"It's been a ride, I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one. Now some of you might still be in that place - if you're trying to get out, just follow me, I'll get you there"
Eminem, from the album "Recovery" Not Afraid
It is with much admiration and huge relief that I write to inform you that at 2:02pm (BST) on Tuesday 21st August 2012, Wayne Morris from the Swim Smooth Perth squad successfully swam across the English Channel from Samphire Hoe in Dover, UK to just west of Cap Gris Nez, France in 11 hours and 34 minutes - a sensational time, and in doing so completed the Channel on his third attempt - a testament to what can be achieved when you never, ever give in!
As Lisa Delaurentis (the fastest member of Team Channel Dare 2011/12) tweeted upon Wayne (The Train) Morris's arrival in France:
"This train has now terminated"
...and so bringing an end to seven of the squad's shared goal of swimming the 34km stretch of water between England and France which historically only has a 10% success rating...not bad for seven swimmers from the same group in little old Perth!
From a personal perspective, Wayne's accomplishment was without doubt my own most treasured coaching experience to date and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have worked with Wayne on this goal through the highs and lows of the last 3 years, with the last 12 months following his disappointment of not making it across on his first two attempts being particularly challenging. This achievement though is all the more sweet now and I'd now like to share with you the full story of what such a great guy and brilliant swimmer had to endure in order to get to this place. Of course not all of you will read this lengthy report, but if you've ever aspired to such a feat as this, then hopefully there'll be something of interest in here for you.
When seven of us set out in late 2009 to book pilots for the English Channel for an assault in 2011, we all understood that statistically not all of us would make it. However, knowing this and accepting this as reality are two entirely different things. None of us wanted to discuss this very much - we felt it better to deal with it, if and when it happened. When we saw Geoff Wilson (super strong and a sub-12 hour Rottnest Channel Double swimmer) take 15 hours and 15 minutes to get across what the 'average' swimmer supposedly gets across in 13 hours, we knew that it wouldn't be an easy task. To then see multiple 3rd-place Rottnest Channel Solo super-fish Ceinwen Williams take just a smidgen under 13 hours to get across, the reality that one or more of us might not make it, really started to seep in. Wayne was next up and faced terrible conditions which saw his pilot (not Wayne) abandon the first attempt after 8.5 hours - but suggested Wayne could have another crack 4 days later. If you've ever done a Rottnest Solo in shocking conditions (i.e. 2003 and 2006) and then had the prospect of doing a double crossing 4 days later as well, you'll realise that the practicality for your shoulders just isn't there; but to his credit, Wayne did attempt his second swim but 'only' made it another 8 hours in before both shoulders packed in. This was a crushing blow to someone who had worked at least as hard as the rest of us but got dealt a very tough set of 'cards' - tough, but entirely possible with the bitter mistress that is the English Channel.
And so the despair set in - the same despair that each and every one of us would have felt to have been in Wayne's shoes and to watch the other six team members successfully reach France. The reality is that it could have happened to any one (or more) of us. Had it been me, I would have no qualms in saying that I doubt whether I'd have been able to pick myself up like Wayne did. There was the prospect of the third attempt last September (which made physical sense in terms of preparation) but psychologically myself and Wayne spent a couple of hours on the phone talking about what another 'defeat' could mean for him so soon. It just wasn't an option.
Wayne returned to Perth and immediately immersed himself back in the squad...training for exactly what and when, only Wayne really knew at this point; but I know many of us felt like we were treading on eggshells at that point - no one really knowing what to say or how to help Wayne cope. It was a tough time and again I openly admit that the only way I knew of helping Wayne cope with it was to simply keep his interest in swimming there - my fear being that this may dwindle. How wrong I was. Wayne carried his fitness through to an excellent showing at the Rottnest Channel Swim in 2012 (as a Duo) and from there began talking about the prospect of another English Channel attempt in August 2012.
