A Cookstown long distance swimmer has become only the second man in N. Ireland history to swim both the North and English Channels in the same season.
Plagued by last minute cancellations, unseasonable tides and stung up to twenty times by jellyfish - as well as having to complete the swim in complete darkness - Lukasz Kowalczyk nonetheless powered his way across the English Channel in the early hours of August 5 to complete an incredible feat.
The extreme swimmer needed 12 hours 36 minutes to complete the second leg of his challenge after swimming between Ireland and Scotland in June in a time of 11 hours and 49 minutes.
“I hope this will inspire others to take on a challenge of their own no matter the discipline,” Lukasz said after he became one of only a handful of people to ever complete the two channels in the same season.
“I would advise anyone planning a challenge like this to make sure they put in the practice and if I can be of any help I will.”
Lukasz had actually planned to complete the English Channel leg of his great undertaking just nine days after his North Channel swim.
Unfortunately Mother Nature was against him and he spent a number of frustrating days in England waiting for the weather to clear.
“I was supposed to swim on July 3 but the weather was bad and that meant I missed my space.
“It was postponed again and again. It was very frustrating and then I had to motivate myself to get out training again without any idea when or if the English Channel was going to happen.
“Mentally it was so much harder than the North Channel as I just didn’t know when I was going to get going.”
He flew back to England on August 1 only for more bad weather to again prevent his start.
“When August 5 came I checked the weather again and it didn’t look that great so I thought there was no chance.
“Then I got the call that it was on for 1pm. I thought that he meant the next day. Basically I had only 90 minutes to get to Dover!
“I was delighted just to get going and I didn’t even think about how I was going to be finishing the swim at nighttime.
“For the first couple of hours I only saw a couple of jellyfish - even fewer than the North Channel - and I thought it was no problem, but when I finished, believe me, I was regretting saying that!
Lukasz was stung almost twenty times all over his body and the frequency increased towards the end when the darkness meant that he couldn’t see or avoid them.
“I was a bit unlucky as the tide changed two hours earlier than predicted and I had to really fight against the current. It made the last four hours of the swim an absolute nightmare.
“After it got dark I could see a lighthouse on the French coast, but it felt like I was getting nowhere. That four hours was definitely the hardest part of both swims.
“The guys in the boat reckoned it was a six knot current that I was swimming against during those hours.
“It was only when I started getting really close to France that I finally felt the current lessen because I knew that I had got through the hardest part.
“The North Channel was tough because of the cold, but the English Channel was tougher because of the curren and the darkness.
“I’d like to thank Stephen, Mervyn and both support crews, and everyone who donated money to Charis Cancer Care. I’d especially like to thank Mary for all her patience!”
Lukasz admitted that he is going to take a good rest after this endeavour and, although he has a few more ideas about challenges for the future, he remained coy on what those might be.
Councillor Trevor Wilson sent his congratulations to Lukasz.
“This is a tremendous achievement. Lukasz is a well known figure in Cookstown and plays a very important role to the public through Mid Ulster Sports Arena.
“I’d like to play tribute to his remarkable exploits at swimming both Channels in the same season.”
You can still support Lukasz’s chosen charity, Charis Cancer Care at Lough Fea in Cookstown, by logging onto www.justgiving.com/Lucas-Kowalczyk1/