Sarah Thomas, a 37-year-old cancer survivor has now become the first person to swim across the English Channel four times in a row non-stop. She began the epic challenge in the early hours of Sunday and completed the final leg on Tuesday at about 06:30 BST over 54 hours later.
The open water ultra-marathon swimmer completed treatment for breast cancer just a year ago and dedicated her swim triumph to “all the survivors out there”.
Originally the swim distance was about 80 miles but the strong tides increased the distance by more than 60% and Ms. Thomas ended up swimming almost 130 miles.
Speaking to the BBC after coming ashore at Dover, she said, “I just can’t believe we did it. I’m really just pretty numb. There was a lot of people on the beach to meet me and wish me well and it was really nice of them, but I feel just mostly stunned.”
She admitted that she planned to sleep for the whole day, adding: “I’m pretty tired right now.”
An impressed Lewis Pugh, described as the ‘Sir Edmund Hillary of swimming’ tweeted- “Just when we think we’ve reached the limit of human endurance, someone shatters the records.”
Ms. Thomas’s mother Becky Baxter told BBC Radio 4, “I’ve been on a lot of her trips. This was by far the scariest”.
She called her daughter a “freak of nature” but did face “a lot of trouble with stomach ache” on this trip.
Earlier, Ms. Thomas, an experienced swimmer completed her first open-water event in 2007 and first swam across the Channel in 2012 followed by a 2016 swim. She told film-maker Jon Washer, “As I was doing 20-mile swims, it occurred to me that I could do more and I wanted to see what that more was.”
In August 2017, she swam 104.6 miles in Lake Champlain on the US-Canada border, but her feat was cut short when she was diagnosed with cancer. After completing her treatment for breast cancer in the summer of 2018, she got back to her passion for swimming and undertook this feat of swimming from England to France and back twice. Her support team say she “used the swimming as her means of coping with the treatment”.
Only four swimmers have previously crossed the English Channel three times without stopping. Ms. Thomas is the first person ever to complete the fourth leg.
Author and broadcaster Charlie Connelly described her achievement as “one of the greatest feats of mental and physical endurance in human history”, while official observer Kevin Murphy acclaimed that she had “tested the limits of endurance”.
Congratulations to Sarah Thomas for successfully completing a 4-way historic crossing of the English Channel. An absolute legend! We'll have official confirmation of times shortly (I assume everyone needs a good sleep after that!)
— CS&PF (@csandpf) September 17, 2019
During the marathon swim, Ms. Thomas found dealing with the current extremely tough as it was constantly pushing her off-course and she was also stung by a jellyfish.
But according to her, the worst challenge was “dealing with the salt water… it really hurts your throat, your mouth and your tongue”.
Ms. Thomas added, “Every length had something that was really hard about it. Coming back from France the last time was definitely hard. It took forever and the current pushed me all over. I got stung in the face by a jellyfish. [The water] it wasn’t as cold as I thought it might be but it was still chilly.”
Abiding by the Channel Swimming Association rules, she was wearing only the permitted cap, goggles, and swimsuit when completing the crossing. For nutrition, she relied on a protein recovery drink mixed with electrolytes and some caffeine to help offset sleepiness.
Her mother said, “It is tied to a rope and we get her attention every 30 minutes and throw it to her.”
After completing her feat, an exhausted but triumphant Ms. Thomas celebrated entering the record books and making dry land, with champagne and chocolates.