And so together and with the help and support of the rest of the Channel Dare team (Paul D, Andrew, Ceinwen, Shelley T-S, Geoff and Lisa), Wayne's family (Goldie, Taylor and Harriet) and Wayne's brilliant physiotherapist (Prue Newnham) we began to re-create a program to get him so fit and strong that the only thing that could possibly stop him would be poor conditions.
Between March and August 2012 we battled freezing temperatures and shocking conditions in the Swan River every Saturday and Sunday morning with Wayne doing top-up swims at Mettams Pool. Interestingly enough, no swim was over 4 hours during this period in order to ensure the health of Wayne's shoulders and the consistency of his training. In the pool we focused on becoming super economical at between 1:32 and 1:38 per 100m pace (15'20" to 16'20" per km) and then being able to back this up consistently in the open water. Pacing was absolutely essential, and if you know Wayne, you'll know that (like me) this is not his natural forté! We did several video analysis and stroke correction sessions to work on Wayne's form with the specific goal of making his shoulders more injury robust, which he further complimented with two dedicated pilates / physio sessions with Prue per week as well. Let's just say that the whole thing was a veritable mission, with Wayne even opting to go t-total for 4 months too! Wayne is a fantastic father and husband and owns his own very successful security firm as well, and so to fit all of this in around everything was a mammoth task and something which I think we can all thank Goldie (his wife) for!!
So, onto the swim. As luck would have it, I was always planning on being over in the UK during August (for the Olympics and to run some of our Swim Smooth Coach Education courses) and had suggested to Wayne that I would be available to support him on his boat. Paul Downie was also keen to assist, and if you know Paul you'll know that there isn't a warmer, more funny person you could ever wish to have on your boat helping to take the edge off proceedings - a key point with the magnitude of what was to be attempted in Wayne's case.
Wayne's first call came for a swim start at 1.30am on Monday 20th August which was just a few hours after I'd personally finished my final course up in Loughborough some 4 hours away. It was also the day after my grandfather passed away after a very short battle with lung cancer. The timing was good in the respect that I had at least finished any coaching duties, but bad with the family bereavement that would ensue. As it happened this first attempt was called off and reset for the following day, allowing me to quickly go home and see the family. I then made the 450km drive down south to support Wayne the following evening on no sleep with literally 45 minutes to spare...that was one frantic drive, let me tell you!
A rather manic look in my eyes prior to greasing Wayne up - oo, er missus!
Wool fat around the kidneys helps to insulate against the 16 degree water
A little pre-swim massage goes a long way to helping sooth the nerves
You have to be close friends to get this close to The Train!
We were ready to rock and roll at just after 2.20am as Wayne plunged into the icy waters which would remain perfectly dark for another 3 hours!
Ready to rock and roll!
The apprehensive face of a man about to meet his destiny!
Holding his nerve in the pitch dark conditions - not easy - the mind wanders and then some!
Keeping Wayne's World posted on progress via Twitter until the signal ran out 5 hours in!
The first feed stop after 30 minutes...this was done with military precision following Wayne's menu, carefully aided with Andrew Hunt's advice and experience.
The water droplets on the lens aren't rain, but super thick fog that brought visibility down to just 100m!
Paul Downie in high spirits as usual - a brilliant person to have on your team!
Wayne immediately settled in to a pre-determined rhythm of 62 strokes per minute and didn't stray from this the whole way across to France. Every 15 minutes we would hold up an Aussie flag to indicate that he was half way to his next fuel stop (every 30 minutes), and also hold up encouraging signs and messages from friends and family to spur him on. Aside from this though it was all very much an exercise in consistency, never straying away from the game plan and slowly but methodically making our way across to France under the expert guidance of pilot Ray Cooper who was just sensational:
Pilot Ray Cooper in full control at all times - if you're contemplating a swim, Ray is your man but will retire in 2013!
