Penny drops for Sam in the English Channel
LOOKING up at the White Cliffs of Dover, a wave of adrenalin washed over Sam Penny.
After a false start the day before due to boat mechanical problems, the Sunshine Coast swimmer got his opportunity and grabbed it with both hands to finish in just over 11 hours.
With surprisingly warm water of 19 degrees, and air temperature of 28, Penny had to increase his fluid and magnesium intake to deal with cramps. Yet he pushed through the early stages with ease in near perfect conditions.
“I spoke less than 20 words on my whole swim. I felt so great in the water,” he said.
“I had zero pain, zero fatigue and my pace was strong. As each hour went by, my condition didn’t change. I just felt great. I stormed through six, seven, eight hours.”
Having never swum for more than eight hours, he entered uncharted territory.
“We knew the weather was going to change around the eight-hour point and just like clockwork, it did,” Penny said.
“The wind picked up to produce a rather annoying chop, but worse still, the chop was bouncing off the boat back at me.
“With chop coming at me from both sides, my rhythm had been broken, I had to change my stroke to suit the conditions and then my shoulders started to go.
“On several occasions, my left shoulder seized to the point that I couldn’t even do a stroke. An intense pain would strike me in my shoulder.”
Changing his stroke style to relieve the strain, he managed to stop the shoulder seizing with support in the boat from Helen Shadforth and London swim coach Tim Denyer.
Looking up he could see France, but land still seemed so far away.
“We were getting close to 10 hours and France was not getting closer,” Penny said.
“You can see Dover for nearly the entire swim. It’s so depressing.
“At the 10 hour feed and everything changes. Tim said, ‘give me everything and we’ll get in under an hour’. Less than an hour of swimming! I tried to go hard but the pain in my shoulders was still so intense.
“I tried to lift but I couldn’t. We hit 10hr30mins and Tim throws another bottle for me to gulp down. ‘Mate, this is your last feed. Take a quick gulp, just go boy’.
“And go I did. All the pain left my body as the rush consumed me.
“Tim held up a sign ‘400m to go’ In my mind, 400m was going to be six, maybe seven minutes.
“I absolutely nailed that last 400m. I went as hard and as fast as I could. I could feel the end of months of hard work becoming a reality.”
His preparation took 12 months, swimming regularly with Toby Coote’s Sunshine Coast Tri Academy, “when four-hour, six-hour, eight-hour swims became normal”.
“The 10km swims were short swims, of which I would often do three times a week,” he said.
Penny was the third Sunshine Coast swimmer to cross the English Channel in recent years.
Peter Schultz managed the feat last year in 11hr 55min, while two years ago Buderim’s Chris Shapland became the second oldest person to achieve the feat at the age of 69 after a gruelling 16 hours and 28 minutes.
SUCCESS: Helen Shadforth and Sam Penny after his English Channel swim.