinking about it and I am talking about it.”

Like any determined athlete, Susanna believes that anything is possible once you put your mind to it. “Anyone can do these endurance events if you put your mind to them. Absolutely anybody can do it. It’s just the mental training and the physical training that you have to go through. You have to want to do it. “

More information on their Summer Challenges can be found at: www.channelswimming.com or www.facebook.com/channelswims


For more information on the charity or to donate, please CLICK HERE

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