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Sunshine Coast man Sam Penny aims for English Channel winter swim record

Kathy Sundstrom and Robert Blackmore, Monday December 2, 2019 - 07:31 EDT
Audience submitted image
Sam Penny has been immersing himself in a chest freezer filled with icy water in preparation. - Audience submitted

Wearing his budgie smugglers, swimming cap and goggles, endurance athlete Sam Penny is ready to attempt to break a world record and become the first person to swim the English Channel in winter.

Penny recently travelled to the United Kingdom where he will wait for a break in wind patterns — expected in the next few days — to attempt the historic feat.

More than 1,600 people have swum the English Channel since 1873, but no one has ever done it in December when winter has set in across the northern hemisphere.

The father-of-four and businessman last swam the English Channel in August 2018, the British summer.

He has spent the past two years training in a freezer in his Buderim garage on Queensland's Sunshine Coast in a bid to acclimatise his body for the icy winter temperatures he will experience as he aims to achieve a world-first.

"I set it to one to two degrees and sit in it for 30 minutes," he said.

"The water temperature will be about 10 degrees [Celsius and] the air temperature will hopefully be over zero — four degrees if I'm lucky.

"I'll be spending 11 hours in the water in Speedos in four-degree air temperature."

But why?

Penny will not win any huge monetary prize for achieving his feat and in fact, is spending quite a bit of money to do it.

The cost of hiring a pilot and escort boat alone is around $5,700 and then there is the additional cost of airfares and accommodation.

"I love being able to show people all you need to do is be better than you were yesterday and set goals," he said.

"Here I am — I'm 46 years old and about to do something nobody ever has done.

"I got here with the simple mantra of 'I'm going to be better than yesterday and I have a goal to strive for'.

"That's what guides me on the right path."

He said he was also motivated by the satisfaction of achieving something he has committed years of work towards.

"The sense of being the [one] person in a world of about eight billion people is just something," he said.

Mind games for success

Penny has been swimming at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane and also spends about four to six hours training in the ocean at Mooloolaba, giving him time to practise switching off his mind.

"The only thing I do is count to 10 and I have a crappy song that rattles around in my head. I sing the same lines over and over again," he said.

He said the key to surviving the cold was not to think about it.

"The more you think about it, the more the cold sets in," he said.

"When you start to think how things hurt, that's when you fall apart mentally and your body caves in and gives in to the cold.

"Being able to not think about it and go hard is the key.

"I [will be swimming] hard for 11 hours so my muscles will be generating heat to stave off any chance of hypothermia.

"That's why I've spent so much time in the chest freezer in the garage, getting ready for the one swim."

Rules and regulations

The latest Channel swim recorded by the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) was completed on November 3 so if Penny is successful, he will smash this record by about five weeks.

He has obtained a special permit from the CSA and has been working with the French and English coastguards to give his attempt the best chance of success.

"There is a good chance I'm not going to make it, but there is also a good chance I can," Penny said.

He admits to taking extra safety precautions and his support crew, which will travel beside him on a boat, includes a doctor and a defibrillator.

"If it does look like I'm starting to struggle, I'll be taken straight out," he said.

The CSA has strict criteria for officially recognising a swim of the English Channel with the swimmer not allowed to be assisted by any kind of artificial aids.

Swimmers are only permitted to use goggles, one cap, a nose clip, ear plugs and one sleeveless, legless swimsuit.

However, they can grease themselves with goose fat for insulation and Penny aims to apply that to his back, the area he said would be most exposed to the coldest temperatures.

"I'll lather my back so it doesn't freeze," he said.

"It's going to be warmer in the water than it will be outside."


© ABC 2019

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