Wayne Strach becomes oldest Canadian to swim English Channel

Wayne Strach, a marathon swimmer from Leduc, became the oldest Canadian to swim across the English Channel after a 17-hour test of endurance this weekend.

60-year-old swimmer says he didn't go 'to swim part way to France'

Wayne Strach celebrates with a hot drink after completing a 17-hour swim across the English Channel this weekend. (Supplied)

When most people consider what life will be when they reach their 60s, dodging cargo ships and currents in the cold waters of the English Channel isn't high on the list.

But Wayne Strach isn't your typical 60 year old.

For the Leduc swimmer, the challenge of becoming the oldest Canadian to swim the channel was irresistible.

"It's kind of the unknown. You take what you get," Strach told CBC News.

Strach started his swim on Friday, plunging into the chilly waters off the shore off Dover, England, just before 2:30 a.m.

Seventeen hours and 15 minutes later, he emerged from the water on a beach near Calais, France, having swam at least 32 kilometres to reach the shore.

"I was greeted by a whole bunch of charming school girls, about seven or eight years old. They gathered around me, " he said.

"It was quite a precious moment."

'Your body is in pain'

Strach trained extensively for the challenge; he's been a marathon swimmer his entire life and practised for the channel by swimming in Pigeon Lake and the Peace River.

Strach trained extensively in Alberta before attempting the channel. Here, he prepares to jump into Gull Lake. (Supplied)
His Alberta training prepared him for the long distance and the cold water. He couldn't prepare for the stinging jellyfish that live in the channel, however.

But it wasn't until he was actually in the water that he found out what his greatest challenge would be: fighting against fast tidal currents that only grew stronger the closer he got to shore.

"I think I'd put the tidal currents to the top of the list," he said.

"You have to leave some gas in the tank near the end to power through it."

Another enemy was the ship traffic. The Dover Strait is the world's busiest international seaway, with hundreds of cargo vessels and cruise ships passing through every day.

Strach had to swim around the massive vessels, and then power through the rough waters they left in their wakes.

Throughout, he said he was confident he would finish the swim, saying he didn't go there "to swim partway to France."

But even with all the preparation, Strach said it's impossible to avoid some doubt while out in the middle of the channel, kilometres away from land.

"Your body is in pain. Your brain is telling your muscles to stop doing that. It's always niggling in your mind that you won't make it," he said. 

In the end, however, the muscle aches and exhaustion were well worth it for the feeling of stepping on to terra firma in France.

"I walked up on that beach and raised my arms and it was a wonderful moment," he said.

"I couldn't raise them too much the next day."


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