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SWIMMING THE CHANNEL FOR TOM

By October 3, 2013 March 30th, 2019 No Comments

Adam Shantry tells us what the experience was really like….

I will never forget the day I heard the news of Tom’s passing. Having been fortunate enough to have played alongside him at Glamorgan for three years, and having shared many memories both on and off the field, the phone call that morning was, quite simply, the worst moment of my life.

Tom was kind, funny, full of life, and supremely talented. He was tall, dark, and handsome, with a physique that belonged on the cover of a health and fitness magazine. He was in many ways everything a young man could wish to be. He was well on the way to a long and successful career, with national representation a near certainty, all whilst being watched with pride by his father Matthew, himself an ex-England international, and the rest of his family. The sequence of events is too sad for words. If an author had written his story as a work of fiction, the publisher would probably reject it out of hand for being too distressing.

The words above are written by someone who knew Tom only briefly. One can only begin to imagine how it has affected those who grew up alongside him, who played with him for his whole career, and those closest to him – his family.

When it emerged that the Tom Maynard Trust had been founded, ideas for a fundraising venture began running through my head. Having retired from professional cricket following two knee operations, running and cycling were out of the question.  I had been a reasonable swimmer in my playing days, albeit only ever for twenty minutes at a time, and the possibility of a sponsored swim merited further thought. Although, at one o’clock in the morning on the 26th of September 2013, I wish I had given it much, much more thought……

Several discussions with Julie Bradshaw, the secretary of the Channel Swimming Association, followed the initial idea, and for about a week, a solo swim across the English Channel was a distinct possibility. It was not long, however, until a few potential issues were raised:

1. I would have needed to put on around two stone of pure fat to withstand the cold. Anyone who has seen my spindly frame would realise that, if I were to consume 15-20 Mars bars a day, in addition to my regular meals, this would take me approximately 35 years to achieve.

2. As someone who had never had a swimming lesson, let alone joined a swimming club, I would need to train for around eighteen months solid to stand a reasonable chance of success. With my injury record, that timescale would have at least trebled…

3. Eight people have lost their lives during attempts to swim the channel. My fiancée was less than enthusiastic about the whole idea…

4. Even among those who have swum all their lives, and prepared for years, the success rate of solo swims is less than 10%. The cold (hypothermia accounts for the largest number of unsuccessful attempts), currents, tides, all add up to provide the ultimate open water swimming challenge.  To place it in further context, more people have stood on the summit of Everest than have completed solo Channel Swims. And I would have been distraught had I attempted something in Tom’s name and failed.

There was another option, though – a relay swim, with each member swimming for an hour before swapping over. With a standard team being composed of six members this was still a challenge, but in order to heighten the difficulty level, I decided on inviting only two members to join me. When this idea was mooted, I learned that a relay swim with only three members had only been completed 15 times in history. However, with old friend (and ex-Warwickshire seamer) Tom Mees and his partner Emma Lawson completing the team, we had a fighting chance.

The training regime initially consisted of just remembering how to swim – and for the first few months I became all too familiar with the tiled bottom of the Cardiff International Pool. Swimming two lengths at anything approaching a decent pace was a challenge at first, and twenty minutes of non-stop front crawl rendered me unable to speak for several minutes. As time went on, though, my stamina improved considerably and I was ready to leave the comfort of the pool for the rather less inviting waters off Barry Island.

As I made my way into the sea for the first time, the screeching of seagulls was drowned out quite comfortably by the laughter of holidaymakers as I was wearing a pair of speedos that can only be described as “offensively small”.  Whilst looking to minimise drag, I had also succeeded in minimising everything else. Action Man dolls have sported bigger protrusions. Whilst teenaged girls pointed and giggled, I made my way into the crystal clear (actually, worryingly brown) waters, and after I had got my breath back from the shock at just how cold it was, I began to plough up and down the coastline. This became a regular fixture for many weeks, and whilst I inflicted some scary sights on the Welsh public, my swimming was actually becoming something approaching proficient. With fellow swimmers Meesy and Emma regularly clocking in to Tooting Lido at 6am to thrash out an hour’s practice (a huge commitment, one for which I will be eternally grateful), we were ready to go.

After a carb-heavy Italian meal the night before, the morning of September 25th greeted us with azure blue sky’s, and just the lightest breath of wind – perfect swimming conditions. After loading up the support boat with towels, woolly hats, overcoats, and enough food, drink, and sugary snacks to keep Gareth Rees (Glamorgan CC opening batsman, house-mate and team-mate of Tom) satisfied for a good half-hour, we set off for the beach at Samphire Hoe.  At 1.30pm, after a short twenty-minute journey, spent envisaging what the next eighteen hours had in store, I was instructed to don my ludicrously small swimming trunks, my latex swimming cap, and my goggles, and to jump in, before making my way to the stony beach some thirty metres away. Once my feet had cleared the last of the waves I raised my hand, and the klaxon sounded. A couple of strides into the surf, then a dive that David Hasselhoff would have been proud of, and we were off.

Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was the adrenaline. But unintentionally, for the first two minutes of the swim, I had set an absolutely blistering pace, one that, if it had been continued, would have seen us reach French shores in about 25 minutes. As my lungs (and my shoulders) were screaming for mercy, I had no option but to rein it in a fraction. I say a fraction, I mean by about 80%. Despite this, I was stroking (first casually-dropped-in bit of recently discovered swimming jargon) at around 66 strokes per minute. Not Olympic standard by any stretch, but not too shabby. The first thirty minutes of the swim were actually quite pleasurable, and cutting through the glass-like water, with the sun on my back and the famous white cliffs just in my peripheral vision, all was well. Around the 45 minute mark, I was beginning to feel the cold – despite consuming enough chocolate in the past few weeks to keep my dentist in BMWs for years, I was still a little on the thin side – or as my brother Jack generously describes me – “sinewy”. After what seemed like an age, the CSA invigilator bellowed at me to get out, and as Meesy began his first swim, I dragged myself up the ladder, and into the waiting pile of towels and warm clothes. With the watery sun still offering a modicum of heat I was feeling good, and the chills soon subsided. For a while…

Watching Meesy power through the waves was a sight to behold. Out of the water his bulging pectorals look like a couple of skinheads in a bra, and his unrelenting strokes soon had us motoring past the booze-cruise Brits in their P&O ferries. Tom Mees is a man so modest that in his cricketing days (he has a first class six-for under his belt, which included a certain Andrew Strauss), you would have to pry for hours when asking how he had got on, eventually to extract the confession that he had taken a “very fortunate” 7-25. In fact, I’m not even sure that his parents know that he’s swum the Channel. His hour flew by, which was slightly disappointing, as I was still yet to fully warm up, eat, or take an amusing photo of Emma and me in a passionate embrace with Tom swimming obliviously in the background.

Emma too, was swimming like a professional. Her stroke was perfect, a million miles from the uncoordinated thrashings of Meesy and I. Her progress was serene yet swift, and the two of us were all for letting her finish the rest of the swim herself. Unfortunately this idea was not looked upon favourably by the CSA and, after an hour, I was back in again.

The next eleven hours followed much the same pattern – only a much colder, darker, windier and rainier pattern. Time was spent seasick, shivering violently below deck in the early hours of the morning, whilst thinking what a ridiculous idea this was. Jellyfish were dodged, flotsam and jetsam were encountered in the pitch black , and pulled muscles were suffered by all, due in no small part to the now even icier waters and air temperatures. One particular episode of cramp saw me swimming for forty minutes, in the aforementioned pitch black depths, with no use of my left hand, which had taken it upon itself to curl up into a ball and have a nap. The shivers were more frequent by now, chills running down the spine with unnerving regularity. Emma, who was absolutely inspirational throughout, exhibited extraordinary mental toughness when, after battling the brutal conditions for several hours, she had to stop to drink hot tea from a water bottle tossed into the sea, in an effort to warm a body that was now chilled to the bone. A simply incredible effort. At times like that, with potentially seven or eight more hours of swimming to follow, France seemed a long, long way away.

After many, many hours of darkness, with visibility down to a matter of feet, we had no idea where we were. After a brief chat with the captain, it became apparent that we were making good progress. We were told, as I was peeling down to the aforementioned speedos, that a good hour would see us in sight of the finish. For a moment, the chills subsided, and for no reason other than the fact that Tom would have absolutely loved it, the speedos came off as well. My ivory-hued buttocks disappeared under the waves, and my reproductive organs disappeared into my body. After what was, without a shadow of doubt, the coldest hour of my life, I emerged and watched Meesy start what would prove to be the final leg.  When the skipper told his assistant to launch the rowing boat, we knew we were close. Meesy, well into his fifth hour in the water, sensed this, and his pace quickened. The vessel that we were in was now in danger of running aground, so the rowing boat led him with a thin beam of light from a handheld torch. For an eternity, the glow sticks on Tom’s head bobbed up and down in the waves, until we saw them rise, a step at a time, onto the beach a short distance from Cap Gris Nez. Joy and sheer relief were the prominent emotions, and after 13 hours and 52 minutes in the water, and a full 28 miles (tides, you see), we had done it. To sum it up, it was the hardest thing we had done in our lives.

A near three-hour journey at full tilt in the boat followed, illustrating just how far we had come, and we were back in Dover. After loading the car up with half eaten protein bars, bottles of Lucozade, and hilariously, the “Ainsley Harriott Garlic and Herb Croutons” that Meesy had decided were essential for cross Channel swimmers, I sat down in the warmth for the first time since 1pm the previous day, and allowed myself a smile. We had achieved what we had set out to do – become only one of a handful of successful three-person Channel relay swims, and raised money that will be put to very good use. Thank you to everyone who has supported us, and to those who have donated to the cause. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Adam

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