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Rory's channel triumph
8:30am Friday 27th September 2013 in News
“I hurt all over, my mouth is blistered and my throat ulcerated – but I feel fantastic.”
That was 55-year-old Rory Fitzgerald’s verdict after fulfilling his lifetime’s ambition to swim the Channel.
The determined Timsbury man completed the epic swim in exactly 12 hours on Monday, overcoming agonising pain his left arm.
“I think I over-trained and must have damaged a tendon in my left arm,” said Rory.
Just a few hours out from Dover, Rory’s arm began to give him trouble and he was supplied with painkillers by his support boat.
“Three hours in, I was thinking ‘I can’t go on like this’, but the support boat was relaying messages of encouragement from the mainland and I couldn’t let those people down,” he said.
Rory, who is semi-retired and works part-time as a fianance officer for Ringwood Town Council, had always dreamed of swimming the Channel and in July he received notice that a slot on one of the official pilot boats would be available in mid-September. Usually, these vessels are booked up three years in advance, so he realised it was too good a chance to miss.
To prepare for the swim, Rory, an experienced long-distance and cold- water swimmer, attended a training camp in Ireland, where he covered 100km in a week.
Picking the right time to start his attempt on the Channel was crucial.
“My tide was to start on Wednesday, September 18, but the forecast was poor until the weekend. Saturday deteriorated a bit, but Sunday was looking good, though Monday looked even better.
“I discussed the variables with my pilot, Neil Streeter, and agreed a Monday start around high tide between midnight and 2.30am, which would mean my swimming from darkness and landing in France in daylight,” explained Rory.
He set off from Samphire Hoe at 2.35am, with the water at what Rory described as a “comfortable” 16.8 degrees C.
He experienced very flat conditions throughout the swim, but exhaustion and pain from his arm meant he became disorientated towards the end of the challenge.
“It became painful to kick and I had to work on relaxing my arms to combat the increasing pain, particularly on my left arm. Every time I missed a breath and caught a mouthful of Channel brine, I coughed and was aware of a growing soreness in my mouth as the caustic water stripped the lining of my mouth away,” said Rory.
Although the crossing from Dover to Cap Gris Nez, near Calais, is 21.5 miles, Rory actually swam more than 24 miles, as the current swept him south of his destination.
“My pilot yelled that if I got my skates on, I would be in in under an hour, but if I didn’t get a move on, we would be washed back around the Cap and it would take another two and a half hours to get in,” said Rory.
“My left arm was screaming in agony, made all the worse because I could see land close to my left, but we continued to head parallel to the coast,” said Rory.
“Then I spotted Jim and Kate at the back of the boat with their swim kit on which meant that they were preparing to escort me in for the last few hundred meters to the shore, so I started to push harder and came up alongside the boat.
“The pilot and crew were whooping and clapping by the bow and I knew I must be really close. Head down I just went for it as Jim and Kate came up behind me – I saw a rock under the water and realised I was there...”
Rory clambered onto rocks below the Cap Gris Nez lighthouse and promptly slipped, gashing his shin.
And what happens when you have a completed a Channel swim? “If you stay ashore too long, you seize up,” said Rory, who had to jump back into water and swim the 100 yards back to the support craft which ferried him home to England.
Rory’s next challenge will be less arduous – he’s competing in the 50m events at the County Masters Swimming Championships in November.
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