007 Swimmers: Extreme Winter Relay North Channel Attempt in January

007 Swimmers: Extreme Winter Relay North Channel Attempt in January

Ger Kennedy has a knack to make an incredibly difficult extreme challenge … even more difficult and even more challenging.

Kennedy explains his next adventure on the high seas, “The Extreme Winter Relay North Channel attempt is scheduled between January 10th -16th 2022. The estimated water temperature will be 7°C. The estimated air temperature will be between 0°C and 5°C. 

The estimated swim time will be approximately 14 hours for our 5-male, 1-female team where each of us rotate one-hour legs observed by Irish Long Distance Swimming Association. North Channel rules medicals assessment will be performed by the International Ice Swimming Association and our escort pilot will be Pádraig Mallon of the Infinity Channel Swimming and Piloting Services for the charity swim to benefit the Gavin Glynn Foundation to support families with children fighting cancer (see tggf.ie, Reg Charity No. 20106959).”

The donation link is here

The origins of this idea date back to November 2018 when I discussed in detail with Pádraig. At the time, I was forming a group of international swimmers based on their previous experience and distance in cold water. But due to my own swimming agenda, this idea never came to bear … but it was always on my mind.

During the worldwide pandemic with travel restrictions and the swimming pools that were closed for close to a year,  I focused my efforts on opening the Winter Walrus Group to a wider community and the safe practice of winter swimming and leading some into ice swimming. This Group grew very big and some 300 new swimmers joined the Winter Walrus Virtual Challenge which had six levels [see here]. I ran free training and safe practice sessions on Friday and Sunday mornings which were a huge success during difficult and lonely times for some. All abilities were catered for, from Baby Walrus to Ice Walrus swimmers.

From this simple program, I found some extraordinary talent – all homegrown. A smaller group of the more experienced walruses formed and went deeper into the cold. The same group went into summer progression into 10+ km distances in national and international competitions.

So the idea of the Extreme Winter Relay North Channel came up again and really with worldwide pandemic still in place, the international swimmers were out. I turned to some of the stronger extreme walrus team and offered them a place on the team. After a couple of meetings, they accepted. The team is an all Irish team from Dublin and most swimmers are completely new to this level of endurance, so it is very exciting.

A new training program was sent up. To give you an example where each member’s ability is to date, we have three one-hour continuous open water swims under 10°C, and one lake swim under 8°C. All swimmers are averaging 3-3.3 km per hour.

Recovery is very important. Due to the confined space on the escort pilot boat, we have practiced what I call a ‘confined recovery’ which means trying to recover in a 2-meter space where we practice deep squats with raised arms and controlled breathing. I did approach some Wim Hof coaches, but I felt they could not comprehend what I was trying to practice, so we just invented our own method which works very well.

Cold hardened and tempering of the body includes regular walking in low temperatures with light clothing and use of the air conditioner in their vehicles and less heating in their homes. This is all part of the process, but not to overdose on too much cold and risk damage to our extremities.

The Extreme Winter Relay North Channel team includes Ger Kennedy (pump engineer), Declan Bradshaw (Microsoft director), Dave Berry (sports director), Vincent Donegan (fireman), Colm Morris (primary school teacher), Niamh McCarthy (Managing Director), with Manager Ger Devin (Managing Director) and Emergency Medical Technician Barry Patterson who will attempt to cross the 35 km North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland in January 2022 with escort pilot Pádraig Mallon.

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Steven Munatones