After two years of intense preparation during which, at the height of my training, I was swimming 35 hours per week (or 280 km per month), The Big Day finally came : Saturday, September 18th 2010.
Early in the morning, my partner Suzana, my coach Valérie, my doctor Jacques Tuset, and Arnaud Chassery (who were already on the other side of the Channel) got on board the fishing boat piloted by Peter Reed and his son. A French bailiff dispatched by eHandicapWorldRecords was also present to formalize the crossing.
(Photos : Alain Marecaux - Huissier de Justice)
We started out by sailing towards the beach I was to leave from. On the way, Suzana and Valérie got me ready. Carrying out the same actions that had been constantly repeated over the past two years, they put on my false limbs, coated me with grease, got me into my diving suit, put up my hood, and fixed my goggles and breathing tube. At last I was ready for the big challenge!
Using a sheet borrowed from the hotel, my friends lowered me from the boat into the element I was about to conquer : The English Channel!
Once I was in the water, I swam first of all towards the beach and sat down on the sand, as it had been agreed that that would be my starting position. At 6.50, English time, I was given the signal to go. I set off for the swim across, using my flippers to advance and making circular movements with my amputated arms to keep my balance.
Very soon, I realised that I was not respecting my coach’s instructions. The efforts I was making would allow me to stay in a range between 110 and 120 pulses per minute, but with the current and the adrenalin, I found myself with a pulse rate between 130 and 150. And I was to stay at that level for practically the whole of the crossing.
The temperature was 14.2° Celsius, the weather was fine and the wind was blowing at a speed of 10 km/h. After an hour of swimming, I had covered just 2 kilometres. The day was likely to be long, but my attendants were going to encourage me along, without flagging...
Every half-hour, they would take it in turn to hand me my supplies of food, using a device that I designed specially for this purpose. On a floater in the form of upside-down V, I had dug holes into which I could fit 4 drinking flasks. This system gave me more flexibility in the choice of my supplies.
Suddenly, after 3 hours of swimming, the members of my team witnessed a fabulous event : they saw 6 dolphins come up to me and swim alongside me. The animals would swim 5 good minutes around me, as if they wanted to encourage me. The pilots, who were used to fishing all year round in these waters, couldn’t get over it : this was the first time they had seen dolphins in this spot. It was unique, it was a magical sight!
The wind dropped to practically nothing, and the sea was quite flat. The only waves I encountered were due to the passage of cargo ships. However, the currents began to descend from the North Sea to the Atlantic, and I was propelled towards the French coast at double my normal speed. We were going fast straight towards Cap Gris Nez.
By now it was late afternoon, and the wind blew up again. It was blowing at about 15 km/h, and a swell arose. The French coast is getting closer and closer, and the others are encouraging me relentlessly. However, the light is decreasing, and I lose sight of the cliffs in the distance.
It is now dark and I swim tirelessly, with the boat as my only guide. Suddenly, I am told from the boat that I must speed up if I want to pass the current "barrier". Indeed, unless I swim faster, Cap Gris Nez may be out of my reach and I will have to return next year. No way! Out of the question!
At this point, Jack and Arnaud got into the water to ensure my safety. When I stop to refuel, they tell me: "We can’t stop for supplies, you have to keep on going and following us". So off we go in the dark to conquer the cliffs of Cap Gris Nez.
It was very hard, I couldn’t afford to slow up my efforts, and I saw, looking towards the lighthouse, that the current was sweeping us off track. It’s all I can do to keep going. The others are cheering me along, I’m suffering from hypoxia from swimming so fast, and my heart is beating fit to burst. I can hear the waves breaking on the rocks. I can’t see anything, but the spot seems to be very dangerous, and the boat can’t go into it. On my left, there are only 50 metres of cliff left : I have to touch land before I get sucked beyond them, otherwise it is finished!
All of a sudden, I hear Jacques let out a cry of joy. Then, still yelling, he tells me he has touched the rocks with his knees and tells me to sit.
I’ve made it! From his reaction, I realize that my dream has come true, and that I have swum across the Channel!
I sit, shout out and raise my arms up in the air as a sign of victory. I look for the bailiff to make sure that he can see where I am and that I have arrived. But I don’t have the time to savour the moment, because suddenly a strong wave pushes me towards the cliff like a cork in a storm. Jacques, acting incredibly quickly, catches hold of one of flippers and only just manages to keep me from hitting the cliff. As soon can get on my feet again, Jacques (my saviour), Arnaud and I move away as quickly as possible from this dangerous area a stop a few metres from the water’s edge in a quiet spot. Here I can finally enjoy my success with my family and the friends who had come to help me along. Very soon, I can hear my two sons yelling so hard that I can hear them from the top of the cliff: "Dad, we love you, you're the greatest!" At this point I burst into tears, no longer able to control the pressure that has built up all day.
I have been through a fantastic time with all the team, and will never forget it. But the greatest moment was when I was struggling furiously to get through the last few metres and get to the beach.
I managed this victory thanks to my motivation, to 2 years of intense preparation, but also to all the team who has supported me : my family, my coach, the town of Châtellerault, as well as all those who believed in me and gave me the strength to do it.
In the end, to cross the Channel, I had swum for 13 hours and 23 minutes, over a distance of 38,250 metres. This time is due to the good weather conditions and even better boatsmen.
A big thank you to Suzana : without love and the strength it has given me, this incredible human adventure could never have taken place.