For some, there is no greater sporting event than the English Channel. Sporting event isn’t even a good description. The Australian surfer Nat Young once said the worst thing to happen surfing was that surfing was seen as a sport instead of art. Similarly, for most swimmers, Channel swimming should be thought more as a prolonged life-change than some short duration swimming event. It is a unique fascination of which millions dream, (every Soloist will tell you of the multiple times they hear this), who dream it without knowing why nor or of what they dream and it goes beyond swimmers to the whole world.
Few phrases in the entire canon of sporting terminology reach out to others like “I’m going to swim the English Channel”, more even than “I’ve swum the Channel”. Few phrases convey absolute commitment in the same way and the bonds that exist between Channel swimmers tend to reflect this. Those words express more than most people understand, a desire to go not just up to but beyond personal physical and mental limits. Something in the idea of swimming the Channel conveys transcendence, of someone aspiring outside the normal, maybe outside themselves.
One hundred and thirty-seven years since Captain Webb’s Solo, eighty-seven since Gertrude Ederle’s; (a swim that had at least if not more effect on the global awareness of Channel swimming, simply because she was woman doing what was considered impossible, and she was photographed); ideals of Channel swimming still exist beyond most modern adventure and extreme sports. Channel swimming itself now transcends the English Channel and includes the Catalina, Gibraltar, Molokai, North, Cook, Tsugaru and other Channels.
Channel swimming is carried out in private. It’s mostly done away from public visibility. Sure, if you are connected with or following a Channel swim you’ll follow GPS trackers and Twitter, get SMS messages and even see uploaded images. But a Channel swim happens as much inside the swimmer’s mind, when they take the decision, during the long training and in the fear and excitement before they step into the water, as it does at the point at which Kevin Murphy said to me: “You swim and you swim until you are tired or exhausted. And only then it gets hard”. No GPS tracker or Tweet conveys what a swimmer is going through in the second, third or later tide. Even those familiar with the various Channels; swimmers, crew, friends and family, can only vaguely imagine it, and it is that imagining, the attempt to extrapolate from a series of dots on a computer screen or chart and project ourselves to the brutal reality of the Channel, or any Channel, that is Channel Fever, when the Channel Dream becomes Channel Reality. Therefore Channel fever afflicts more than swimmers.
No one swims to France by accident.
In Channel swimming we know that everyone who gets to the other side deserves it. Every single one. And many who also deserve tom don’t get there. And that is also part of Channel Fever.
This one is for all the Irish Channel Dreamers this week, English, Tsugaru and North, and all those with Channel Fever whenever, whomever and wherever you are.