When swimming for the best part of half a day, one can often drift off, but if you could have seen the grit and determination in Wayne's eyes and that steely focus, you'd have realised too that there was only one place Wayne was going that day - to the rocky shores of Cap Gris Nez! I have never seen (and doubt I ever will) so much belief in oneself as I saw in Wayne's eyes that day - it was super inspiring but almost chilling at the same time:
One-way ticket to France please...this at 9 hours in!
Holding excellent form and consistency in rhythm is what this challenge is all about
Never, ever, ever give in!
That's a big unit...the ship is pretty huge too!
Body surfing one of the waves created by the huge tankers
An absolute highlight of the trip across to France was about half way into the swim. Wayne's Mum had given him a small green dolphin to use as a good luck symbol for the swim and said he must have it with him on the boat. Unbeknownst to myself and Paul he had handed it to Ray (the pilot) before setting off but then we remembered that it might be a nice opportunity to also show Wayne this as a reminder that his Mum was with him every stroke of the way. Of course we couldn't find it, but as soon as we started looking and with a freaky sense of timing, four massive dolphins surfaced to the right side of the boat, turned and swam over to us and then proceeded to spend about five minutes swimming directly underneath Wayne chattering in funny Flipper-speak as they went! It was the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed and you can only guess what sort of a boost this gave Wayne once he realised they weren't sharks!
Brilliant timing - a pod of dolphins join us!
You're never quite sure if a swimmer is going to make it across to France given how the conditions and tide can all change so quickly, but with about 6 or 7km to go and given that the tide was about to turn in our favour, we all started to get our hopes up on deck, however, we didn't tell this to Wayne until he had about 800m to go! This then became a full-on sprint into the beach which myself and Paul couldn't even catch him on as we dived over the side to join our mate over in France!
Wayne starts to lift the pace in his customary style - Man Machine!
The end is nigh!
Cap Gris Nez in beautiful sunlight and warm(ish) water - it felt like the Mediterranean!
Paul N (yellow) and Paul D (blue) jump in to try and catch Wayne but fail miserably!
Wayne The Train in France!
Preparing to swim back to the boat - you can see the relief and happiness for Wayne clearly on my face!
Getting back onboard is the hardest part of the day!
Greeted by Bob (First Mate, right) and Pete (Observer, left)
Fresh as a daisy - it was remarkable how fresh Wayne was after the swim - testament to all his hard work in training!
After boarding the boat and setting off back to Dover we learned that we were the only boat to attempt a crossing that day given that the tide was particularly big, thus making Wayne's time all the more impressive. Furthermore, we also learned that the fog that surrounded us for about four hours of the swim giving a very ethereal atmosphere became enough to physically close that part of the shipping lane that we'd just passed through as visibility dropped to zero meters. Very lucky timing - any later and we'd have had to abandon the attempt. And if that wasn't enough, 5 miles from Dover the boat's gearbox blew up leaving us a floating, sitting target for the huge tankers that were cruising by - we had to be rescued by the RNLI Coast Guard! Imagine if that had happened during the swim!
RNLI to the rescue! It took them 8 minutes to reach us but over an hour to drag us back!
All these men are volunteers - an amazing institution!
I think it's safe to say that as much as 2011 just wasn't Wayne's year and that things completely out of his control curtailed his two attempts, that in 2012 the gods were clearly looking after him and that he was just meant to get across! I am so pleased and relieved that he did.
Of course just to be in the position both physically and financially to even attempt an English Channel crossing one must consider themselves to be 'fortunate' - but to see and witness first-hand what Wayne has endured with this monkey on his back for the past 12 months and to see how well he achieved his goal with unfaltering focus during the day was just so inspirational. I feel personally very lucky to have shared this journey with Wayne (as I know many of you in the squad will also feel) and I can't help but feel that his achievement and how he did it will fuel my own coaching and swimming passion for many, many years to come.
Thanks Wayne, you're a champ!
P.S see you all back on pool deck from Monday next week!