In 2011 I spent a week in Dover at the end of the season with Lisa Cummins and Kevin Williams, waiting to crew for Kevin William’s Solo. Unfortunately the weather was rubbish, Kevin got weathered out, and we spent a significant portion of the week in The White Horse, the pub where successful Channel swimmers sign their names on the ceiling and walls.
Unlike a lot of swimmers, especially the local Dover swimmers, I actually like The White Horse. There are almost always other swimmers there, and the conversation tends to be almost exclusively swimming naturally, and just you never know whom you’ll meet. The White Horse is Base Camp for the world’s marathon and Channel swimmers. You sit there looking around at the signatures of all the people you know and admire, grumbling that one-way relays take up so much space while soloists scramble for a few square inches, or see a signature that prompts a story you heard… I am after all, a fanboy of Channel and marathon swimmers, as many people will attest who’ve met me, I get exited meeting swimmers and tend to gabble on, which is entirely at odds with my normal persona, (leading many swimmers including good friends to believe I’m some kind of hyperactive extrovert).
After returning from that Dover trip while I was swimming one day I thought to myself that it would be cool to try to replicate, in some small personal form, the walls of The White Horse.
The Irish Channel party was held about six weeks later and I showed up with a virtually blank Moleskine A4-sized book under my arm (I was thinking ahead, and knew I wanted a book that would last years, hopefully), with the intention of collecting the autographs of the Irish Channel swimmers present. Some people laughed and the idea was politely ridiculed, but everyone went along with it. Most of us after all, will go our entire lives without being asked for our autograph.
But for the last 18 months, I’ve dragged that book with me everywhere there was a swimming occasion. I’ve taken it to MIMS, to Distance Camp, to Dover a few times and elsewhere. Quite a few swimmers from around the world have seen it by now. And the collection of names is quite impressive and always growing. No-one is laughing much at the idea any more!
World Record holders! I have World Record English Channel Holder Trent Grimsey (fastest) on the opposite page to World Record English Channel Holder Jackie Cobell (slowest). World Record holder for first to complete the Ocean’s Seven, Stephen Redmond of course, who’ve I had sign it few times just after he’s gotten off the ‘plane at the airport. He’s already taken a full page, I have the page beside it reserved for his future adventures. I even got him to sign the seventh Tsugaru Channel swim in gold-coloured ink (which I promptly smudged). And Roger Allsopp, World Record Holder as oldest male swimmer.
And of course I have the King of the Channel, Kevin Murphy and his personal message to me is deeply appreciated.
I have English Channel swimmers from around the world of course, but it’s obvious I can only get a sample so I hunt down real life and online friends.
Triple Crown swimmers in the book include Double Triple Crown swimmer Tina Neill (winner of the inaugural 2012 marathonswimmers.org Female Swimmer of the Year award), Eddie Irwin, Gabor Molnar, Mo Siegel, Ned Denison, Nick Adams, Dave Barra, Barbara Held, Andrew Malick. Of course most of The Magnificent Seven, (Jen had emigrated by the time I started the book and Danny Walsh should be entering it later this year).
Other well-known swimmers include Forrest Nelson, Chloe MacCardel, Darren Miller, Anne-Marie Ward, Jen Schumacher, Susie Dods (who has said she’s going to start a North American version!), Tom Healy, (2012 Irish English Channel record holder and Most Meritorious English Channel Swim of the Year) and Roz Hardiman, whom I’ve often mentioned in my writing as inspirational (English Channel Soloist, without the use of her legs using no aids). The Godfather of Irish Channel swimming, Kieran Fitzgerald. FINA 2012 Runner Up Damian Blaum, three-time winner of the longest open water race in the world, (Parana in Argentina), and Irish International swimmer Chris Bryan (I was apparently the first person to ask for his autograph). Also Carol Sing, oldest US female Channel swimmer. My English Channel “brother” Ian Down, CS&PF committee member.
And I have our departed friend Páraic Casey.
Of course there are others I’ve met when I hadn’t started the book including seven times world champion Shelley Taylor-Smith and Sue Oldham, oldest female English channel swimmer, and a few others.
All the Sandycove Channel and marathon swimmers. Many Distance Camp Channel Swimmers. Other Channel swimmers I’ve met in Dover and elsewhere. Most of the Irish Channel swimmers. Double two-way English Channel swimmer Stuart Johnson. And even a (very) few non-marathon swimmers: David and Evelyn in Varne Ridge, Coach Eilís, Freda Streeter, (the Channel General), Barrie Wakeham (the Dover Shingle-Stomper) and EC Pilot Paul Foreman.
(And couple of signatures of people who decided they’d write in it knowing they weren’t swimmers and weren’t asked, what can you do). And couple of more that I can’t figure out who they are!
I’ve closed it on the hands of couple of people who weren’t solo swimmers and I’ve told a couple of people they’d have to do more before they can get in there. Politely of course.
I doubt it’s more than a third full, and it has become a prized possession. I look forward to getting many more of your world-wide autographs in the coming years: My online partner and record-holder Evan Morrison. Ali Streeter, Queen of the Channel, (but the prospects look difficult at the moment). My Channel sister Jen Hurley. Maybe I’ll get Swimsmooth.com‘s Channel Swimmer Paul Newsome next week (like a lot of swimmer’s someone I met previously, before I started the book). I dream of getting Ted and Jon Erikson, Lynne Cox and Phil Rush and others, maybe someday, somewhere. I used to think about posting the book to people to ask, but I’m unwillingly to risk its loss now.
If I haven’t mentioned your name here as someone I have collected, you can be assured that I don’t value it any less, all of the entries I value highly. My friends from Sandycove were the first ones I collected and the idea was based on them