On cold, dark winter Saturday mornings, when the world huddled under its duvet and ignored the icicles forming outside its windows, 41 year old Birmingham Sports Massage Therapist John Brain was doing something very different. For the past six months, John has been plunging himself into the freezing waters of a quarry and Cliff Lakes in Warwickshire, acclimatising his body to the temperatures in readiness to swim the channel…for a second time.

channel swim

Fancy an early morning swim? Somehow, you just know that this looks a lot more inviting than it feels on a February morning.

John’s first attempt was back in 2008. Despite, bizarrely, swimming a longer distance than the actual length of the channel swim due to fighting strong currents, John’s swim had to be stopped. So, on 5th September 2016, John will swim from English coast to French coast across the busiest shipping lane in the world…again. The swim will take somewhere between twelve and twenty hours (depending upon conditions) in temperatures around makes-you-shiver-just-thinking-about-it 15 degrees. (To put that in perspective, a leisure centre swimming pool is around 28.) It’s difficult to imagine what could possibly inspire someone to put themselves through, what sounds to me, like hellish conditions in the name of endurance, determination and, as I realise after our conversation, a hint of stubbornness. John explained his reasons for undertaking the challenge of a lifetime. Just how does someone come to develop the necessary willpower, energy and motivation for such an overwhelmingly huge challenge?

channel swim

Trying to warm up after a freezing Sunday morning swim.

“I remember travelling to France on the ferry on family holidays as a kid. I’d look over the side of the boat into this huge, vast ocean, and feel – if I’m honest – terrified. That sounds a bit weird now! Then of course when I was growing up in the seventies and eighties there seemed to be someone on Blue Peter, covered in grease and swimming the channel every week!  I suppose I was fascinated by the idea of taking control of something that had scared me so much as a kid. Flash forward to David Walliams doing it for Sport Relief in 2006 and something in me just clicked…I wanted to be in that club! So I started the training – and here I am!

All that training and heartache – I knew there and then that I’d be back. I just needed to tweak a few aspects of the way I was approaching it. The tiniest change can make all the difference – like with anything in life I suppose!

The first time I attempted it, I was exhausted after seven hours: so much so that I couldn’t face eating or drinking anything. Of course that puts you in a kind of Catch 22 situation! You can’t eat or drink because you’re too exhausted but you’re in this situation where food and drink is kind of vital to your immediate survival! My technique simply wasn’t right and I started to become hypothermic. They decided to pull me out after eleven hours and seventeen minutes.  I can’t tell you how gutted I felt. All that training and heartache – I knew there and then that I’d be back. I just needed to tweak a few aspects of the way I was approaching it. The tiniest change can make all the difference – like with anything in life I suppose! Back in March, I met with Adam Walker (“Ocean Walker”) –  the first Brit to swim seven ocean swims – on his first attempt!”

channel swim

Adam “Ocean” Walker (left), John Brain (centre) and Mark Foster (11 times European champion swimmer)

Clearly John is in awe of this achievement – it’s no mean feat, after all. So what did John learn from meeting with this hero of the oceans?

adam walker poster“Meeting Adam was so helpful. To have completed the Oceans 7 Challenge? Talk about being able to use someone as your motivation! I knew that Adam had developed a new swim stroke – the Ocean Walker technique, which uses fewer shoulder muscles (it’s all about rotation and long pulls).  This is great for me, as on my last attempt I wore out the cartilage in my shoulder – I’m still suffering for that! But this is going a long way to help improve my chances this time: it’s less effort, but allows me to maintain the same speed. I’ve learnt a lot and I’m positive I can do this. I couldn’t be more determined now. In fact, my aim is to follow in Adam’s footsteps. He might well be the first Brit to complete the Oceans 7 Challenge, but I’m intending to be the second.”

John is looking to attract sponsorship for this unbelievable challenge and is already receiving a lot of interest and support from the public and the channel swimming world. “Taking on a challenge like this makes you realise how many fantastic and supportive people there are out there”, John explains. The guys where I train (Cliff Lakes, Warwickshire) could not be more supportive. Sometimes we all need those words of encouragement  and motivation; anyone who finds out about this is nothing but full of kind words. It’s been a brilliant experience so far. I just want to get out there now.”

If you’d like to support John in this huge challenge, either through donations or publicity, you can contact him via johnschannelswim@gmail.com, julie@ltsmagazine.com, or his Facebook page.

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